Trump gives America chaos for Christmas

Yet instead of rewarding this good behavior, President Trump has given the United States chaos for Christmas. Denouncing the bill, and then decamping from Washington for his Florida home with scant time left on Congress’s legislative calendar, he has gratuitously created the possibility of a veto that could not be overridden. Potential consequences include a government shutdown and — just as unthinkable — failure to deliver crucial support for the unemployed, small businesses and public health.

Mr. Trump demands direct payments of up to $8,000 for families of four earning as much as $150,000, which is far more than the $600-per-person his own negotiators agreed to and which would cost another $370 billion. The president’s last-minute dealbreaking was too much even for the usually Trump-compliant House Republicans. They quite rightly shot down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) attempt to pass the extra money by unanimous consent Thursday. We can hardly fault Ms. Pelosi for taking a free shot at the GOP after Mr. Trump embraced the politically popular idea of free money for voters, but the cause of bigger “stimulus checks” is not remotely worth blowing up Congress’s overall compromise. Sending billions of federally borrowed dollars to families earning twice the median income is the opposite of progressive and would not even stimulate the economy very much, since experience shows higher earners are likely to save the money, not spend it.

For the House GOP to stop it was not, therefore, “cruel,” as Ms. Pelosi said. We similarly can hardly fault Republicans their face-saving, but inevitably failed, attempt to get unanimous Democratic consent for a bad policy of their own: revisiting what Mr. Trump claims is excessive foreign aid in the covid bill’s companion appropriations package. This money was the president’s second ostensible objection to Congress’s bargain, though much of it was either called for in the president’s own fiscal 2021 budget or backed by his allies on Capitol Hill. Depending on what happens in the next few days, House Democrats could stage a roll-call vote on the direct payments Monday, forcing the Senate to deal with the issue. That is also the day government funding runs out, meaning there might be a shutdown unless Congress and Mr. Trump prevent it.

We would just remind everyone of what is at stake: an imperfect but, for the troubled U.S. economy, essential bill containing $325 billion to sustain small businesses and their employees; $25 billion to help tenants make rent payments; $13 billion in extra nutritional assistance; $69 billion for vaccines and other health needs; $120 billion to extend and enhance unemployment insurance for 14 million jobless Americans — and more.

We would also remind everyone of who, ultimately, is responsible for the uncertainty, and who could end it with the stroke of a pen. Sign the bill, Mr. President. There’s no time for more games.

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