US House approves US$2,000 coronavirus aid cheques sought by Trump | Malay Mail

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington November 3, 2020. — Pool pic via Reuters
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington November 3, 2020. — Pool pic via Reuters

WASHINGTON, Dec 29 — The Democratic-led US House of Representatives voted 275-134 to meet President Donald Trump’s demand for US$2,000 (RM8,114) Covid-19 relief cheques yesterday, sending the measure on to an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Republican Trump last week threatened to block a massive pandemic aid and spending package if Congress did not boost stimulus payments from US$600 to US$2,000 and cut other spending. He backed down from his demands on Sunday as a possible government shutdown loomed, brought on by the fight with lawmakers.

But Democratic lawmakers have long wanted US$2,000 relief cheques and used the rare point of agreement with Trump to advance the proposal — or at least to put Republicans on record against it — in the vote yesterday, less than a month before he leaves office.

A total of 130 Republicans, two independents and two Democrats opposed the increase yesterday, which required two-thirds of those present and voting to pass it.

Trump, who lost November’s election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden but has refused to concede defeat, finally signed the US$2.3 trillion package into law after holding it up with a veiled veto threat. But he continued demanding US$2,000 cheques.

The US$2.3 trillion includes US$1.4 trillion in spending to fund government agencies and US$892 billion in Covid-19 relief.

It is not clear how the measure to increase aid checks will fare in the Senate, where individual Republican lawmakers have complained the higher amount would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the latest relief bill.

Increasing the cheques would cost US$464 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which prepares cost estimates for legislation before Congress.

The Senate is due to convene today. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday made no mention of Senate plans for a vote, after welcoming Trump’s signing of the relief bill.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 330,000 people in the United States and led to widespread economic hardship, with millions of families relying on unemployment benefits and Covid-19 relief funds.

Global markets were buoyed after Trump approved the package.

Wall Street’s main indexes hit record highs yesterday as Trump’s signing of the aid bill bolstered bets on an economic recovery and drove gains in financial and energy stocks.

House lawmakers yesterday will also seek to override Trump’s recent veto of a US$740-billion bill setting policy for the Defence Department. If successful, it would be the first veto override of Trump’s presidency.

Asked at the end of an event in Wilmington, Delaware, whether he supported expanding the payments to US$2,000, Biden replied: “Yes.”

Georgia Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who face crucial Senate runoffs next month that could determine who controls the chamber, welcomed Trump’s move, without saying whether the payments should be increased.

As the floor debate was under way, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “Republicans have a choice, vote for this legislation, or vote to deny the American people the bigger paychecks that they need.”

And Democratic US Representative Dan Kildee said: “We would have included much larger payments in the legislation had he (Trump) spoken up sooner. But it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

But Republican Representative Kevin Brady said the bill does nothing to help people get back to work. “I worry that as we spend another half a trillion dollars so hastily, that we are not targeting this help to the Americans who are struggling the most and need that help,” he said.

The US Treasury Department is anticipating sending the first wave of US$600 stimulus checks to US individuals and households as early as this week, as previously planned, a senior Treasury official said yesterday. — Reuters

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