US parties wrangle in Congress after Trump shuns Covid stimulus bill




Nancy Pelosi (C) - 24 December
Nancy Pelosi (C) - 24 December  

Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress have blocked each other's attempts to amend a vital $2.3tn (£1.7tn) stimulus package, after President Trump asked for changes.

The bill combines coronavirus economic relief with federal spending, and had been agreed by both sides.

But Mr Trump said one-off payments to Americans should increase from $600 to $2,000, and foreign aid should be cut.

Without the bill in force, many Americans face an uncertain Christmas.

Unemployment benefits are due to cease on Saturday if the bill is not enacted, and a moratorium on evictions may not be extended.

Legislators could pass a stopgap bill by Monday to prevent a partial government shutdown due to unfurl a day later, but this would not include coronavirus aid and Mr Trump would still have to sign it.

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Meeting on Thursday in response to Mr Trump's intervention, Democrats in the House of Representatives blocked Republican attempts to cut foreign aid from the federal spending bill, while Republicans refused to allow the increase in coronavirus payments to $2,000.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said in a letter to colleagues: "House Democrats appear to be suffering from selective hearing."

While the haggling continues on Capitol Hill, the president is spending the holiday at his resort in Palm Beach, Florida. A White House memo said he was working "tirelessly" with "many meetings and calls", though he was spotted at his golf course on Thursday morning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said the lower chamber would meet again next Monday to vote on the stimulus payments for Americans.

The lower chamber is also due to vote on an unrelated, $740bn (£549bn) defence spending bill, which Mr Trump vetoed on Wednesday rather than signing into law. Lawmakers plan to override the president's veto and enact the legislation anyway, but to do so they need two-thirds of votes in both the House and Senate.

Mr Trump is objecting to provisions in the defence bill that limit troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Europe and remove Confederate leaders' names from military bases.

Meanwhile, the $900bn coronavirus aid relief bill - which was attached to $1.4tn in federal spending - passed the House of Representatives by 359-53 and the Senate by 92-6 on Monday.

But on Tuesday Mr Trump shocked lawmakers with an implied veto threat, describing the stimulus in a video statement as a "disgrace" full of "wasteful" items.

He baulked at the annual aid money for other countries in the federal spending bill, arguing that those funds should go to struggling Americans.

The one-off payments of $600 and the federal jobless benefits are half the sum provided by the last major coronavirus aid bill in March, which contained $2.4tn in economic relief.

Mr Trump's call for more generous one-off payments to Americans has found him in rare alignment with some liberal Democrats who are usually his sworn political foes.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: "Glad to see the President is willing to support our legislation."

But many of the president's fellow Republicans are said to be dismayed that Democrats will depict them as Scrooges for rejecting higher spending.

On a conference call Wednesday, House Republicans said Mr Trump had thrown them under a bus, according to the Associated Press news agency.

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Many Republicans now face the dilemma of choosing between the president and party.

Though conservatives protest at the spiralling trillion-dollar US deficit, they and the president enacted tax cuts in 2017 that added to America's overdraft.

The congressional gridlock comes amid runoff votes in Georgia for two Senate seats that will determine the balance of power in Washington next year.

Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are fighting for their political lives in the 5 January special election. Both had backed the aid bill spurned by Mr Trump.

If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock can flip these two seats, their party will control all of Congress and the White House once President-elect Joe Biden takes office later next month.

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