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, Trump called the measure “a disgrace” and demanded Congress more than triple the $600 direct payments to US taxpayers.
The bombshell came less than a month before Trump leaves office, replaced by President-elect Joe Biden, and puts in jeopardy a hard-won agreement brokered after months of partisan squabbling.
Republicans and the Democrats 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 months for a much bigger relief package, cheered the statement, but it puts Trump at odds with Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell, along with his second in command Kevin McCarthy, who have steadfastly blocked any larger stimulus measures.
Democrats plan to introduce a stand-alone measure 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 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!“
“Unanimous” means, however, that if even one Republican disagrees the measure 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.
And the government will 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.
Congress would almost certainly quickly override a presidential veto, given the bipartisan support.