WASHINGTON — The fate of $900 billion in pandemic aid will remain in limbo over the Christmas break after House Democrats tried and failed on Thursday to more than triple the size of relief checks, then adjourned the House until Monday, when they will try again.
President Trump’s implicit threat on Tuesday to reject a relief compromise that overwhelmingly passed both chambers unless lawmakers agreed to raise the bill’s $600 direct payment checks to $2,000 has continued to roil Congress while rattling an already teetering economic recovery.
Mr. Trump decamped for Mar-a-Lago, his club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday without saying another public word on the relief bill’s fate, leaving both parties to guess whether he really intends to veto the long-delayed measure, which includes the pandemic aid as well as funding to keep the government open past Monday.
The result of the dysfunction is that millions of Americans who were counting on relief in the immediate future, or even continued unemployment checks, are not going to get them, barring a surprise bill signing in Florida.
On Thursday, the Government Publishing Office finished physically printing the nearly 5,600-page package, and congressional leaders signed it before it was to be flown to Florida by the White House for Mr. Trump’s possible signature. But if the president does nothing, the legislation — and its relief — will die on Jan. 3 with the statutory end of the 116th Congress. Government funding, extended unemployment benefits and a continued eviction moratorium will have lapsed even before then.
“The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill,” said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership, “and I still hope that’s what he decides.”
A delay in signing the bill could be costly for unemployed workers. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.
“Donald Trump’s temper tantrum is threatening to cost millions of jobless workers a week’s worth of income,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon. “The ability of millions of Americans to pay rent and buy groceries hangs in the balance, and Donald Trump spent the day golfing. It’s shameful.”
The Democrats’ Christmas Eve gambit on the House floor was never meant to pass, but the party’s leaders hoped to put Republicans in a bind — choosing between the president’s wishes for far more largess and their own inclinations for modest spending.
Republicans rejected the request by the House majority leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, for unanimous consent to pass a measure fulfilling Mr. Trump’s demand for $2,000 checks.
Without support from both Republican and Democratic leadership, such requests cannot be entertained on the House floor. Republicans then failed to put forward their own request to revisit the foreign aid provision of the spending legislation that Mr. Trump has also objected to, although most of the items came almost dollar for dollar from his own budget request.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California vowed in a statement on Thursday to hold a roll-call vote on the direct payments legislation on Monday, declaring that voting against it would “deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny them the relief they need.”
With government funding set to lapse at the end of the day Monday, House lawmakers are also considering the possibility of another stopgap spending bill — which would be the fifth such spending measure this month — to prevent a shutdown, Mr. Hoyer said.
Dec. 26, 2020, 6:29 p.m. ET
Meantime, Republican leaders were left wondering aloud why Congress was still dealing with a matter on Christmas Eve that they thought had been finally put to rest on Monday night.
“There’s a long list of positive things that we’d be talking about today if we weren’t talking about this,” Mr. Blunt told reporters on Capitol Hill. “And I think that would be to the president’s advantage if we were talking about his accomplishments rather than questioning decisions late in the administration.”
The pandemic relief and government spending bill, which passed both chambers this week with overwhelming bipartisan support, contains the first significant federal relief since April. If the president does not sign it, millions of Americans are set to lose access to two federal unemployment programs that were expanded under the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, which passed in March and lapses after this week.
A series of additional relief provisions, including an eviction moratorium, are set to expire at the end of the month, and other temporary relief protections shielding millions of Americans from the brunt of the pandemic’s economic toll will lapse shortly after the new year without action.
Lawmakers agreed to a plan to issue stimulus payments of $600 and distribute a federal unemployment benefit of $300 for 11 weeks. You can find more about the bill and what’s in it for you here.
- Will I receive another stimulus payment? Individual adults with adjusted gross income on their 2019 tax returns of up to $75,000 a year would receive a $600 payment, and heads of households making up to $112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $150,000 a year would get twice that amount. If they have dependent children, they would also get $600 for each child. People with incomes just above these levels would receive a partial payment that declines by $5 for every $100 in income.
- When might my payment arrive? Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC that he expected the first payments to go out before the end of the year. But it will be a while before all eligible people receive their money.
- Does the agreement affect unemployment insurance? Lawmakers agreed to extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits and restart an extra federal benefit that is provided on top of the usual state benefit. But instead of $600 a week, it would be $300. That would last through March 14.
- I am behind on my rent or expect to be soon. Will I receive any relief? The agreement would provide $25 billion to be distributed through state and local governments to help renters who have fallen behind. To receive assistance, households would have to meet several conditions: Household income (for 2020) cannot exceed more than 80 percent of the area median income; at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability; and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship — directly or indirectly — because of the pandemic. The agreement said assistance would be prioritized for families with lower incomes and that have been unemployed for three months or more.
Ahead of two runoff Senate elections in Georgia, Mr. Trump has also forced a tense situation for his party, setting up another loyalty test for his most devoted supporters that hinges on rejecting a $2.3 trillion package negotiated in part by top White House officials.
The president “doesn’t give a damn about people,” said Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who grew emotional as she recounted calls from constituents pleading for federal support during the holiday season. “He sowed more fear. He threw kerosene on a fire.”
Rank-and-file Republicans are expressing frustration, as well. On Wednesday evening, Representative Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio argued that House Republicans had stood by Mr. Trump for four years.
“If he thinks going on Twitter and trashing the bill his team negotiated and we supported on his behalf is going to bring more people to his side in this election fiasco, I hope he’s wrong, though I guess we’ll see,” Mr. Gonzalez wrote on Twitter.
On behalf of Republicans, Representative Rob Wittman of Virginia tried and failed on Thursday to gain consideration of a separate request to revisit the annual spending for foreign policy matters, given that Mr. Trump had also objected to how those funds were being spent. (That legislation had also secured the support of 128 Republicans when it passed the House on Monday.)
“House Democrats appear to be suffering from selective hearing,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, wrote in a letter to colleagues after Mr. Trump’s videotaped objection to the bill. “They have conveniently ignored the concerns of the president and shared by our constituents, that we ought to re-examine how our tax dollars are spent overseas.”
But other Republican leaders were not particularly eager to renegotiate the spending portion of the bill either. Mr. Blunt said he believed Mr. Trump was confused about the separation between the pandemic relief part of the bill and the foreign aid proposed by his own administration in the government spending portion.
“Certainly, the negotiated foreign aid provisions would not benefit by opening that part of the bill up, and frankly, if you start opening part of the bill up, it’s hard to defend not opening the whole bill up,” Mr. Blunt told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. “It took us a long time to get to where we are. I think reopening that bill would be a mistake.”
At a news conference after the unsuccessful motions, Mr. Hoyer said House Democrats only agreed to the $600 checks in the stimulus compromise because Republicans negotiating the deal, including the president’s representative, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, insisted on that number.
“Mr. Mnuchin suggested a lower figure might have been appropriate,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters. Asked if it had been a mistake to tie the relief package and the spending omnibus together given the conflation of various spending provisions, Mr. Hoyer noted that “perhaps the only mistake was believing the president and Secretary Mnuchin when we were told that the bill to be passed would be signed by the President of the United States.”
Ben Casselman contributed reporting from New York.