House Speaker Nancy Pelosi receives the Coronavirus vaccine, December 18, 2020 (Reuters)
UPDATE, DEC 24:
Donald Trump is threatening to veto the $900 billion Coronavirus relief bill passed by both houses of Congress on Monday night.
The threat was issued in an online video on Tuesday night. To compound problems for Republican legislators, Trump suggested an increase in the one-off payment to millions of Americans from $600 to $2,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi eagerly responded, “Let’s do it!”
Because the Coronavirus measures are part of a 5,593-page spending bill, a Trump veto would shut the Federal Government, the fourth time he has done so — including a record-setting 35-day halt in early 2019.
Even if Trump does not issue a veto, his refusal to sign the legislation would ensure that the bill expires when the current session of Congress ends on January 3. The process would have to start from scratch next year.
Almost 5 million people could be into poverty by the expiry of two expanded unemployment programs, according to Columbia University researchers.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner tweeted on Wednesday night:
Does the president realize that unemployment benefits expire the day after Christmas?
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) December 23, 2020
The US death toll reached 326,232 on Wednesday, an increase of 3,400. Confirmed cases are 18,466,227, with 229,613 in 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose to a record 119,463.
House Republicans sparred in a Wednesday conference call, many of them frustrated with Trump.
Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy told colleagues that he had spoken to Trump, who had not yet committed to a veto of the bill.
But McCarthy cautioned, “This bill has been tainted.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx said, “I don’t know if we recover from this. We will have a hell of a time getting this out of people’s heads.”
Rep. Don Bacon said Trump had thrown House Republicans under the bus. He said in a statement after the meeting, “I stand by what I said….The Covid supplemental [bill] is a good compromise, and the President should take it.”
UPDATE, DEC 23:
In a rare moment of consensus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump agree that the one-off payment in the Coronavirus stimulus package should be increased from $600 to $2,000.
The two reached the accord from sharply different perspectives. In an online video, Trump railed at the $900 billion package, negotiated by Pelosi with other Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, as a “disgrace”.
He assailed items in a broader spending plan, including funding of government operations and the military, as “wasteful and unnecessary”: “It’s called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid. Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people.”
The wider plan prevents the shutdown of the Federal Government. Funding authorization expired last Friday, but has been covered by a short-term extension adopted by both chambers of Congress.
Pelosi immediately welcomed the proposal to increase the one-off payment to millions of Americans.
Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it! https://t.co/Th4sztrpLV
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 23, 2020
Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, who negotiated the Coronavirus relief package with the legislators, scrambled to blunt Trump’s diatribe: “We are fully committed to ensuring that hardworking Americans get this vital support as quickly as possible and to further strengthening our economic recovery.”
He thanked Trump for “leadership”.
President-elect Joe Biden called the $900 billion an interim “down payment” and vowed a larger relief package soon after he takes office on January 20: “Congress did its job this week, and I can and I must ask them to do it again next year.”
Biden said there will be more funding to help firefighters, police officers, and nurses, as well as a new round of stimulus checks.
He said the focus must be distribution of vaccines to 300 million people, support for those who have lost jobs, and assistance to help businesses stay open.
The US death toll reached 322,832 on Tuesday. The 3,518 fatalities in 24 hours were the second-highest daily total of the pandemic.
Confirmed cases are 18,236,614, a rise of 201,585. Hospitalizations are at a record 117,777.
UPDATE, DEC 22:
Both houses of Congress passed the $900 billion Coronavirus relief bill on Monday night.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said one-off $600 direct payments could begin reaching individual Americans as early as next week.
The US death toll reached 319,364 on Monday. Confirmed cases are 18,035,029.
ORIGINAL ENTRY, DEC 21: Seven months after the House passed a $3.3 trillion Coronavirus relief package, Congressional leaders reach agreement on a smaller $900 billion version.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who blocked the HEROES Act before and after the November 3 election, announced the accord on the Senate floor on Sunday.
McConnell lifted his obstruction earlier this month for talks with Senate Minority Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
The revised package — the first since a $2.2 trillion plan in March — provides one-off payments to millions of Americans, revives lapsed unemployment benefits, and funds food assistance, and rental aid. It authorizes more than $284 billion for businesses and revive the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program for small businesses that lapsed over the summer. There will be federally-backed loans and funding for schools, hospitals, and distribution of vaccines, and $15 billion for performance venues, theaters, and other cultural programs.
“We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time,” McConnell said. “More help is on the way.”
Both the Senate and House approved the bill on Sunday night, and Donald Trump signed it just before midnight.
The US death toll reached 317,800 on Sunday, with more than 1,400 in 24 hours. Confirmed cases are more than 17.8 million, an increase of almost 180,000. Hospitalizations, which have decreased slightly over the past week, stand at 113,663. There are 21,761 patients in intensive care.
“An Important Initial Step”
“We have now reached agreement on a bill that will crush the virus and put money in the pockets of working families who are struggling,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to Democrats on Sunday. “This emergency relief bill is an important initial step.”
President-elect Joe Biden is planning a larger stimulus package, and economists agree more aid is needed.
Biden said in a statement, “I am heartened to see members of Congress heed that message, reach across the aisle, and work together. But this action in the lame-duck session is just the beginning. Our work is far from over.”
Senate Minority Leader Schumer echoed that the agreement was just a “down payment”: “Once this deal is signed into law, it cannot be the final word on congressional relief.”
Meanwhile, McConnell tried to cover up his months-long obstruction of assistance: “There is no doubt this new agreement contains input from our Democratic colleagues — it is bipartisan. But these matters could have been settled long ago.”
In the end, Democrats had to bow to McConnell’s rejection of any aid to states and cities to obtain the compromise package.