US House votes for increase in COVID-19 relief
WASHINGTON/PALM BEACH – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives voted 275-134 to meet President Donald Trump’s demand for $2 000 COVID-19 relief checks on Monday, sending the measure on to an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But even as Democrats helped secure approval for what the Republican president sought on stimulus payments, they spearheaded a House vote just a short time later to override his veto of a separate $740 billion defense policy bill.
The rebuke, in Trump’s final weeks in office, would be the first veto override of his presidency if seconded by the Senate this week.
Trump last week threatened to block a massive pandemic aid and spending package if Congress did not boost stimulus payments from $600 to $2 000 and cut other spending. He backed down from his demands on Sunday as a possible government shutdown loomed, brought on by the fight with lawmakers.
But Democratic lawmakers have long wanted much bigger relief checks and used the rare point of agreement with Trump to advance the proposal – or at least to put Republicans on record against it – in the vote on Monday, less than a month before Trump leaves office.
The 275 votes for passage meant the stimulus proposal narrowly exceeded the two-thirds of votes cast needed. A total of 130 Republicans, two independents and two Democrats opposed the increased checks on Monday.
Trump, who lost November’s election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden but has refused to concede defeat, finally signed the $2.3 trillion package into law Sunday night after holding it up with a veiled veto threat. But he continued demanding $2 000 checks. The $2.3 trillion includes $1.4 trillion in spending to fund government agencies and $892 billion in COVID-19 relief.
It is not clear how the measure to increase aid checks will fare in the Senate, where some Republican lawmakers have complained that the higher amount would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the latest relief bill.
Increasing the checks would cost $464 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which prepares cost estimates for legislation before Congress.
The Senate is due to convene on Tuesday, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he would then seek passage of the higher checks bill in the chamber, where Republicans have the majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday made no mention of Senate plans for such a vote, after welcoming Trump’s signing of the relief bill.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who has championed higher direct payments to Americans, threatened to stop the Senate from recessing for the New Year’s holiday until McConnell agrees to allow a vote on the $2 000 checks.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 330 000 people in the United States and led to widespread economic hardship, with millions of families relying on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 relief funds. (Reuters)