Document includes appropriations for COVID-19 pandemic aid
With little time left before a possible partial US government shutdown, President Donald Trump on Sunday evening signed a $2.3 trillion bill that includes an appropriation of $900 billion for COVID-19 pandemic relief and $1.4 trillion in funding for government operations through September 2021.
Earlier, the president called the bill approved last week by the House and Senate “an embarrassment” after months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, in which Trump did not participate much.
Trump’s objections to the bill surprised many; after learning of the president’s reaction, leaders from both parties urged him to sign the document.
Had the president not signed the bill, the partial federal shutdown would have begun as early as Tuesday. Increased benefits for the unemployed and restrictions on court-ordered evictions were set to expire on Sunday morning.
“The signing of a bipartisan bill to help (the pandemic) coronavirus, (a bill) approved by both chambers, is good news for the fourteen million Americans who have just … lost their vital unemployment benefits … and for the millions struggling to stay afloat in this – historic – pandemic and economic crisis,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement released Sunday evening.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Trump’s move, preventing a “shutdown” at a time “when the country can’t afford it”.
“The bipartisan package … on which Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration negotiated, extends key areas … vital to workers in struggling small businesses for survival, updates major benefits for jobless Americans, invests new billions in vaccine distribution … The compromise bill is not perfect, but it will bring tremendous benefits … to Kentuckians and (all) Americans across the country who need help today,” McConnell said in a statement.
In announcing the bill’s signing, Trump also said he was pushing for changes to the document designed to abolish what he called “devastating sections”.
These are, however, proposals addressed to Congress, which should not necessarily result in changes to the text of the document.
The President’s objections related to the amount of direct payments to the population, as well as the funding of foreign aid and research programmes.
“I have told Congress that I believe it is necessary to significantly reduce excessive spending and allocate more money to American citizens in the form of checks of $2,000 per adult and $600 per child,” Trump said in a statement.
The bill calls for payments of $600 per person. Democrats had also called for higher payments, but Republicans opposed the idea.
“I’m signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, help renters, add money to the business assistance program, put airline employees back to work, add significantly more money for vaccine distribution and more,” Trump added.
Democrats are calling the aid package just the first step in a larger crisis management programme.
“There needs to be strong support for state and municipal governments to distribute and administer the vaccine, save jobs and prevent catastrophic cuts to services, and we need to do that as soon as possible,” Pelosi said.
Congress will return to work on Monday, interrupting the Christmas recess to try to override a presidential veto of the $740 billion defence budget bill. The document would also increase military salaries and set Pentagon policy on various issues.
A vote in the House of Representatives is scheduled for Monday. If it approves the veto override, the Senate could put the issue to a vote as early as Tuesday. A two-thirds vote in both chambers is required to override the presidential veto.
The defence bill has raised a number of objections from Trump, including over a provision allowing military installations named after Confederate leaders to be renamed. The president also demanded that the document include a provision to remove liability protections for social networks for user-generated content.