Millions of Americans risk losing their unemployment benefits from Saturday as President Donald Trump continues to withhold support for a $900 billion (€738 billion) COVID-19 stimulus package.
The bipartisan legislation, approved earlier this week, plans for most Americans to receive a $600 (€492) check but Trump wants that increased to $2,000 (€1,640) which House Republicans reject the idea.
If Trump refuses to sign the deal, which is attached to a $1.4 trillion (€1.15 trillion) government funding bill, it will force a federal government shutdown, in addition to delaying aid checks and halting unemployment benefits and eviction protections in the midst of the most dire stretch of the pandemic.
Republican leaders, who had been touting the bill, have been left scrambling to salvage it with the optics appearing terrible for Republicans, and the outgoing president.
“The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said Thursday. “And I still hope that’s what he decides.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to prevent a shutdown.
Democrats will recall House lawmakers to Washington for a vote Monday on Trump’s $2,000 proposal, though it would likely die in the GOP-controlled Senate. They are also considering a Monday vote on a stop-gap measure to at least avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.
In addition to the relief checks, the COVID bill that passed would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, provide a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, and provide money for health care providers and to help with COVID vaccine distribution.
Meanwhile, Trump has been in Florida and was seen golfing for a second consecutive day on Friday. He is also continuing to rail against the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election and focusing his ire on Republicans in Congress whom he believes have not been supportive enough.
“At a meeting in Florida today, everyone was asking why aren’t the Republicans up in arms & fighting over the fact that the Democrats stole the rigged presidential election? Especially in the Senate, they said, where you helped 8 Senators win their races. How quickly they forget!,” he tweeted on Thursday.
On Friday, he tweeted that he had “made many calls and had meetings”.
“Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600? It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!,” he wrote.
The country continues to reel as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. The US has the highest death toll in the world with over 325,000 fatalities attributed to the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Figures from Thursday showed that a further 3,300 people had lost their lives in the previous 24 hours while more than 221,400 infections were confirmed.