The Senate could be in session straight through New Year’s Day if there is no agreement on taking up legislation the House passed on Monday to increase the size of economic relief checks to $2,000.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell informed senators of plans for a live quorum call at 5 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a vote on proceeding to the effort to override President Donald Trump’s veto of the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill.
“President Trump has rightly noted this year’s defense bill doesn’t contain every provision that we Republicans would have wanted. I’m confident our Democratic colleagues feel the same way,” the Kentucky Republican said earlier Wednesday “But that is the case every year. And yet, for 59 consecutive years and counting, Washington has put our differences aside, found common ground, and passed the annual defense bill.”
The defense policy measure passed the Senate 84-13 on Dec. 11, and while some senators may defect to support the president’s objections, the override’s ultimate passage with the two-thirds threshold required seems assured. The question is when. (The House on Monday voted to override the veto on a 322-87 vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration.)
There was some frustration about the pace of consideration of the override vote. Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, told reporters of the vote timing, “to all these people who live here, they don’t care. But I care.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is leading objections on behalf of Democratic caucus members over the timing of the vote, in response to McConnell’s objections to taking up and voting on the House-passed bill to provide enhanced COVID-19 economic relief payments supported by the president.
McConnell can work around Sanders by filing a cloture motion to limit debate of the defense bill veto override and break any filibusters, once the motion to proceed to that measure is agreed to Wednesday evening. That sets up a cloture vote an hour after the Senate comes in on Friday, which is New Year’s Day.
There would then be just enough time to get the defense measure cleared over Trump’s objections either Saturday evening or Sunday morning, before the 116th Congress — and its outstanding business — expires at noon. At that point, the focus turns to the pomp and circumstance of a new Congress and the incoming new slate of legislation and eventual executive and judicial nominees.
There is not enough time left in the Congress for overcoming two filibusters, meaning that advocates for the $2,000 rebates could face an expiring clock if there is no agreement to move ahead. Sanders and other members of the Democratic caucus were on the floor Tuesday calling for unusually quick action.
“The 52 Senate Republicans serving in this chamber are the only thing standing in the way of $2,000 being sent to 160 million of our neediest citizens. The House passed the bill authorizing the checks in a big bipartisan vote. It is hard to get two-thirds of the House of Representatives to agree on what time it is. But two-thirds of the House of Representatives voted for the $2,000 checks,” Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said in a floor speech. “President Trump supports the $2,000 checks. So he’ll sign the bill if the Senate sends it to him.”
Before adjournment Tuesday, the procedural gears were set in motion on making the House-passed bill available for floor consideration, as well as a Senate GOP alternative that includes a rollback of the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, one of several extraneous priorities of the outgoing president that led to the veto of the defense measure.