U.S. Families, Economy, Government in Limbo as Trump Remains Mum on Covid-19 Aid Bill – The Wall Street Journal


President Trump left on Wednesday to spend the holidays at Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida club.

Photo: saul loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—Millions of Americans could soon lose their pandemic-related unemployment benefits amid continued uncertainty about whether President Trump will sign or veto a massive coronavirus relief package.

Mr. Trump unleashed confusion in Washington and across the country on Tuesday when he criticized the legislation, which also includes a $1.4 trillion government funding bill. The 5,593-page year-end package passed both chambers of Congress with broad bipartisan support, and the president only publicly registered his frustrations after lawmakers approved the legislation.

The president called on lawmakers to increase the direct payments to $2,000 for individuals from $600 per adult and per child, the current level in the bipartisan bill. He also criticized the spending portion of legislation, which includes routine funding for foreign allies and international programs.

“Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600? It wasn’t their fault, it was China,” the president wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Give our people the money!”

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The president delegated negotiations to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and played little role in the monthslong talks over the bill. He hasn’t told lawmakers whether he intends to veto it, furthering the uncertainty about the fate of the package.

Government funding will run out at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, giving lawmakers a tight deadline to reach a compromise that the president will sign, should they reopen negotiations. At the same time, key support measures on which millions of struggling Americans are relying could soon expire.

The week ending Dec. 26 is the last full week for which pandemic-related unemployment benefits are funded. In early December, roughly 14 million people were receiving benefits through the two pandemic programs that were set to expire this month, representing nearly three-quarters of those currently receiving jobless benefits.

In addition to the $600 direct payment checks, the bill adds $300 to weekly unemployment payments for 11 weeks and extends two other unemployment programs. It also supplies more than $300 billion in relief for small businesses—including a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program—and pours more than $50 billion into distributing coronavirus vaccines, in addition to testing and tracing efforts.

Mr. Trump is spending the holidays at Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida club. He has no events on his public schedule on Friday and he traveled to his golf club in West Palm Beach. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The coronavirus relief bill was flown to Mar-a-Lago this week so that Mr. Trump can sign it if he chooses to do so.

Mr. Trump delegated negotiations to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and played little role in the monthslong talks over the bill.

Photo: pool/Reuters

Republicans on Thursday blocked Democrats’ effort to pass legislation approving $2,000 stimulus checks for Americans by unanimous consent in the U.S. House, and countered with an attempt to cut foreign aid that was thwarted by Democrats in turn.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), the No. 4 Senate Republican, told reporters on Thursday that he hopes the president signs the combined package of Covid aid and government funding.

“Best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill and I still hope that’s what he decides to do,” said Mr. Blunt, who presided over a brief pro forma session of the Senate.

Mr. Blunt, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he thinks there have been some misunderstandings about what’s in the regular government funding bill and what was in the Covid relief bill.

He said it would be a mistake for Republicans to reopen negotiations on foreign aid levels, as Mr. McCarthy had suggested.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com

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