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 his Florida home in Mar-a-Lago 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 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 Democrat 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, in a statement on Thursday, vowed 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 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.
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 Monday night.
“There’s a long list of positive things that we’d be talking about today if we weren’t talking about this,” Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership, told fellow Republicans 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 doesn’t sign it, millions of Americans on Saturday are set to lose access to two federal unemployment programs that were expanded under the $2.2 trillion stimulus law which passed in March. A series of additional relief provisions, including an eviction moratorium, are set to expire at the end of the month.
Ahead of two runoff Senate elections in Georgia, Mr. Trump has also forced a fraught situation for his party, setting up another loyalty test for his most devoted voters 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, Republican 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.
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.
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.)
But Republican leaders were not particularly eager to renegotiate the spending portion of the bill either. Senator 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. It took us a long time to get to where we are. I think reopening that bill would be a mistake,” Mr. Blunt told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday.
“The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill, and I still hope that’s what he decides.”
At a news conference following 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 “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.”