Republicans in US Congress block bid to boost Covid-19 relief

Washington, Dec 24 (efe-epa).- Republicans in the US House of Representatives balked Thursday when the Democratic majority sought to pass by unanimous consent a measure increasing direct payments to households in the just-approved pandemic relief package, demanded by outgoing President Donald Trump as a condition for signing the bill.

Few members were in the chamber Christmas Eve morning for the pro-forma session when a senior Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, requested unanimous consent for legislation to boost the direct payments from $600 per person to $2,000.

One of the Republicans present, Virginia’s Rob Wittman, refused the request on instructions from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California in an apparent rebuff of the Republican who will continue to occupy the White House until Democrat Joe Biden becomes president Jan. 20.

Wittman then offered a proposal to address Trump’s objections to foreign aid provisions in the omnibus $1.4 trillion spending bill to fund the government for the next 10 months, which was passed in tandem with Covid-19 relief but is a separate piece of legislation.

Democrats rejected that proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled that the next step will be a roll-call vote on the measure to increase the payments.

“Today, on Christmas Eve morning, House Republicans cruelly deprived the American people of the $2,000 that the President agreed to support. If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” she said in a statement.

“On Monday, I will bring the House back to session where we will hold a recorded vote on our stand-alone bill to increase economic impact payments to $2,000,” the California Democrat said.

Lawmakers had already been expected to reconvene next week to override Trump’s veto of the legislation that funds the military.

While the Covid-19 payments bill is almost certain to pass the House, getting it through the Republican-controlled Senate would be an uphill fight.

The pandemic response approved early this week by both chambers was the fruit of months of on-again, off-again negotiations among the congressional leaders and the White House.

At the start of the crisis in March, Congress and the administration acted quickly to enact the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which included one-time $1,200 direct payments and an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits for four months.

In May, House Democrats passed a second bill, the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act. A month before the Nov. 3 presidential election, they approved a revised version of that legislation with a price-tag of $2.2 trillion.

The Senate refused to take up the House measure. The Republican leadership drafted a plan to spend $1.1 trillion, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided against holding a vote on that idea and Democratic senators blocked a GOP bill calling for $500 billion in spending.

Less than 24 hours after Congress passed the latest relief bill, Trump blasted the $600 figure for direct payments as “ridiculously low,” demanding $2,000 per individual and $4,000 for a couple.

Democrats rushed to embrace the idea, while most Republicans were silent on an initiative that some in Washington saw as a blow directed at McConnell for his remarks last week congratulating Biden for his election victory even as Trump continues to dispute the outcome of the vote.

Following Thursday’s development in the House, Democrats urged Trump to sign the existing pandemic relief bill and the omnibus spending legislation now in the expectation that Congress will act next week on increasing the size of the direct payments.

If the president doesn’t sign the relief bill, 14 million Americans will see their unemployment benefits end on Saturday, while an eviction moratorium protecting roughly 30 million people is set to expire Dec. 30.

While Trump’s refusing to sign the omnibus legislation would lead to a partial government shutdown early next week. EFE


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