‘People deserve a vote,’ Maryland Sen. Van Hollen says as state Democrats push Senate on $2,000 stimulus checks

Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

Democratic Maryland lawmakers urged the Republican-led U.S. Senate on Tuesday to approve increasing COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000.

“I think the American people deserve a vote,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in an interview.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has so far blocked Democrats’ bid to increase the size of the stimulus checks to $2,000 from $600, a boost supported by Republican President Donald Trump.

The increase overwhelmingly passed the House on Monday night. It was supported there by the state’s seven Democratic congressmen: Kweisi Mfume, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, David Trone, Jamie Raskin, Anthony Brown and Steny Hoyer, who is the House majority leader.

Rep. Andy Harris, the state delegation’s only Republican, voted against it.

Conservatives have argued that more than tripling the size of the checks — which will be available to most Americans — is fiscally irresponsible. The larger checks would cost an additional $464 billion, according to an estimate by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

But Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County Democrat, said in a prepared statement that the checks “will help sustain our economy as we continue to claw our way through this worsening pandemic. It puts money into the pockets of struggling Americans and builds on the relief package signed into law by President Trump Sunday night.”

Trump reversed himself by signing a $900 billion relief package containing unemployment and rental fund assistance as well as aid to school systems, transit systems and health care.

The package is “a bridge to the Biden administration,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat. “The size of this package was less than half the size of what we thought we needed for the next round,” he said.

Joe Biden, the president-elect, is to be inaugurated Jan. 20.

In the meantime, Van Hollen said the Senate must act soon on the $2,000 checks as the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

“If Sen. McConnell wants to vote against individual payments, that’s his decision. But he shouldn’t be holding the entire country hostage to his personal opinions,” Van Hollen said.

McConnell said Tuesday that the checks could be considered as part of a legislative package of other priorities, including a commission to study any examples of election fraud.