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Trump signs massive omnibus spending, coronavirus relief package

Threat of partial government shutdown averted

Prior to signing the massive spending package, President Donald Trump had criticized foreign aid provisions in the bill that were part of his own White House’s fiscal 2021 budget request.
Prior to signing the massive spending package, President Donald Trump had criticized foreign aid provisions in the bill that were part of his own White House’s fiscal 2021 budget request. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump on Sunday signed a massive government funding and pandemic aid package, despite earlier calling it a “disgrace” and demanding that lawmakers amend it.

The outgoing president’s decision to sign the mega spending bill removes the threat of a partial government shutdown that would have started early Tuesday after a temporary spending law expired.

In a statement, Trump said he was signing the measure because “it is my responsibility to protect the people of our country from the economic devastation and hardship” wrought by COVID-19.

With the president’s signature, federal unemployment benefits that lapsed Dec. 26 while Trump was mulling his options can start to flow again. Jobless aid recipients will get an extra $300 per week on top of regular benefits for 11 weeks.

A federal eviction moratorium for renters behind on their payments, which had been set to expire New Year’s Day, is now extended for another month and at-risk renters will receive $25 billion in financial assistance.

Trump released a video on Dec. 22 demanding lawmakers increase the size of tax rebate checks from $600 to $2,000 per person, and drop numerous spending line items ranging from $566 million for FBI construction to $3 million for poultry production technology. Many of the provisions had the express backing of Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala. 

Trump also criticized foreign aid provisions, including assistance to Egypt, Cambodia and Myanmar, that were part of the White House budget request for fiscal 2021.

The president’s signature came with a catch, however. Trump said he’d send a “redlined version” back to Capitol Hill along with a formal request for lawmakers to rescind, or cancel, spending items he finds objectionable.

Under a process outlined in the 1974 law establishing the modern budget process, a rescissions message puts a 45-day hold on the targeted funds while Congress weighs legislation to approve the presidential request. If lawmakers don’t act, the funds must be released.

In a statement Sunday night, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said Democrats in that chamber “will reject any rescissions submitted by President Trump.”

The White House unsuccessfully tried to cut about $15 billion in federal spending through the rescissions process in 2018 when both the House and Senate were in GOP hands. The measure barely passed the House and then was blocked on a procedural vote in the Senate.

In his video last week, Trump didn’t explicitly say he would veto the package which both chambers passed with veto-proof majorities on Dec. 21.

The House used a procedural move known as “dividing the question” that allowed members to vote 327-85 on the fiscal year 2021 Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Financial Services and Homeland Security spending bills, and 359-53 to approve the other eight fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, $900 billion in COVID-19 aid, and more than a dozen other bills. The Senate then cleared the measure by a vote of 92-6 a few hours later.

Increasing the tax rebates to $2,000 per person would have been too high for many congressional Republicans, some of whom advocated for $1,200 direct checks in the aid package but were unsuccessful.

House Democrats said they backed the higher amount and tried to pass it Thursday via unanimous consent, which Republicans blocked.

The House was scheduled to take up a new version of the bill on Monday when the chamber reconvenes for votes, including to override Trump’s defense authorization bill veto. Even if the bill passes the House, Senate action looked unlikely with the chamber unlikely to muster 60 votes to advance it, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters Thursday.

Trump cited congressional movement on legislation to boost the checks’ amount in his Sunday night statement explaining why he signed the bill.

‘Chaos and misery’

Trump’s move to sow uncertainty over the holidays, with unemployment benefits lapsing and the government on the verge of a partial shutdown, had caused great frustration on Capitol Hill. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that lawmakers could take up the $2,000 checks legislation on Monday and Tuesday after Trump signed the initial package.

“What we need to do is have the president sign that bill today, right now, or else the suffering in this country will be immense. And then we can immediately deal with the 2,000,” Sanders said.

Speaking separately on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey said despite Trump’s misgivings he ought to sign the bill.

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire,” Toomey said.

The Pennsylvania Republican said he opposed the $2,000 checks proposal because millions of Americans who’ve remained employed during the pandemic don’t need that much help.

Lawmakers sent Trump the massive bill at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Christmas Eve. On Saturday, while he was still mulling his options, Trump reiterated his frustrations with the package.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” the president tweeted. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork’.”

Last week House Republicans said they agreed with the president’s critiques of foreign aid spending in the bill and offered legislation, which Democrats blocked, to strip the fiscal 2021 State-Foreign Operations title from the package.

Blunt said Thursday that it would be a “mistake” to reopen the omnibus as Trump demanded.

“Frankly if you start opening part of the bill up, it’s hard to defend not opening the whole bill up,” said Blunt, chairman of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations subcommittee. “It took us a long time to get to where we are. I think, reopening that bill would be a mistake.” 

David Lerman and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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