Amid a flurry of tweetscriticizing everything from the Supreme Court to the Department of Justice, President Donald Trump again aired his displeasure of the COVID relief package, pushing for a $1,400 increase over what Republican and Democratic leaders had negotiated and leaving the status of the bill uncertain as unemployment benefits for million are set to expire.
“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork’.”
President-elect Joe Biden sharply criticized Trump’s refusal to sign the bipartisan stimulus bill, calling it an “abdication of responsibility” with “devastating consequences,” in a statement on Saturday.
“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said.
As Trump’s criticisms have thrown the future of the relief bill in doubt, temporary unemployment benefits approved in response to the pandemic expire on midnight Saturday, threatening a lapse in aid. If the president doesn’t sign the new relief bill by the end of the day Saturday, states won’t be able to make those benefits available again for a full week, effectively cutting the aid extension from 11 to 10 weeks.
Biden blasted Trump for allowing the benefits to expire.
“This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. Today, about 10 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance benefits” Biden said. “In just a few days, government funding will expire, putting vital services and paychecks for military personnel at risk. In less than a week, a moratorium on evictions expires, putting millions at risk of being forced from their homes over the holidays.”
Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, has calculated that 11 million people would lose aid from the programs immediately without additional relief; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.
Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, said the number may be closer to 14 million because joblessness has spiked since Thanksgiving.
While payments could be received retroactively, any gap means more hardship and uncertainty for Americans who have already grappled with bureaucratic delays, often depleting much of their savings to stay afloat while waiting for payments to kick in.
They are people like Earl McCarthy, a father of four who lives in South Fulton, Georgia, and has been relying on unemployment since losing his job as a sales representative for a luxury senior living community. He said he will be left with no income by the second week of January if Trump fails to sign the bill.
McCarthy said he already burned through much of his savings as he waited five months to begin receiving his unemployment benefits. After leaving weekly messages with the unemployment agency, McCarthy reached out to the South Fulton mayor’s office, then to his state legislative representative to ask for help. He finally started getting payments in November.
“For me, I shudder to think if I had not saved anything or had an emergency fund through those five months, where would we have been?” he said. “It’s going to be difficult if the president doesn’t sign this bill.”
The bill awaiting Trump’s signature would also activate a weekly $300 federal supplement to unemployment payments.
Trump first denounced the $900 billion relief package on Tuesday, calling it a “disgrace” in a video posted on Twitter.
“It’s called the COVID relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” Trump said in the video. “I’m asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple.”
The $600 direct payments were one of the compromises Republicans and Democrats struck as they negotiated the contents of the relief package, with most Democrats wanting higher payments like the $1,200 payments Americans were given as a part of the last major stimulus bill.
GOP leaders were also assured by the White House that the president would support the bipartisan legislation, including the $600 direct payments Republicans agreed to.
Trump’s refusal to sign this bill further delays the first COVID relief in months of Congress repeatedly failed to come together on another stimulus package even as many of the measures and aid began to expire.
Trump also tweeted about the direct payments on Christmas, asking why politicians wouldn’t want to give Americans $2000.
“Made many calls and had meetings at Trump International in Palm Beach, Florida,” Trump said after a round of golf on Friday. “Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600? It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a rare moment of agreement with the president, tweeted, “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!”
House Republicans blocked Democrats’ attempt to raise the direct payment from $600 to $2000 by unanimous consent on Thursday.. Now, the fate of the direct payments, along with the rest of the package, remains uncertain until at least next week when Congress is back in session.
In addition to wanting to increase the direct payments, Trump called on Congress to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill,” in his Tuesday video.
In that same video shared on Twitter, Trump not only suggested he wouldn’t sign the bipartisan stimulus package, but that he might veto the $1.4 trillion spending bill attached to the relief bill if the direct payments aren’t increased.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to salvage the year-end legislation to try to prevent a shutdown.
Democrats will call House lawmakers back to Washington for a vote Monday on Trump’s $2,000 proposal, though it would probably die in the Republican-controlled Senate. They are also considering a vote Monday on a stop-gap measure at least to avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.
Contributing: Jessica Menton, USA TODAY; The Associated Press