Trump signs bipartisan coronavirus relief bill after calling on Congress to approve $2,000 stimulus checks

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump speaks during an event commemorating the repatriation of Native American remains and artifacts from Finland in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, September 17, 2020.
  • President Donald Trump signed the $US900 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief package on Sunday.
  • The negotiated rescue package contained $US600 stimulus checks, federal unemployment aid, food and rental assistance, as well as education funding.
  • “I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Trump said in a statement.
  • “I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill,” he continued.
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President Donald Trump signed the $US900 billion coronavirus relief package on Sunday after earlier threatening to reject it at the last-minute over larger stimulus payments. It ends several days of political chaos which imperiled legislation now set to create a temporary lifeline to many Americans during a perilous stretch of the pandemic.

The rescue package was also merged with a broader government spending package which would keep federal agencies funded into next year — and avert a government shutdown on Tuesday.

Trump unexpectedly reversed course after he held up the legislation’s approval for several days and allowed the expiration of two federal unemployment programs aiding 14 million Americans on Saturday. He had fiercely criticised the rescue package as “a disgrace.”

The negotiated coronavirus relief package included $US600 stimulus payments for Americans, $US300 weekly federal unemployment benefits into mid-March, $US25 billion in rental assistance, as well as aid for small businesses and funding for education and vaccine distribution.

The president suggested on Tuesday he wouldn’t sign the coronavirus relief legislation unless significant adjustments were made on stimulus check amounts. He demanded Congress approve an increase from the current level of $US600 per person to $US2,000 and was critical of foreign aid measures within the government funding bill.

Trump never made that publicly known during the tumultuous negotiations between Congressional leaders that ultimately forged the long-awaited economic aid package this month. Republicans pressed to scale back the size of the direct payments to keep the relief legislation’s price tag under $US1 trillion.

In his statement Sunday, the president said he wants “far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $US2,000 checks per adult and $US600 per child,” adding that he is demanding “many rescissions” to the bill.

“I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Trump said. “I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill.”

Lawmakers are likely to set aside the request since Trump has less than a month left in his presidency. They did not concede anything to meet his demands.

“I am signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP, return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more,” he continued.

Republicans hailed Trump’s decision. “I applaud President Trump’s decision to get hundreds of billions of dollars of crucial Covid-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families as quickly as possible,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. He did not mention the president’s delay.

Democrats were quick to assail the president for holding up the legislation and warned the delay could have major consequences for people struggling to make ends meet. Trump’s refusal to sign the legislation by midnight Saturday shaved a week off the $US300 federal unemployment supplement, experts say, cutting it to 10 weeks from 11.

“Donald Trump’s tantrum has resulted in a lapse in unemployment benefits, and cost millions of jobless workers a week’s worth of income,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement. “On top of that, there could be a weeks-long delay in getting benefits back up and running.”

“While it’s a huge relief that the bill is signed, Donald Trump’s tantrum has created unnecessary hardship and stress for millions of families,” Wyden said.

Both chambers passed the federal rescue package along with the government funding bill with strong bipartisan support after it was introduced on Monday. The tax-and-spending legislation spanned nearly 5,600 pages and lawmakers had only hours to review it.

The signing was preceded by political manoeuvring in Congress. House Republicans blocked an attempt from Democrats to advance the $US2,000 direct payments on Thursday morning. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was fiercely critical of the move and said in a statement she is setting up a vote on legislation Monday to increase their size.

Trump also faced growing pressure from Republicans to put aside his misgivings and approve the economic relief legislation, “You don’t get everything you want even if you are the President of the United States,” Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I think what he ought to do is sign this bill and then make the case. Congress can pass another bill,” Toomey said. “But we’ve got a bill right now that his administration helped negotiate. I think we ought to get that done.”

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