- GOP Sen. Pat Toomey blocked a bill meant to stop debt collectors from seizing stimulus checks.
- Democrats had hoped to pass the measure to maximize the help people would get.
- But Toomey intervened, saying debt collectors had the right to claim cash owed.
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on Thursday blocked a bill meant to bar private debt collectors from seizing checks issued as part of the recent stimulus bill.
The law that Toomey opposes had been proposed by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Sherrod Brown.
Such a measure was included in the December relief package passed under President Donald Trump, which provided $600 direct payments to most Americans.
It was not included in the stimulus bill passed under President Joe Biden, however, which provided $1,400 payments.
Democrats still supported the proposal but had to leave it out because of the rules of the Senate mechanism known as budget reconciliation, which was used to pass the latest legislation.
That mechanism let Democrats pass the bill without any GOP votes but comes with limits on what is allowed. The same rules led to proposals for a $15 federal minimum wage being dropped.
Democrats tried to introduce the rule in separate legislation, arguing that the cash was meant to help struggling Americans rather than debt-collection agencies.
Wyden and Brown proposed the measure under a unanimous-consent rule, which allows bills to pass quickly and bypass some lengthy Senate procedures.
Any one senator can block such a proposal, however, which Toomey chose to do.
Toomey argued that Democrats were to blame for the rule not being in the recent bill, as they chose not to involve Republicans in putting it together.
He said debt collectors had valid legal claims against people who “owe money that they haven’t paid to someone else and that someone else has gone to court and it’s been adjudicated.”
The senator also said that, with 90 million relief payments already issued, it was too late to seek the amendment.
The process of the relief-check money being seized by creditors is known as garnishment.
“These payments have already gone out the door,” Toomey said. “The garnishment happens automatically. It’s already happened!”
Toomey’s objection means it is likely that many other relief checks will be seized by debt collectors.
In comments to HuffPost, Brown said “we will keep trying” to get the measure passed. Senators can still try to pass it without unanimous consent, which would take longer and would also require some Republican support to evade filibuster rules.
“Families are hanging on by a thread, but Senate Republicans blocked protections against their relief payments from being seized to pay credit card and medical debt. It’s shameful,” Wyden said in a statement Thursday.
It is unclear whether there is wide backing in the Senate GOP for Toomey’s objection to the measure. Republicans have supported the measure before but may not in the future.