World

Democrats seek higher relief cheques as Trump backs down on Bill

President signs US$2.3 trillion pandemic Bill, averting government shutdown

WASHINGTON: Democrats in the US Congress will try to push through expanded US$2,000 (S$2,660) pandemic relief payments for Americans after President Donald Trump backed down from a fight with lawmakers that could have shut down the government.

In a sudden reversal late on Sunday, Mr Trump signed into law a US$2.3 trillion pandemic aid and spending package, restoring unemployment benefits to millions and providing funds to keep government agencies running.

Mr Trump, who leaves office on Jan 20 after losing November's election to President-elect Joe Biden, retreated from his threat to block the Bill, which was approved by Congress last week, after he came under pressure from lawmakers on both sides.

The Republican President had last week called the Bill a "disgrace" and demanded Congress change it to increase the size of stimulus cheques for struggling Americans from US$600 to US$2,000 while also cutting some other spending.

It was not immediately clear why Mr Trump changed his mind on the stimulus package.

His surprise, last-minute resistance had threatened to inject further chaos into the final stretch of his presidency.

Despite that, Democratic lawmakers who have a majority in the House of Representatives and have long wanted US$2,000 relief cheques, hope to use a rare point of agreement with Mr Trump to advance the proposal - or at least put Republicans on record against it - in a vote scheduled yesterday.

Many of Mr Trump's fellow Republicans oppose the higher payments, and Mr Trump may not have the influence to budge them.

The issue appears unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Many economists agree the financial aid in the Bill should be bigger to get the economy moving again, but say that immediate support for Americans hit by coronavirus lockdowns is still urgently needed.

After signing the Bill, Mr Trump made the best of backing down, saying he was sending "a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed".

The relief package also extends a moratorium on evictions that was due to expire on Dec 31, refreshes support for small business payrolls, provides funding to help schools re-open and aid for the transport industry and vaccine distribution. - REUTERS

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