Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Tuesday the first attempt by the chamber's Democrats to boost COVID stimulus payments to most Americans.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had sought to pass the measure in the chamber by what is known as unanimous consent, which allows a bill to clear the chamber so long as it does not face objections. McConnell, the chamber's top Republican, raised opposition, however, killing the effort for now after the Democratic-held House narrowly approved the increased payments Monday.
The stimulus payments would more than triple from where they currently stand at $600.
Democrats strongly support the boost, as does outgoing US President Donald Trump. Republicans, however, have widely opposed the measure. Only 44 House Republicans backed the measure on Monday, despite the president's calls.
McConnell has yet to commit to bringing the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is seeking to force McConnell's hand by threatening to delay a Wednesday vote on the Senate's override of Trump's defense spending bill veto.
Sanders followed through on his threat shortly after McConnell raised objection to unanimous consent.
"The working class of this country today faces more economic desperation than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930's, and working families need help now," he said on the Senate floor. "Now it is time for the Senate to step up to the plate."
The tactic cannot forestall the vote on the defense veto override indefinitely, but can do so through the week as two Georgia Republicans seek to maintain their seats in tightly contested run-off elections.
Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face run-offs Jan. 5, and would very much like to be able to campaign in their states ahead of the special election. After refusing to signal support or opposition amid the stimulus showdown both announced their support in interviews earlier Tuesday in a likely bid to sway voters.
Their Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, had previously announced their support for the $2,000 measure. Should Democrats win both contests they would win Senate control, flipping the chamber for the first time since 2015.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington, D.C.