Trump's Attack on Stimulus Bill Threatens Aid to Americans at Critical Time

President Donald Trump's sudden attack on the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package passed through Congress this week threatens urgently needed aid to struggling Americans set to lose unemployment benefits.

A day after lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to pass the bipartisan deal, Trump branded it a "disgrace" on Tuesday and demanded the bill be amended to include $2,000 stimulus checks.

His Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who led negotiations on behalf of the White House, had said $600 stimulus checks from the relief bill would be sent out at the beginning of next week.

But it's almost certain that won't be possible, with House Republicans expected to block a proposal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will put forward Thursday on raising stimulus payments.

The stakes are high as millions of Americans desperately await additional federal assistance, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to ravage the country months after the CARES Act provided critical aid to keep individuals and businesses afloat.

Along with the $600 stimulus checks, the relief deal passed by Congress on Monday was set to deliver a financial lifeline to many by establishing a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, as well as additional funding for businesses, schools and renters facing eviction.

Without the aid, the end to two expanded unemployment programs from the CARES Act on December 26 would push almost 5 million people—including more than a million children—into poverty next month, according to a report from Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy.

Black and Latino workers, who have been disproportionately affected by job losses during the pandemic, would be the hardest hit, researchers said.

Democrats had pushed for larger stimulus checks in the relief deal, arguing that $600 payments—far less generous than the $1,200 checks the CARES Act delivered—would do little to help Americans who have been struggling financially for months, but compromised with reluctant Republicans in order to deliver the aid before the end of 2020.

The bill was attached to a $1.4 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government through the fiscal year, so Trump's interjection also risks a government shutdown next week.

While Democrats backed Trump's demand for $2,000 stimulus checks, they denounced the president's hint that he would not sign the package because the broader spending bill included routine provisions like foreign aid that he deemed "wasteful and unnecessary."

"Does the president realize that unemployment benefits expire the day after Christmas?" Democratic Sen. Mark Warner tweeted Wednesday.

In a letter to colleagues, Pelosi said she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had repeatedly asked Republicans the highest amount Trump would accept for stimulus checks. They responded with "Sphinx-like silence," she said. "In the negotiations, they would never go above $600 and in some cases, proposed $500."

Pelosi urged Trump to call on congressional Republicans to back the proposal for $2,000 checks. "The entire country knows that it is urgent for the President to sign this bill, both to provide the coronavirus relief and to keep government open," she added.

Schumer tweeted that Trump needed to sign the bill and more aid could be delivered later.

That sentiment has been echoed by President-elect Joe Biden, who praised lawmakers on coming to an agreement on Tuesday. Although noting the package was far from perfect, he said "it does provide vital relief at a critical moment."

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President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk towards Marine One as they depart the White House en route to Mar-a-Lago, the President's private club, where they will spend Christmas and New Years Eve in Washington, DC on December 23, 2020. Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images