Mitt Romney not among GOP senators favoring $2,000 stimulus checks

SALT LAKE CITY — A growing number of Republican senators support $2,000 stimulus checks, but Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is not among them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocked a Democratic effort Tuesday to unanimously approve the bill the House passed Monday to increase the amount of direct payments from $600 to $2,000. The lesser amount is part of a $900 billion relief package Congress passed last week and President Donald Trump signed Sunday after days of delay.

Trump held up the legislation while demanding that Congress bump up the payments to $2,000.

The president tweeted Tuesday that unless Republicans have a “death wish,” they will vote for the increased amount.

Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough! https://t.co/GMotstu7OI

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2020

Romney, who championed the stimulus checks back in March, opposed the $600 direct payments that were eventually added to the bipartisan aid package approved last week. Though he voted for the bill, the payments were not part of the original plan he helped negotiate with a group of eight Republican and Democratic senators.

Earlier this month, the senator said stimulus checks were needed when the country was on the verge of a pandemic and people had drained their back accounts on food and supplies. At this stage, he said, much of the country is back to work and doesn’t need a check when they’re employed.

“The economy is showing good signs of life, so we’re not looking for a stimulus. We’re looking to help people in need,” he said, listing the unemployed, small businesses and rural hospitals as those most in need.

The government would have to borrow another $464 billion to increase the stimulus checks to $2,000.

“Someone’s got to pay for that. We can’t just have free money. There’s got to be taxation. We have to pay interest on the debt,” Romney said.

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, a staunch Trump supporter, has not weighed in on increasing the direct payments. He voted against the federal spending bill that included COVID-19 relief.

“Nothing to share at this time,” Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said Tuesday.

The House passed the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help or CASH Act to raise the payments Monday, with 44 Republicans joining the Democratic majority. Utah’s GOP House members were not among them.

Reps. Chris Stewart and John Curtis voted against the bill and outgoing Rep. Rob Bishop did not vote. Rep. Ben McAdams, the state’s lone Democrat in Congress, voted for it.

Though Trump said Senate leadership has agreed to vote on the bill, McConnell has not yet committed to bringing it to the floor.

McConnell in a Tuesday floor speech outlined three priorities Trump said he wanted Congress to address when he signed the coronavirus aid and federal spending bill Sunday: larger direct payments, Section 230 legal liability protections for internet platforms and to protect election ballots against fraud.

“This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus,” McConnell said without providing details.

Several Republican senators the past few days, including Marco Rubio of Florida, have voiced support for the bigger checks.

“I agree with the president that millions of working-class families are in dire need of additional relief, which is why I support $2,000 in direct payments to Americans struggling due to the pandemic,” he said in a statement Monday.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who is locked in a tough Senate runoff for reelection, also back the measure.

“Working Americans have borne the brunt of this pandemic. They’ve been hammered, through no fault of their own. They deserve $2000 in #covid relief — a fraction of what the banks & big business got. Let’s vote now,” Hawley tweeted Tuesday.

Perdue tweeted, “President @realDonaldTrump is right — I support this push for $2,000 in direct relief for the American people.”

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who like Perdue if fighting to keep her seat, also backs the increased checks, as does Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

With all 48 Democrats likely to vote for the bill, it would need support from 12 of the Senate’s 52 Republicans to pass.