"It's not a goddamn joke Ted," Markey told his Republican colleague. "Millions of families are facing hunger, the threat of eviction, and the loss of their health care during a pandemic that is worsening every day. Get real."
The battle, which unfolded entirely on Twitter, began after Markey proposed that the next round of coronavirus relief should give all Americans $2,000 a month until three months after the pandemic has passed. Moreover, the progressive senator added that the policy should be retroactively applied to the months of economic shutdowns that the outbreak triggered in March.
Markey included a similar proposal in a bill that he introduced in early May, which drew backing from vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. However, the initial bill limited the monthly payments to Americans making $120,000 per year or less — not "every person in our country."
Cruz, who caught backlash last month after he was caught on camera not wearing a mask on American Airlines flight, mocked Markey's idea as he invoked foot massages and "soy lattes" — a timeworn conservative putdown for liberals.
"Why be so cheap? Give everyone $1 million a day, every day, forever," Cruz tweeted in response. "And three soy lattes a day. And a foot massage. We have a magic money tree—we should use it!"
Negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package unwinded last week, triggering an end to enhanced federal unemployment benefits for American workers. Among the issues that Republicans have not been able to settle within their own ranks are: a payroll tax cut, which Cruz supports in a break with his colleagues, and monthly relief payments to individuals.
As talks flagged, President Donald Trump left Washington for a three-day golf trip, stepping in later that weekend to sign directives that administration officials claim will provide significant relief to struggling Americans. One such order sets up a system intended to provide $400 in extra weekly unemployment benefits, or a 66% cut from the $600 weekly bonus received through the end of July as part of the CARES Act.
However, state and local governments must apply for federal support for those $400 checks, and Trump's directives still leave them on the hook for 25%. The Republican officials who control Cruz's state of Texas have not yet weighed in on the policy. Five months into the pandemic, some Texans report that they still have not been able to get in touch with state unemployment offices.
As of Tuesday, there were more than 5 million COVID-19 cases and more than 163,000 deaths from the pandemic in the U.S., according Johns Hopkins University data. Texas, which has seen a dramatic spike in cases over the summer months, has reported at least 9,238 deaths, per Johns Hopkins. Researchers at the University of Texas predict that total will increase to 14,500 by Sept. 1.