Coronavirus assist in danger as U.S. lawmakers block Trump’s modifications

© Reuters. US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Joint Base

By Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -US lawmakers on Thursday blocked attempts to amend a $ 2.3 trillion package on coronavirus aid and government spending. He rejected President Donald Trump’s call for sweeping changes, leaving benefits for millions of Americans at risk.

House Democrats attempted to increase the direct payments to Americans included in the bill under a coronavirus economic aid initiative from $ 600 to $ 2,000 per person in response to one of Trump’s demands. Trump’s Republicans opposing the higher amount blocked those efforts.

Republicans attempted to change the amount of foreign aid included in the package to address another complaint from Trump. Democrats blocked this request.

The numerous activities on the floor of the house have done nothing to break a stalemate, threaten much-needed aid to millions of Americans, and increase the prospect of a partial government shutdown at a time when officials are trying to get vaccines in a country distribute in which nearly 320,000 people live died of COVID-19.

Exasperated by his loss to Democrat Joe Biden, Trump on Tuesday, in a surprise move, urged Congress to dramatically change the coronavirus and government spending package passed on Monday with large, bipartisan limits.

A non-partisan group of Senate and House members called on Trump on Thursday to step down and sign the legislation. Legislators were instrumental in driving negotiations forward a few weeks ago when they proposed $ 908 billion in coronavirus aid, slightly above the level that Congress finally agreed on.

“The legislation would bring much-needed help to families, the unemployed, hard-hit small businesses, an overstretched health system, stressed schools and so many others,” they wrote.

Eleven senators, including Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Mitt Romney of Utah, signed the declaration along with two members of the House of Representatives, Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Problem Solvers Caucus. West Virginia and Utah were among the states that largely voted 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 unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election had been rigged, but none discussed the spending package.

Negotiations on the 5,500-page bill took months, and the White House had previously announced that Trump would legally sign it.

With the status quo unchanged, it was unclear whether Trump would sign the package or take further action.

If Trump doesn’t legally sign the package, unemployment benefits will wipe out for about 14 million Americans starting Saturday, and the U.S. government would be forced into a partial shutdown starting Tuesday.

New stimulus checks that could be done as early as next week would be delayed, as would payments to financially troubled states rolling out the vaccine.

A moratorium on eviction from tenants would expire on December 31st instead of being extended for another month. The stalemate comes from the US economy cooling off in the face of the raging pandemic.

‘HOW IRONIC’

Congress could keep operations going by passing a fourth emergency funding bill before midnight Monday. To do this successfully, lawmakers would need Trump’s collaboration at a time when he is consumed by his offer to stay in office beyond January 20 when Biden is sworn in.

However, an emergency solution would not include coronavirus help.

Many Democrats say the $ 892 billion coronavirus aid package isn’t big enough to fight the pandemic, and they have welcomed Trump’s call for greater stimulus controls.

“How ironic it would be to shut down the federal government at a time of the pandemic crisis when government services are most urgently needed,” House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer said at a press conference.

House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said the chamber would vote on increasing the stimulus check on Monday. The House will also attempt on Monday to override Trump’s veto on an unrelated defense policy law.

Republicans turned down major direct payments during negotiations as they tried to limit the size of the coronavirus aid package. Increased payments could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the total price.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday that Democrats should be ready to look at foreign aid and other elements of the bill that McCarthy has derided as wasteful spending. “House Democrats seem to suffer from selective listening,” he wrote in a letter to other House Republicans.

The Trump administration asked for foreign aid in a budget proposal earlier this year, and Trump’s chief negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, had backed the $ 600 stimulus payments.

Biden said a larger coronavirus aid package will be needed to fight the pandemic and support those whose lives it has changed. His transition team declined to comment on Thursday’s developments.

Trump set off a record 35-day government shutdown two years ago when he turned down a federal spending bill because of insufficient funding to build a border wall between the US and Mexico. This has idled tens of thousands of federal workers, forcing military service and public security employees to work without pay.

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