US President Donald Trump’s push for US$2,000 (RM8,000) Covid-19 relief payments has stalled in the Senate, reports the Associated Press.
Trump wants to increase the disaster payments from US$600 (RM2,500) for millions of Americans, but most Republican senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of crossing Trump.
“There’s one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting US$2,000 payments?” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said some of the US$600 payments might already have been sent by direct deposit to Americans’ bank accounts.
The showdown over the US$2,000 payments has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office for the new year.
The president’s last-minute push for bigger payments leaves Republicans deeply split between those who align with Trump’s populist instincts and those who adhere to what have been more traditional conservative views against too much government spending.
Congress had settled on smaller US$600 payments in a compromise over the big, year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.
Trump repeated his demand in a tweet ahead of Tuesday’s Senate session: ”$2000 for our great people, not $600!”
Many Republicans decried the bigger payments saying the nearly US$400 billion total price tag would be too high, plus the relief is not targeted to those who need it and Washington has already dispatched ample sums on Covid-19 aid.
“We’ve spent US$4 trillion on this problem,” said Senator John Cornyn.
Nevertheless, millions of Americans have seen their jobless aid lapse and find themselves in need again.
Trump’s push could fizzle out in the Senate but the debate over the size and scope of the package – US$900 billion in Covid-19 aid and US$1.4 trillion to fund government agencies – is potentially one last confrontation before the new Congress is sworn in on Sunday.
For now, the US$600 payments are being delivered, along with other aid, forming the largest rescue package of its kind anywhere.
The Covid-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost – this time US$300, until March 14, as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It also extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.
Americans earning up to US$75,000 will qualify for the direct US$600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional US$600 payment per dependent child.
Biden supports Trump’s US$2,000 payments and said on Tuesday the aid package is merely a “down payment” on what he plans to deliver once in office.
Economists said a US$600 payment will help, but that it’s a far cry from the spending boost that a US$2,000 payment would give the economy.