President Donald Trump signed a bill containing US$900 billion in pandemic relief, backing down from last-minute demands that undercut his own negotiating team, risked a government shutdown and delayed widely supported economic aid as coronavirus cases continue to rise.
The legislation Congress passed Dec. 21 includes US$1.4 trillion in government spending to fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year in September. The government had been operating on temporary spending authority that expires after the end of the day Monday.
The combined US$2.3 trillion package was the product of intense negotiations, from which Trump was largely absent until he surprised lawmakers of both parties by demanding bigger stimulus payments for individuals after the bill was already passed.
In signing the bill, Trump demanded a vote in Congress to replace US$600 in stimulus payments with US$2,000 — a non-binding request that is unlikely to pass both chambers.
That demand also plays into Democrats’ hands. House Democrats were already planning a vote Monday to increase payments to individuals, allowing Senate Democrats to pressure Republican leader Mitch McConnell to take up the House bill without other unrelated provisions Trump requested.
The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said that once that House bill passes US$2,000 payments, he’ll move for passage in the upper chamber.
“No Democrats will object,” Schumer tweeted. “Will Senate Republicans?”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Sunday: “Every Republican vote against this bill is a vote to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny the American people the relief they need.”
Trump’s hesitation to sign the bill means these stimulus payments will likely go out later than Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had promised, and it may cut a week from the supplemental unemployment benefits that were part of the package and scheduled to end in March.
The delay also resulted in a temporary loss of unemployment benefits for gig workers and the long-term unemployed.