WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump has thrown a long-awaited pandemic relief package into doubt days before millions of Americans will lose their benefits and face eviction from their homes.
In a video late Tuesday, Trump called the measure "a disgrace" and demanded Congress more than triple the $600 direct payments to US taxpayers, reports AFP.The bombshell came less than a month before Trump leaves office, to be replaced by President-elect Joe Biden, and puts in jeopardy a hard-won agreement brokered after months of partisan squabbling.
Republicans and the Democrats late Monday finally approved a $900 billion bill meant to throw a lifeline to businesses and people struggling to keep their heads above water.
But in a pre-recorded statement made in the White House and sent out on Twitter, Trump said he would refuse to accept the bill without changes.
"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple," he said. Democrats, who had been pushing for a much bigger relief package, cheered the statement, but it puts Trump at odds with Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who have steadfastly blocked any larger stimulus measures.
Democrats plan to introduce a stand-alone measure Thursday to increase the payments that would go to all taxpayers earning up to $75,000 a year, with smaller amounts for those making up to $99,000.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Twitter for Trump to "urge McConnell and McCarthy to agree with the Democratic unanimous consent request for $2,000 direct payments! This can be done by noon on Christmas Eve!"However, the measure is unlikely since if even one Republican disagrees it will fail.
The relief package is wrapped into a $2.3 trillion, almost 5,600-page "coronabus" bill that includes a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government for the coming fiscal year.
Without the president's signature, the special pandemic jobless benefits reaching about 14 million workers will expire, and a moratorium on evictions will lapse.
The government will additionally shut down if Trump does not sign the bill by December 28.
Trump has not yet received the bill and he did not explicitly say he would not sign. It is almost unprecedented for a president to veto a bill that received such overwhelming bipartisan support.
But his veto Wednesday of a defense funding bill, the NDAA, ensures lawmakers will return to Washington after Christmas to override the action.