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Coronavirus aid at risk as U.S. lawmakers block Trump’s changes


© Reuters. U.S. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews

By Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. lawmakers on Thursday blocked attempts to alter a $2.3 trillion coronavirus aid and government spending package, rejecting President Donald Trump’s demand for extensive changes and leaving benefits for millions of Americans at risk.

Democrats in the House of Representatives sought to increase direct payments to Americans included in the bill from $600 to $2,000 per person as part of a coronavirus economic relief initiative, acting on one of Trump’s requests. Trump’s fellow Republicans, who oppose the higher amount, blocked that effort.

Republicans sought to change the amount of foreign aid included in the package, seeking to address another one of Trump’s complaints. Democrats blocked that request. The House then adjourned for the day.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chamber would hold a recorded vote on the stimulus-check increase on Monday.

The flurry of activity on the House floor did nothing to break a standoff that threatens desperately needed assistance for millions of Americans and raises the prospect of a partial government shutdown at a time when officials are trying to distribute two coronavirus vaccines.

Many Democrats say the $792 billion coronavirus aid package is not big enough to address a pandemic that has killed nearly 320,000 Americans, and they have welcomed Trump’s call for larger stimulus checks.

“How ironic it would be to shut down the federal government at a time of pandemic crisis, the very time when government services are needed the most,” House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said at a news conference.

Republicans opposed larger direct payments during negotiations as they sought to keep the overall price tag of the coronavirus aid below $1 trillion.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump was in Florida, where he was due to play golf on Thursday. The 5,500-page bill took months to negotiate and was supported by Trump’s administration.

With the status quo unchanged, it was unclear whether Trump would sign the package into law or hold out for further action.

Without his signature, unemployment benefits for those thrown out of work by the pandemic are due to expire as soon as Saturday, and the U.S. government would be forced into a partial shutdown starting on Tuesday.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Thursday Democrats should be willing to address foreign aid and other elements of the bill that he has derided as wasteful spending. “House Democrats appear to be suffering from selective hearing,” he wrote in a letter to other House Republicans.

Congress could keep operations running by passing a fourth stopgap funding bill before midnight on Monday. To successfully do that, lawmakers would need Trump’s cooperation at a time when he is still consumed by his November loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who is set to take office on Jan. 20.

The stopgap bill would not include coronavirus aid, however.

The House will also on Monday try to override Trump’s veto of an unrelated defense-policy bill.

Embittered by his defeat to Biden, Trump is pressing Congress to dramatically alter the coronavirus and government-spending package, which passed by wide, bipartisan margins on Monday.

Trump sparked a record 35-day government shutdown two years ago when he rejected a federal spending bill over what he said was insufficient funding for building a U.S.-Mexico border wall.





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