WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers on Thursday blocked attempts to change the $ 2.3 trillion coronary aid and relief package, rejecting President Donald Trump’s request for extensive changes and leaving benefits to millions of Americans.
Democrats in the House of Representatives sought to increase direct payments to Americans included in the bill from $ 600 to $ 2,000 per person as part of a coronavirus economic aid initiative, acting on one of Trump’s demands. Trump’s fellow Republicans, who oppose the larger amount, blocked the effort.
Republicans have tried to change the amount of foreign aid included in the package, seeking to respond to another Trump complaint. Democrats blocked the request.
The rush of activity on the House floor has done nothing to stop the backlog threatening much-needed aid to millions of Americans and raising the possibility of a partial shutdown of the government at a time when officials are trying to distribute vaccines in a country where nearly 320,000 people have died from COVID-19.
Outraged by the loss to Democrat Joe Biden, Trump made a sudden move on Tuesday to press Congress to dramatically change the coronavirus and government spending package, which passed wide bipartisan margins on Monday.
A bipartisan group of Senate and House members called on Trump on Thursday to give up and sign the law. Lawmakers were key to launching negotiations a few weeks ago when they proposed $ 908 billion in aid for the coronavirus, just above the level that Congress has finally reached.
“The law would bring desperately needed help to struggling families, unemployed workers, hard-hit small businesses, overburdened health care systems, stressed schools and many others,” they wrote.
Eleven senators, including Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Mitt Romney of Utah, signed the statement, along with two members of the House, Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the “Problem Solving Club.” West Virginia and Utah were among the states that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in the November election.
Trump played golf in Florida on Thursday. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Trump posted several tweets on Thursday, most of which related to his unfounded claims that the presidential election was rigged, but none discussed the cost.
Negotiations on the 5,500-page bill took months, and the White House said earlier that Trump would sign it with the law.
With the status quo unchanged, it was unclear whether Trump would sign the package or endure further action.
If Trump does not sign the package, the unemployment benefit law for about 14 million Americans will be repealed starting Saturday, and the U.S. government will be forced to partially stop starting Tuesday.
New stimulus checks, which could come out as early as next week, will be postponed, as will payments to non-cash states applying the vaccine introduction.
The moratorium on tenant evictions expires on December 31, instead of being extended for another month. A stalemate occurs when the U.S. economy cools in the face of a raging pandemic.
Congress could continue to work to pass a fourth funding bill to stop before Monday at midnight. To do so successfully, lawmakers will need Trump’s cooperation at a time when he is consumed by his desire to remain in office and beyond Jan. 20, when Biden will be sworn in.
However, the stop bill does not include coronavirus help.
Many Democrats say the $ 892 billion coronavirus aid package is not big enough to address the pandemic, and have welcomed Trump’s call for greater incentive checks.
“How ironic it would be to shut down the federal government at a time of pandemic crisis, just at a time when government services are most needed,” Democratic House leader Steny Hoyer told a news conference.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the council would hold a vote on increasing the incentive check on Monday. The House will also try to undo Trump’s veto on an unrelated defense policy law on Monday.
Republicans opposed higher direct payments during the negotiations as they sought to limit the size of the coronavirus aid package. Increased payouts could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the total cost.
Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday that Democrats should be prepared to address foreign aid and other elements of the law, which McCarthy called wasteful spending. “Democratic houses seem to be suffering because of the selective hearing,” he wrote in a letter to other Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The Trump administration requested foreign assistance in the budget proposal earlier this year, and Trump’s lead negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, backed the $ 600 stimulus payments.
Biden said a larger aid package for the coronavirus would be needed to help fight the pandemic and those whose lives it has made difficult. His transition team declined to comment on developments Thursday.
Trump caused a record 35-day government shutdown two years ago when he rejected a federal spending bill because, he said, of insufficient funds to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. This worked tens of thousands of federal workers and forced members of the military and public security employees to work without pay.
Andy Sullivan Report; Additional reporting by Brad Heath, Simon Lewis and Steve Holland; Editing: Noeleen Walder, Howard Goller and Leslie Adler