US President Donald Trump on Sunday signed into law a US$2.3 trillion pandemic aid and spending package, restoring unemployment benefits to millions of Americans and averting a federal government shutdown in a crisis of his own making.
Trump, who leaves office on Jan 20 after losing November’s election to President-elect Joe Biden, backed down from his earlier threat to block the bill, which was approved by Congress last week, after he came under intense pressure from lawmakers on both sides.
The Republican president, who golfed on Sunday and remained out of public view even as the potential government crisis loomed, had demanded that Congress change the bill to increase the size of stimulus checks for struggling Americans to US$2,000 from US$600 and also cut some other spending.
It was not immediately clear why Trump, who has refused to concede defeat to Biden, changed his mind on the stimulus package. His resistance had threatened to inject further chaos into the final stretch of his presidency.
White House officials have been tight-lipped about Trump’s thinking but a source familiar with the situation said some advisers had urged him to relent because they did not see the point of refusing. Democrats are on board with the US$2,000 payments but many Republicans have opposed it in the past.
Many economists agree the financial aid in the bill should be higher to get the economy moving again but say that immediate support for Americans hit by coronavirus lockdowns is still urgently needed.
Unemployment benefits being paid out to about 14 million people through pandemic programs lapsed on Saturday, but will be restarted now that Trump has signed the bill.
The package includes US$1.4 trillion in spending to fund government agencies. If Trump had not signed the legislation, then a partial government shutdown would have begun on Tuesday that would have put millions of government workers’ incomes at risk.
Global share prices ticked up in response to the news that Trump had passed the stimulus plan and backed away from a government spending crisis.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Republican, said: “I thank the President for signing this relief into law” but made no mention of any plans for a Senate vote.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi welcomed Trump’s signing as a “down payment on what is needed,” saying: “Now, the President must immediately call on Congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to US$2,000.”