Trump threat plunges relief bill in turmoil

Washington: President Donald Trump has urged the Congress to amend a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill to more than triple its stimulus payments to Americans.

In a video message posted on Twitter Tuesday, he said the package “really is a disgrace”, full of “wasteful” items, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

“It’s called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid,” he said.

The $900 billion bill includes one-off $600 payments to most Americans but Trump said the figure should be $2,000.

The Republican president, who leaves office on January 20, had been expected to sign the sprawling legislation into law following its passage through Congress on Monday night.

But in Tuesday night’s message from the White House, Trump baulked at spending in the bill on other countries including Pakistan, arguing that this money should go to struggling Americans. The fact is those items are in the attached omnibus package of $1.4 trillion to fund federal agencies for the next nine months.

He said: “This bill contains $85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia, $134 million to Burma, $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment, $25 million for democracy and gender programs in Pakistan, $505 million to Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.”

The president questioned why the Kennedy Center, a performing arts complex in Washington DC, was set to receive $40 million when it is not open, and more than $1 billion has been allocated to museums and galleries in the capital.

“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple.

“I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package.”

Trump’s statement stunned Capitol Hill, plunging the long-awaited aid bill into turmoil.

If the president vetoes the legislation the US government could shut down on December 29 because the package was attached to the omnibus bill.

Republicans and Democrats have been negotiating a coronavirus stimulus rescue since July. Trump largely stayed out of the talks.

After Trump’s demand on $2000 checks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats will play along, but Republicans are not expected to. Eventually the President may stand down his veto threat. Already he has a standoff with Capitol Hill for his threat to veto the annual defense policy bill, which passed both chambers of Congress with broad, bipartisan support, but in which he wants to add a provision to take away safeguards from tech companies like Facebook.

Image courtesy of (Photo: screengrab from Trump twitter video)

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