US President Donald Trump has signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown.
The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as an increase in food stamp benefits.
The signing at his private club in Florida came amid escalating criticism over his eleventh-hour demands for larger, $2,000 relief checks and scaled-back spending even though the bill had already passed the House and Senate by wide margins. The bill was passed with what lawmakers had thought was Trump’s blessing, and after months of negotiations with his administration.
His foot-dragging resulted in a lapse in unemployment benefits for millions struggling to make ends meet and threatened a government shutdown in the midst of a pandemic. But signing the bill into law prevents another crisis of Trump’s own creation and ends a standoff with his own party during the final days of his administration.
While the president insisted he would send Congress “a redlined version” with items to be removed under the rescission process, those are merely suggestions to Congress. The bill, as signed, would not necessarily be changed.
Lawmakers now have breathing room to continue debating whether the relief checks should be as large as the president has demanded. The Democratic-led House supports the larger checks and is set to vote on the issue Monday, but it’s expected to be ignored by the Republican-held Senate where spending faces opposition. For now, the administration can only begin work sending out the $600 payments.
Republicans and Democrats swiftly welcomed Trump’s decision to sign the bill into law.
“The compromise bill is not perfect, but it will do an enormous amount of good for struggling Kentuckians and Americans across the country who need help now,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “I thank the President for signing this relief into law.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the signing “welcome news for the fourteen million Americans who just lost the lifeline of unemployment benefits on Christmas weekend, and for the millions more struggling to stay afloat during this historic pandemic and economic crisis.”
But others slammed Trump’s delay in turning the bill into law. In a tweet, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., accused Trump of having “played Russian roulette with American lives. A familiar and comfortable place for him.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would offer Trump’s proposal for $2,000 checks for a vote in Senate — putting Republicans on the spot.
“The House will pass a bill to give Americans $2,000 checks. Then I will move to pass it in the Senate,” Schumer tweeted. “No Democrats will object. Will Senate Republicans?”
Democrats are promising more aid to come once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.