US parties wrangle in Congress after Trump shuns Covid stimulus bill

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Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress have blocked each other’s attempts to amend a vital $2.3 trillion (£1.7tn) stimulus package, after President Trump asked for changes.

The bill combines coronavirus economic relief with federal spending, and had been agreed by both sides.

But Mr Trump said one-off payments to Americans should increase from $600 to $2,000, and foreign aid should be cut.

Without the bill in force, many Americans face an uncertain Christmas.

Unemployment benefits are due to cease on Saturday if the bill is not in force, and a moratorium on evictions may not be extended.

Legislators could pass a stopgap bill by Monday to prevent a government shutdown on Tuesday but this would not include coronavirus aid and Mr Trump must still sign it.

Meeting on Thursday in response to Mr Trump’s intervention on Tuesday, Democrats in the House of Representatives blocked Republican attempts to cut foreign aid, while Republicans refused to allow the increase in coronavirus payments to $2,000.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said the lower chamber would meet again on Monday to vote on the payments.

It is also due to vote on an unrelated defence spending bill, which Mr Trump vetoed on Wednesday.

The $740bn (£549bn) bill passed Congress this month, and lawmakers could override the veto.

Mr Trump is objecting to provisions that limit troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Europe and remove Confederate leaders’ names from military bases.

‘Wasteful’ bill

The deadlocked package is made up of $900bn for coronavirus relief and $1.4tn federal spending. On Monday it passed the House of Representatives by 359-53 and the Senate by 92-6.

But on Tuesday Mr Trump shocked lawmakers with his response, describing the bill in a video statement as a “disgrace” full of “wasteful” items.

He baulked at the money for other countries, arguing that the funds should go to struggling Americans.

The one-off payments of $600 are half the sum provided by the last major coronavirus aid bill in March, which contained $2.4tn in economic relief.

Monday’s package extends federal jobless benefits of up to $300 per week for 11 weeks, although this again is half the amount provided by the previous bill.

The package contains $25bn in rental aid and extends an eviction moratorium that was due to expire at the end of this month, a lifeline for millions of Americans.

But after poring over the mammoth legislative package, journalists and critics highlighted a string of alleged giveaways for lobbyists.

The Washington Post, for example, reports that the package contains $110bn in tax breaks for sectors such as the liquor industry and motorsports entertainment.

BBC

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