Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has rejected calls from an unlikely alliance of President Donald Trump, congressional Democrats and some Republicans to boost coronavirus aid.
The House of Representatives, held by the Democrats, had voted to increase aid cheques to Americans to $2,000.
Dozens of House Republicans, reluctant to defy President Trump, backed the increase.
Republican Mitch McConnell’s objections mean there will not be a direct vote on a revised Covid aid bill in the Senate.
He said raising aid cheques would be “another fire hose of borrowed money”.
The move could in effect kill off President Trump’s demands for bigger cash handouts to help the economy recover.
Congress had initially agreed to the smaller $600 payments in a Covid relief and government funding bill.
President Trump sent that back to Capitol Hill before Christmas, saying the stimulus payment should be higher.
He eventually, and grudgingly, signed the original bill with the lower payments into law on December 27, but has continued to demand more money.
On December 28, House Democrats – usually sworn political foes of President Trump – passed the measure for $2,000 cheques that he requested.
The president tweeted on December 29: “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2,000 payments ASAP.”
The total number of people who have died with Covid in the US stands at nearly 350,000. There are concerns that the figure could continue to surge following Christmas and New Year gatherings.
California meanwhile became the second state to confirm a case of the new strain of the virus, considered to be highly contagious. The first case of new variant of coronavirus was confirmed in Colorado.
Mitch McConnell rejected Democrats’ calls for the upper chamber to vote on the $2,000 cheques package passed by their counterparts in the House.
The Kentucky senator said the bill had “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate”.
Speaking in the chamber on December 30, he said: “The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help.”
Instead Mitch McConnell offered to roll the proposal for bigger cheques into another bill to include other measures that have been requested by President Trump but raised objections from Democratic leaders.
One would end legal protection for tech companies, known as Section 230. The other would set up a bipartisan commission to investigate President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of systemic electoral fraud.
Democrats said Mitch McConnell’s proposal was merely a legislative poison pill designed to kill higher stimulus payments.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats, said on the Senate floor: “All we are asking for is a vote. What is the problem?
“If you want to vote against $2,000 checks for your state, vote against it.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: “What we’re seeing right now is leader McConnell trying to kill the cheques – the $2,000 cheques desperately needed by so many American families.”
The GOP usually professes an opposition to government spending as an article of faith, but some of its top conservative senators have rallied behind President Trump’s call for $2,000 cheques.
They include Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri, both considered possible presidential contenders in 2024.