President Trump‘s last-minute opposition to aÂ $900 billion coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress threatens to derail the nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic amid fresh signs that it’s slowing.
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In a surprise video addressÂ Tuesday night, TrumpÂ â€“Â who was absent from the negotiations between congressional leadersÂ â€“Â called the proposed stimulus checks of $600 included in the economic relief billÂ “ridiculously low” and demandedÂ the paymentsÂ be more than tripled. Senate Republicans, who capped relief efforts around $1 trillion,Â have been reluctant to go that high, citing the nation’s ballooning deficit, which totaled a record $3.1 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not responded publicly to Trump’s criticisms as of Thursday morning.
The president did not explicitly say whetherÂ he would veto the measure or refuse to sign it, but said that if Congress did not send him revised legislation, “the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package.”
Any delay on the bill’s passage could plunge millions of Americans into financial crisis: Up to 12 million laid-off workers could lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, a moratorium on evictions will expire at the end of the month and billions of dollars in aid for vaccine distribution, education and health care would be put on hold.
On top of that, because lawmakers tied the stimulus deal to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that willÂ fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, parts ofÂ the federal government could start to shut down next week, causing more Americans to lose their jobs in the midst of a deadly public health crisis when 20 million individuals are already collecting unemployment aid.
â€œThe economy is slowing in response to the surge in COVID cases,â€ Grant Thornton economists Diane Swonk and Yelena Maleyev wrote in aÂ noteÂ Wednesday. â€œThe risk is that we slow further in response to another uptick in cases following the Christmas holiday. The aid bill passed by Congress should help to blunt losses as we move into January. The challenge now is to get the bill signed and cash into peopleâ€™s pockets.â€
Trump’s push to overhaul parts of the relief package, which the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed on Monday night, comes at an increasingly perilous time for the nation’s economy. The Labor Department reported Wednesday that jobless claims remained elevated last week, with 803,000 people applying for benefitsÂ â€” about four times the pre-crisis level. And, household spending dropped for the first time in seven months in November as Americans closed their wallets and governments implemented new lockdown measures.
In addition to sending up toÂ $600 checks for Americans earning less than $87,000, the stimulus measure would provide temporary relief byÂ extendingÂ boosted unemployment benefits by $300 a week through mid-March, reopeningÂ the Paycheck Protection Program and providingÂ more funding for vaccine distribution.
If Trump vetoes the bill, Congress couldÂ override it after Christmas since the measure passed both chambers with solid majorities. Lawmakers are already planning to reconvene after Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that the House would return on Dec. 28 to vote on overriding the veto.
Because it takes so long for Congress to formally send the president a bill of that sizeÂ â€“Â 5,593 pages â€“Â the legislation has still not reached his desk. That could give Trump the opportunity to kill the relief package through a “pocket veto.” PresidentsÂ have a 10-day window (Sundays excluded) to sign or veto a bill; but Trump could let that time expire without doing either, running out the clock until the new session of Congress begins on Jan. 3, 2021.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told members during a call on Wednesday that he had spoken to the president and that he had not yetÂ committed to a veto of the bill, according to The New York Times.
Top Democrats latched onto Trump’s push for bigger stimulus checks and are planning to force a House vote Thursday morningÂ on increasing the size of the stimulus checks by unanimous consent. But the effort, which can be blocked by just one representative who objects, is all but guaranteed to fail.
“If the President truly wants to join us in $2,000 payments, he should call upon Leader McCarthy to agree to our Unanimous Consent request,” Pelosi said in a letter addressed to her Democratic colleagues. “We are scheduled to go in for a pro forma session tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.Â We are awaiting word from Leader Hoyer as to whether Leader McCarthy will agree to or reject our Unanimous Consent request.”
Some GOP lawmakers signaled a willingness to work with Democrats to give the president what he wanted. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., saidÂ he does “appreciate” Pelosi’s willingness to support Trump’s “idea to increase direct payments.”
“The American people are hurting and deserve relief,” Graham said. “I know there is much bipartisan support for this idea. Letâ€™s go further.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who led a push with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to include $1,200 payments in the legislation also applauded Trump’s comments in the video and renewed his push for a bigger stimulus check.
“@realDonaldTrumpÂ is right – workers deserve much more than $600, as I have repeatedly said & fought for,” he wrote. “And thereâ€™s obviously plenty of $$ to do it – look at what Congress threw away on corporate giveaways & foreign buyouts. Letâ€™s get it done.”