By Billy House | Bloomberg
A surprise scuffle over pandemic relief is set to run up against a crucial federal funding deadline next week as Democrats side with President Donald Trump in his demand for $2,000 payments to most Americans and Republicans take up his criticism of government spending.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning a full floor vote Monday on pandemic aid that includes the $2,000 payments that Trump says he wants, replacing the $600 in the original legislation. Republicans blocked Majority Leader Steny Hoyerâ€™s attempt to make that switch on Thursday.
Trump renewed his insistence Friday on the larger sum while spending Christmas at his Mar-a-Lago resort, temporarily finding common cause with Pelosi as she maneuvers a vote that will force Republicans to accept the bigger payments or break with Trump. But unlike the speaker, Trump didnâ€™t call attention to the fact that it was GOP lawmakers who had balked at spending more.
â€œWhy would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600?â€ Trump said in a tweet. â€œGive our people the money!â€ He returned to Twitter Saturday morning with similar comments, adding â€œstop the billions of dollars in â€˜pork.â€™â€
Pelosi pinned the blame on the GOP on Thursday after the failure of an initial gambit to pivot to $2,000 checks as part of the Covid-relief package.
â€œHouse and Senate Democrats have repeatedly fought for bigger checks for the American people, which House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly rejected â€“ first, during our negotiations when they said that they would not go above $600 and now, with this act of callousness on the Floor,â€ Pelosi said in a statement.
The standoff over stimulus payments comes after months of intense negotiations finally yielded a compromise to inject $900 billion into the U.S. economy â€” including forgivable loans for small businesses, supplemental unemployment benefits, support for renters facing eviction and funds for vaccine distribution. Those measures were combined with $1.4 trillion in annual government spending, and now the entire package is in limbo.
Trump hasnâ€™t explicitly said he would veto the legislation, which Congress finished processing Thursday after it passed both chambers on Monday. The White House didnâ€™t respond to multiple requests for comment. The bill has been flown to Florida, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Trump played a Christmas Day round of golf at his private club in West Palm Beach with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an ally of the president who has urged him to sign the measure.
If the president doesnâ€™t do so by Monday night, the government â€” now operating under temporary funding â€” would begin a partial shutdown starting on Tuesday. The House may attempt to pass another stopgap funding measure on Monday if Trump hasnâ€™t acted.
The president tweeted a video Tuesday criticizing the $2.3 trillion bill. His call for $2,000 payments, which most Republicans rejected as too costly, surprised GOP lawmakers.
â€œRepublicans in Congress and the White House canâ€™t agree on what they want,â€ Hoyer told reporters Thursday at the Capitol. â€œSurely, the president of the United States, whether he is in Mar-a-Lago or someplace else, ought to empathize with the suffering and apprehension and deep angst people are feeling this Christmas Eve.â€
Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership, said there were not enough Republican votes in the Senate to pass the $2,000 payments.
â€œI hope the president looks at this again and reaches that conclusion that the best thing to do is to sign the bill,â€ Blunt told reporters.
The House will reconvene Monday to vote on the Cash Act, a bill introduced by Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal to increase stimulus checks to $2,000. Democrats will have a video conference call before the vote to discuss Congressâ€™s pandemic response, according to a person briefed on the plan.
Republicans on Thursday tried to seek unanimous consent on a measure to examine taxpayer money spent on foreign aid, but Democrats blocked that move. In his complaint Tuesday about Congressâ€™s combined virus aid and government spending bill, Trump criticized federal resources spent on international programs, even though such spending was included in his budget and was allocated as part of the bipartisan appropriations process.
Trumpâ€™s conflict with Congress further escalated this week with his veto Wednesday of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed both chambers by large bipartisan margins earlier this month. The House plans to vote to override Trumpâ€™s veto Monday, with the Senate following suit on Tuesday. It would be the first time Congress overrules Trump.