Trump forgoes earlier demand of increasing stimulus cheques for struggling Americans to $2,000 from $600. The turnabout came after calls from all sides of the political spectrum for action to avert an economic and social disaster.
After delaying for nearly a week and under pressure from all sides, US President Donald Trump has finally signed a massive $900 billion stimulus bill, in a long-sought boost for millions of Americans and businesses battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as an increase in food stamp benefits.
The package "providing coronavirus emergency response and relief" is part of a larger spending bill that, with Trump's signature, will avoid a government shutdown on Tuesday.
"I am signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP (Paycheck Protection Programs), return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more," the president said in a statement from his Christmas vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The turnaround came after a day marked by calls from all sides of the political spectrum for action to avert an economic and social disaster, especially for America's vulnerable populations.
Two federal unemployment benefit programs approved in March as part of an initial Covid-19 relief plan expired at midnight on Saturday, cutting off an estimated 12 million Americans, a ccording to The Century Foundation think tank.
The relief package, which was first passed by Congress on December 21, extends those benefits as well as others set to expire in the days ahead.
But for days, Trump had refused to put his signature on it, calling the bill a "disgrace" and catching both Democrats and Republicans off guard with his complaints, which came after months of negotiations.
Influential Republican senator Mitt Romney said he was "relieved" at the signing. "Help is now on the way to workers, families, and small businesses across the country who are despe rately in need," he tweeted.
Earlier Sunday, he had urged Trump to "immediately sign or veto the Covid-19 relief package so Congress can act before it's too late."
Much sought after relief
In his statement, the president continued to push for the $600 direct payments to US taxpayers spelled out in the bill to be more than tripled, and argued the legislation included too much excess spending on unrelated programs.
He has not said why he waited until the bill was already approved to make his views known.
The new stimulus package extends federal aid to the unemployed until mid-March, and provides guaranteed loans and billions of dollars in aid to small businesses, restaurants, hotels, airlines and other companies.
It extends the moratorium on evictions of people unable to pay their rent, suspends foreclosures and provides funds for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
The aid is essential to the world's largest economy, hit hard by restrictions put in place to halt the spread of Covid-19.
"I applaud the President’s decision to get billions of dollars of crucial Covid-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families," tweeted Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
I applaud the President’s decision to get billions of dollars of crucial COVID-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families. I am glad the American people will receive this much-needed assistance as our nation continues battling this pandemic. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/YSPYsPu2ct— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 28, 2020
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the bill "a down payment on what is needed to crush the virus, put money in Americans' pockets & honor our heroes."
"We must quickly take further action," she added in a tweet.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, said he would offer Trump’s proposal for $2,000 checks for a vote in Senate – putting Republicans on the spot.
The House will pass a bill to give Americans $2,000 checks. Then I will move to pass it in the Senate.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 28, 2020
No Democrats will object.
Will Senate Republicans?
Senator Bernie Sanders said that "what the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel."
"Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits," he said on ABC.
"They're going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending."
Sanders said increased direct payments could be approved in the coming days.
Democrats in Congress sought on Thursday to approve a measure to increase the direct payments in line with what Trump wants, but Republicans blocked it.
It was seen largely as a theatrical move with little hope of passage designed to expose the rift between Republicans and the outgoing president.
In addition to voting on the increased spending Monday, the House is also set to vote to override Trump's veto of the annual defense spending bill.
The vote is widely expected to receive the two-thirds majority it needs to do so, and should the Senate follow suit, which is likely, it would mark an embarrassing bookend on Trump's sole term in office.