Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who voted for President Donald Trump's deficit-exploding tax cuts for the rich in 2017, blocked fellow Republican Sen. Josh Hawley's attempt Friday to pass legislation that would provide $1,200 direct payments to U.S. adults and $500 to children amid a devastating pandemic and ongoing economic collapse.
When Hawley of Missouri requested unanimous consent to pass the direct payments bill—which he introduced last week with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—Johnson objected, delivering a rambling speech complaining about the rising deficit.
"This is not the end of this fight. I'm here right now on this floor. Senator Sanders will be back in a matter of hours to ask again for the same measure."
—Sen. Josh Hawley
Michael Linden, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, noted on Twitter following Johnson's objection that "another round of stimulus checks at $1,200 would be roughly 1/7 of the size of the Trump tax cuts which Senator Johnson happily supported."
"Needless to say," Linden added, "$1,200 to everyday people right now is way more economically useful than hundreds of billions to corporations."
Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, also slammed Johnson for blocking direct relief. "Millions are falling into poverty," said Wikler, "and Ron Johnson—who loves tax cuts for the rich—is blocking help."
Hawley's attempt to pass stimulus checks in a standalone bill came as Congress continued working to finalize a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief package that, as it stands, would provide one-time $600 direct payments to U.S. adults earning less than $75,000 a year and $600 to the children of eligible recipients.
The relief negotiations hit a snag after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) demanded inclusion of language that would terminate emergency lending programs authorized by the CARES Act, a move critics warned would hamstring the incoming Biden administration's ability to address the economic crisis.
Lawmakers are expected to work through the weekend, if necessary, in an effort to reach an agreement. Negotiators are also racing to avert a government shutdown, which will occur Friday night without passage of a sprawling funding bill or a stop-gap measure. Hawley and Sanders have both threatened to hold up an extension of government funding in order to push through direct payments.
In a speech on the Senate floor Friday, Hawley said the $1,200 payments to adults and $500 to children—modeled after the checks provided under the CARES Act—are "the least that we can do."
"It should be the first thing that we can do," said Hawley. "And as these negotiations drag on and on, fixated and focused and hung up on who knows what issues, let's start with this. Let's send a message to working families that they're first, not last. That they are the most important consideration, not some afterthought."
After Johnson blocked his request for unanimous consent, Hawley said Sanders will be on the floor later Friday to demand passage of the direct payments.
"This is not the end of this fight," said Hawley. "I'm here right now on this floor. Senator Sanders will be back in a matter of hours to ask again for the same measure... I've been proud to partner with him on this effort."