Covid: Millions of Americans face unemployment benefits lapse

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Millions of Americans face going without unemployment benefits after Saturday amid a political standoff over a $900bn (£665bn) stimulus package.

President Donald Trump has refused to sign the measure into law unless it is amended, though Republicans and Democrats have blocked proposals.

The coronavirus economic relief, which comes with a $1.4tn federal budget attached, was agreed by both sides.

But Mr Trump wants bigger one-off payments and a cut in foreign aid.

As well as threatening unemployment benefits, a moratorium on evictions may not be extended unless the bill is enacted by the end of 26 December.

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

Some 14 million Americans would be affected by a lapse in unemployment benefit payments and new stimulus cheques.

Mr Trump says the one-time payments to Americans should increase from the $600 in the legislation to $2,000 – but Republicans have refused to agree to the change.

For their part, Democrats blocked Republican attempts to cut foreign aid from the federal spending bill.

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 Christmas 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.

On the same day, the House is also expected to vote on an unrelated, $740bn defence spending bill, which Mr Trump vetoed on Wednesday instead of 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.

The $900bn coronavirus aid relief bill – with the larger budget bill rolled in – overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives and Senate on Monday but a day later Mr Trump issued an implied veto threat, describing the package in a video statement as a “disgrace” full of “wasteful” items.

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

Mr Trump’s decision to bat the measure back to Capitol Hill stunned lawmakers since he has largely stayed out of negotiations for a coronavirus aid bill that had stalled since last July.

His top economic adviser, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, had proposed the $600 payments early this month, and many have questioned why the president waited until now to object.

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

Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “Glad to see the President is willing to support our legislation.”

BBC

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