President Donald Trump’s last-second opposition to a coronavirus relief and federal funding bill already passed by Congress threatens to torch jobless benefits for millions of Americans and shut down the government during a deadly public health crisis.
After weeks of no involvement in congressional efforts to pass another aid package, the outgoing president shocked Washington on Tuesday night by calling the bill a “disgrace” and pushing lawmakers to increase $600 direct payments to $2,000.
While he did not explicitly say whether he would veto the bill or simply refuse to sign it, Trump said the “next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package” if Congress does not send him revised legislation.
Democrats will attempt to pass $2,000 direct payments on Thursday, but Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will object, CNBC reported. Meanwhile, McCarthy plans to offer a new temporary spending bill separating State Department and foreign aid funding from the broader spending package — a plan Democrats would likely oppose.
Any delay in the measure becoming law threatens financial ruin for already struggling Americans. The $900 billion coronavirus relief portion of the bill extends pandemic-era expansions of jobless benefits that cover 12 million people. The provisions expire Saturday — the day after Christmas.
The $1.4 trillion appropriations piece of the legislation would keep the federal government running through Sept. 30. The government would shut down Tuesday if it doesn’t become law before then.
A federal eviction moratorium — which the legislation would extend through Jan. 31 — would expire at the end of the year. Tens of millions of people could face the threat of losing their homes if the measure lapses.
With Congress failing to pass new federal aid for most of the year, millions of people fell into poverty. The package would send temporary help in the form of a weekly federal unemployment supplement of $300 through mid-March, the $600 payments and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program small business loans. It also contains more than $8 billion for Covid vaccine distribution, $25 billion for rental assistance, $82 billion for education and $45 billion for transportation — including funds to help airlines keep employees on staff.
If Trump vetoes the bill, Congress could reconvene after Christmas to override it. The measure got through both chambers with veto-proof majorities. Lawmakers have already planned for the possibility of returning if the president vetoes a national defense bill.
As it takes days for Congress to formally send Trump a bill of that size — 5,593 pages — it has not even come to his desk yet. The president could kill the legislation through a so-called pocket veto if it does not get to him until Thursday or later. He could let the full 10-day window to sign the bill (which excludes Sundays) wind down before the new session of Congress starts on Jan. 3.
Speaking on a House Republican conference call Wednesday afternoon, McCarthy told members the president had not decided whether to veto the bill, according to The New York Times. A spokesman for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request to comment.