(EPA)

An effort to send $2,000 to millions of Americans narrowly passed in the House of Representatives, following Donald Trump’s last-minute demands to Congress to increase the size of direct payments in a coronavirus relief package.

Democrats have sought to leverage the president’s 11th-hour objections after Democrats in both chambers of Congress have fought for months to increase the size of those cheques after a one-time stimulus of $1,200 in April. Republicans rejected Democrats’ attempts to send out another similarly sized payment during recent debate over the latest Covid-19 relief package.

The Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help Act, or Cash Act, would boost cheques from $600 to $2,000. The measure now heads to the GOP-dominated Senate, with House Democrats pitting austerity-driven Republicans against the president’s demands, and potentially forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell an opportunity to crush a larger round of relief payments to struggling Americans.

Despite his own administration negotiating the terms and scope of the package, the president’s last-minute objections threatened to create a lapse in critically needed federal unemployment relief for millions of out-of-work Americans, which expired on 26 December, with a federal moratorium on evictions expiring on New Year’s Eve. He signed the measure on Sunday, after nearly a week of delays from its bipartisan passage in Congress.

Speaker Pelosi sought to pass the measure under suspension of regular House rules on Monday, which required a two-thirds majority vote in order to fast-track its passage.

The measure passed by a narrow two-thirds majority vote of 275-134.

Speaker Pelosi said the legislation will be a “lifeline for millions of Americans.”

“This isn’t a big stimulus package … it’s an emergency supplemental [package],” Speaker Pelosi said from the floor on Monday. “This piece will make it something very important to sustaining our economy … Our goals have been [to] crush the virus, honor our heroes … and put money in the pockets of American people.”

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“Republicans have a choice: vote for this legislation, or vote for denying the American people the bigger check they need,” she added.

Voting against the measure “would be a denial … of the economic challenges they’re facing.” she said.

Kevin Brady, the leading Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, slammed the proposal, arguing that those funds would be instead used by recipients to pay off debts or make “new purchases online at Wal-Mart, Best Buy or Amazon.”

The measure “does nothing to get people back to work,” he said. “I worry as we spend another half a trillion dollars that we’re not targeting this help to americans who are struggling the most”

A fiscal note for the legislation says additional funds add more than $464bn to the coronavirus relief package.

“How much did it cost the taxpayers to include the three meal-martini tax break in a freaking pandemic relief bill?” said Michigan Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, criticising passage of the so-called “three martini lunch” corporate tax deductions supported by the president. “We know the cost of life isn’t included. Folks will be thrown out of their homes, not have access to water and suffer more because [the] Senate GOP wanted to help corporations first.”

The president withheld his signature on critically needed relief aid and an omnibus government spending bill over the Christmas holiday after lawmakers agreed to the contours of the bill.

On Sunday night, signalling his signature on legislation is conditional on his other demands, the president insisted that the Senate will “start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.”

He said in a statement on Sunday night: “Big Tech must not get protections of Section 230! Voter Fraud must be fixed! Much more money is coming. I will never give up my fight for the American people!”

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