Trump signs virus aid bill, averting US government shutdown

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a bill containing US$900 billion (S$3.06 trillion) in pandemic relief, according to a Republican familiar with the matter, triggering the flow of aid to individuals and businesses and averting the risk of a partial government shutdown on Tuesday (Dec 29).

In addition to aid to stem the economic effects of the pandemic, the legislation Congress passed Monday also includes US$1.4 trillion in government spending to fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year in September. The government had been operating on temporary spending authority that expires after the end of the day Monday.

The combined US$2.3 trillion package was the product of intense negotiations, from which Mr Trump was largely absent until he voiced his concerns about the amount of stimulus payments to individuals after the bill was already passed.

Mr Trump said in the statement announcing the signing that the GOP Senate had agreed to vote on increasing the US$600 individual payments and two other, unrelated matters dealing with social media and his unfounded allegations of voter fraud.

His delay in signing it means those aid payment will likely be later than Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had promised and may cut a week from the the supplemental unemployment benefits that were part of the package and scheduled to end in March.

The virus relief package will likely be the last major legislation signed by Mr Trump, whose re-election hopes were dashed in large part due to his handling of the pandemic.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he will push for even more stimulus after taking office early next year, but it remains unclear whether Republicans in Congress would go along.

Control of the Senate will be determined by the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan 5. Lawmakers approved the government funding and additional relief at the last possible moment before they were set to Washington for a year-end break.

Business leaders have called on Congress to pass more stimulus for months, saying that restaurants, theaters, mom-and-pop stores and airlines were being decimated by closures and restrictions as Covid-19 cases spiked in the US.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a relief deal on Sunday after more than a week of frantic talks sparked by a bipartisan group of senators who drafted their own compromise proposal and urged their leaders to act.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, representing the administration, also was involed in the talks. Mr Trump surprised even his fellow Republicans on Tuesday by tweeting a video saying that he wanted Congress to increase the size of stimulus payments for individuals to US$2,000, from the US$600 in the bill Congress passed.

He also complained about federal spending on foreign aid and international programs, even though those funds were allocated as part of the bipartisan appropriations process for funding the government.

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