On December 21, the US Senate finally passed a pandemic relief bill. The most interesting part of this legislation is the direct payment of $ 600 to almost all Americans.
A day later, President Donald Trump came on television and called it “shame.”
“It’s called the COVID Relief Bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” he said, adding that Congress should “immediately get rid of unnecessary and unnecessary sections of this legislation” and “Increase the ridiculously low $ 600 to $ 2000”.
It was a shock. He had never said anything like this from a distance before.
So what happens next? Will he veto the bill, just as he vetoed the military spending bill on December 23?
As he so often does, Trump clung to a piece of reality and then happily turned it into a huge misrepresentation. It is true that the bill passed on December 21 is consistently portrayed as the COVID relief bill, but in reality it is not.
It’s actually part of an omnibus spending bill – a large set of smaller spending bills – called the House Amendment to the Senate Amendment to HR 133 and captioned the Consolidated Appropriation Act. from 2021.
It’s 5,593 pages long and COVID-19 relief legislation – worth around $ 900 billion – is one of them. The remaining wreaths are worth $ 1.4 trillion, for a total of $ 2.3 trillion. As a benchmark, the federal budget for 2020 was $ 4.79 trillion.
The package is not just bags of money. It covers vital things, a mix of government spending, as well as very special favors for very special interests – a regular feature of almost every US government action.
The battle over the COVID aid part of the bill began in July, when Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a pandemic stimulus package just as the previous one – passed three months earlier – was over. about to expire. The bill then passed through the Republican-controlled Senate, where the GOP demanded things Democrats would not agree to – like protection from lawsuits for companies that did not properly protect their employees from the coronavirus. – and offered little that they would accept.
The back and forth over the bill continued as the second wave of COVID-19 infections struck. In early December, a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the House, plus a few in the Senate, proposed “a compromise package.” There have been a lot of genuine donations from both sides.
It was, in many ways, a return to normal. The bill was so huge and passed so quickly that it was clear the members of Congress who voted for it – and the few who voted against it – had not read it. This is in fact much more normal than not.
The bill is worded in such a way that unless you know the history of each particular item well, you won’t know whether it is going up, down, or going awry. Which is also normal.
It’s an inflated bag of Santa’s special treats: he creates drugs and safety standards for horse racing, makes illegal streaming of music and movies a crime, provides for penalties against any Chinese official who interferes with the selection of the next Dalai Lama, authorizes the creation of a National Museum of Latin Americans and a Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, allocates $ 1.375 billion for Trump’s wall on the US-Mexico border, aid foreign exchange for Cambodia, Nepal, Burma, Ukraine, Pakistan, Egypt and Sudan, some money for Israel and Jordan, and funding for a new submarine (even a single expensive), eight spearfighter planes, sexual abstinence programs and the Space Force. It is quite normal to group such things together in big laws to pass.
The bill also includes the necessary government spending authorization that must be passed in order for the government to continue working. If the bill does not pass, it threatens another government shutdown.
The COVID relief portion of the bill extends UI benefits for an additional 11 weeks and adds $ 300 per week to those benefits. It also extends payroll protection (corporate subsidy loans to keep people working), eviction bans and provides tenant assistance, child care, education, food stamps and, of course, the $ 600 for most adults and their dependent children, which Trump calls a disgrace.
Democrats attempted an instant response, unanimous consent to an amendment to increase the $ 600 to the $ 2,000 Trump had claimed. This was the amount the Democrats initially wanted. They had opted for the lower number only to pass it through the Republican Senate.
“Unanimous consent” is a aptly named legislative maneuver. Only one opponent can block it. The Republicans blocked it, going against Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately announced that the amendment to the bill would go to the normal vote – which can pass it by simple majority – next week.
It will be a double danger for the Republicans. Voting against it will mean refusing to give more relief money to the American people – a Republican standard – but it will cost almost US $ 1,400. Worse, it means openly disagreeing with Trump at a time when aligning with him has negated any other possible value a Republican might have.
It is very difficult to say what is the likelihood of such an amendment being adopted. If so, will Trump happily announce “win!” and sign it? Or will he move the goal post?
Remember, he said there were a lot of things in the bill that had nothing to do with COVID relief. Of course there are, because it is an omnibus spending bill. Most of the items he specified were included in his own budget proposal. Would he be appeased if they were eliminated? Or deploy another list deemed “unnecessary and unnecessary”?
Trump could veto the bill, but that can be overruled by a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with the approval of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, has already announced a plan to bring the Senate back on December 29 for a vote to overturn a possible presidential veto. Since it was originally passed 359-53 in the House and 92-6 in the Senate, that should be easy.
Trump could also just do nothing. This creates a “pocket veto”. If it does nothing for 10 days, not counting Sundays, the bill becomes law, provided Congress is still in session. The problem is that this 10-day period ends at the beginning of January and the term of the old Congress ends on January 3. Anything that is not adopted at that point simply disappears.
However, according to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, Congress can specify a different day for its adjournment. It could continue until January 4 or 5 or later. And the bill would become law.
The other problem is that if the bill is not signed by December 28, the government will run out of money and close its doors.
What to expect
Trump likes to destroy what others have accomplished. To imagine that he has another goal is to indulge in self-delusion.
For now, Trump has gone to Florida for yet another vacation, presumably at least until Jan. 1, 2021. He will be playing golf, all state-paid expenses at his own facilities.
Melania was kind enough to let Donald hold her hand for this photoshoot as she walked happily towards Air Force One as they took off for Mar-a-Lago.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.