Joe Biden, the president-elect of the United States, has urged Donald Trump to sign into law an $892bn COVID-19 funding and relief bill that would provide much-needed support to Americans hit hard by the virus and an economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
In a written statement on Saturday, Biden, who is set to take office on January 20, accused the outgoing president of an “abdication of responsibility” that could have “devastating consequences”.
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“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said.
“This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now.”
Trump stunned Republicans and Democrats alike when he said this week he was unhappy with the massive bill, which provides a one-time $600 payment to US citizens earning less than $75,000 a year and extends unemployment benefits that expire at the close of December 28.
Without Trump’s signature, about 14 million people could lose those extra benefits, according to Labor Department data. A partial government shutdown will also begin on Tuesday, as the bill comes attached with $1.4 trillion in normal government spending. This could put millions of government workers’ incomes at risk, unless Congress can agree to a stop-gap government funding bill before then.
The US has reported more than 18.7 million cases of COVID-19 since the crisis began and more than 330,000 deaths linked to the virus, according to a tally from the Johns Hopkins University – the highest totals in the world.
‘We are pawns’
“It’s a chess game and we are pawns,” Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana who stands to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit, told The Associated Press news agency.
Earl McCarthy, a father of four who lives in the US state of Georgia, said he has been relying on unemployment since he lost his sales job and will be left with no income by the second week of January if Trump does not sign the bill.
“The entire experience was horrifying,” McCarthy, who is receiving about $350 a week in unemployment insurance, told the AP.
“For me, I shudder to think if I had not saved anything or had an emergency fund through those five months, where would we have been?” he said.
Trump has said the one-time payment to Americans included in the legislation is too low.
“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted on Saturday morning.
He has not said yet whether he intends to veto the legislation, and he could still sign it in the coming days.
I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in “pork”.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2020
Democrats on Thursday sought to increase the payments to the $2,000 per person that Trump requested, but the president’s fellow Republicans, who oppose the higher amount, blocked the effort.
Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center, told Al Jazeera his organisation was concerned by the delay as the new bill was set to increase aid to federal nutrition programmes such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“What we’ve seen is the incredible line of cars lined up at food banks. This is why the delay in getting this aid out is unconscionable,” he said.
“We have the solutions at hand. We had a deal where people were standing ready to receive these benefits and now that aid has been delayed and millions will continue to suffer.”
This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now.
Trump spent much of Thursday and Christmas Day golfing at his club in West Palm Beach, Florida. The bill has been sent to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence, where Trump spent Saturday with members of his family, including senior advisers Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, and daughter Ivanka Trump.
According to his daily schedule, Trump was involved in “many meetings and calls,” although the White House did not provide details. He had no events scheduled for Sunday.
The president also found time to reiterate in several tweets his baseless claims of election fraud and accuse his fellow Republicans of abandoning him in his bid to overturn the election result, already shot down multiple times by US courts. He has yet to acknowledge Biden’s November 3 victory.
“Time for Republican Senators to step up and fight for the Presidency,” he tweeted on Saturday evening.
Trump appeared to be in an isolated position on the aid bill, as well, with few Republican legislators voicing support for his position.
Republican legislator French Hill of Arkansas, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, told Fox on Saturday that he hoped Trump would sign the bill immediately.
“I wish he had made that pitch for $2,000 as vociferously over the last three weeks as after the bill was passed. It might have given us more leverage to get a slightly higher payment,” Hill said.
At this point, he added, “it’s going to be extraordinarily hard to get that payment through the Senate and the House”.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, noted Republicans and Democrats agreed on the package last weekend with the support of the White House.
Trump did not object to the terms of the deal before Congress voted it through on Monday night.
“If there’s no action in the next couple of hours, Congress would have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to get this one time payment into people’s hands,” Jordan said on Saturday. “Also, they will have to figure out what to do with an eviction moratorium that is supposed to expire on New Year’s Eve as well as steps to avert a federal government shutdown.”
The US Congress, which normally is adjourned the last week of December, is preparing to return to work. The Democratic-controlled House plans to vote on legislation providing one-time $2,000 checks to individuals.
Trump last week vetoed a $740bn bill authorising the nation’s defence programmes. On Monday, the House is scheduled to vote on overriding Trump’s veto. If the House vote succeeds, the Senate could hold its vote as early as Tuesday. Both chambers passed the defence spending bill with margins well over the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.