(Headline USA) President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’s massive COVID-19 relief and year-end package, upending a hard-fought compromise in the midst of deep economic uncertainty by demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed.
Trump assailed the bipartisan $900-billion bill and associated $1.3-trillion broader government funding package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night and suggested he may not sign the legislation. That revives threats of a federal government shutdown. He called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples, while demanding wasteful spending — such as billions of dollars in foreign aid — be excised.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Trump in a Wednesday tweet to “sign the bill to keep government open!”
Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues “the entire country knows that it is urgent for the President to sign this bill.”
The final text of the more than 5,000-page bill was still being prepared by Congress and was not expected to be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature before Thursday or Friday, an aide said.
Following Trump’s threat, Pelosi all but dared his Republican allies in Congress to meet the demand for far higher direct payments. She said she would offer the proposal for a vote on Thursday. But it would be offered under a procedure that allows just one lawmaker to block a vote and during a so-called pro forma session, with few lawmakers expected to attend.
Republicans complain Trump’s proposal costs too much, but have not said if they will block it. The pork barrel spending and foreign aid was not discussed.
Railing against a range of provisions in the broader year-end funding package, Trump in his video message told lawmakers to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”
Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for the legislation in Congress to override him if he does. But if Trump were to upend the sprawling legislation, the consequences would be severe, including no immediate federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution. In addition, because lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down on Dec. 29.
The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September.
Lawmakers spent months in a stalemate over pandemic relief funds, even as COVID-19 cases soared across the country. Democrats had pushed for higher payments to Americans, but compromised with Republicans to allow a deal to proceed.
“At last, the President has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!,” Pelosi said in an earlier tweet.
Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on pandemic relief and only agreed to the big year-end package as time dwindled for a final deal. And Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said that “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” and Congress would step up for more aid after.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.