Stimulus Bill’s Fate Remains in Limbo. The Stock Market Isn’t Reacting So Far.

U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to exit from Air Force One at the Palm Beach International Airport on December 23, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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The fate of the stimulus bill remained in limbo on Saturday after President Donald Trump again urged Congress to pass $2,000 in relief payments for Americans—despite no signs that Republicans would go along with his demand.

Without his signature on the bill, about 14 million people stand to lose federal unemployment benefits, which expired today.

The president’s tweets on Saturday indicated he wasn’t budging. “I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” he wrote. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

House Democrats called Trump’s bluff last week to increase the size of the relief payments from $600 to $2,000, trying to pass the measure by unanimous consent on Thursday, but were blocked by Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would hold another vote on Monday. Even if the measure passes the House, however, it would have almost no chance of getting through the Republican-controlled Senate, where GOP leaders have consistently opposed larger payments.

Congress merged the $892 billion coronavirus relief package with a $1.4 trillion government funding bill. Without Trump’s signature, the government may partially shut down on Tuesday as funding runs out, though Congress could pass a stopgap measure.

The stimulus package includes $300 a week in supplemental federal unemployment benefits that would run for 11 weeks until mid-March. Every week of delay would be costly to Americans since the benefits would not be applied retroactively, and states would need time to make adjustments to their payment formulas.

Unemployment benefits aren’t the only federal aid in limbo. The stimulus bill includes billions of dollars to help states distribute vaccines for the coronavirus, $15 billion in aid for airlines, and an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program with $284 billion for small businesses.

By sitting on the bill, which was flown to his Mar-A-Lago residence in Florida, Trump is using a “pocket veto” to block its passage. Congress has adjourned and can’t override a pocket veto, though leaders could call the legislature back into session if Trump formally vetoes the bill, voting to override it. The House is expected back on Monday to override Trump’s veto of a $740.5 billion defense spending bill, followed by the Senate on Tuesday.

Congress could take up the $2.3 trillion stimulus-and-government funding bill again on Jan. 3, when a new session begins. President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be sworn into office on Jan. 20.

The markets appear to be taking the political theater in stride, however. The S&P 500 index rose 0.34% Thursday while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.24%. Markets were closed Dec. 25 for the Christmas holiday. Futures were pointing to a higher open on Monday.

Write to Daren Fonda at daren.fonda@barrons.com