Millions of Americans struggling through the pandemic faced the loss of unemployment benefits on Sunday as President Donald Trump kept up his refusal to sign a massive Covid relief bill passed by Congress.
The delay also threatened to provoke a government shutdown by Tuesday since the relief package is part of a larger spending bill, though lawmakers could approve another temporary extension to keep the government open.
Two federal unemployment benefit programs approved in March as part of an initial Covid relief plan expired at midnight on Saturday, cutting off an estimated 12 million Americans, according to The Century Foundation think tank.
The $900 billion relief package approved overwhelmingly by Congress on Monday following months of negotiation would extend those benefits as well as others set to expire in the days ahead.
But the day after the bill was approved, Trump dashed whatever hopes lawmakers’ long-delayed efforts produced, calling the bill a “disgrace” in a video posted to Twitter and signaling he would not sign it.
He pushed for $600 direct payments to US taxpayers spelled out in the bill to be more than tripled and argued the legislation included too much excess spending on unrelated programs.
He did not say why he waited until the bill was already approved to make his views known.
From his Christmas vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump on Saturday reiterated his concerns in a Twitter post.
President-elect Joe Biden, due to be sworn in January 20 after beating Trump in November’s election, meanwhile warned of “devastating consequences” on Saturday if the incumbent continued his refusal.
– ‘Chaos and misery’ –
Trump had not commented on Sunday, and some Republicans were urging him to change course, noting the bill was the result of painstaking compromise.
“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire,” Republican Senator Pat Toomey said on Fox News on Sunday.
Trump has not explicitly said whether he will veto the bill.
Congress could, in theory, override his veto, though it is unclear whether Republicans would choose to defy him to that degree.
Another option would be for Trump to simply do nothing, resulting in a “pocket veto” since Congress’s current session is due to end and a new one will begin on January 3.
Democrats in Congress on Thursday sought to approve a measure to increase the direct payments in line with what Trump wants, but Republicans blocked it.
It was seen largely as a theatrical move designed to expose the rift between Republicans and the outgoing president with little hope of passage.
Senator Bernie Sanders on Sunday said that “what the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel.”
“Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits,” he said on ABC.
“They’re going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending.”
Sanders urged Trump to sign the bill and said increased direct payments could be approved in the coming days.