On Sunday night, after six days of delay, President Trump finally signed Congress’s second coronavirus stimulus package. The $2.3 trillion bill includes $908 billion in aid programs for individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19, a wide range of other provisions that address the pandemic, and nearly $1.4 trillion in non-COVID spending that will keep the federal government operating until the end of fiscal year 2021, in September. Predictably, the president’s bluster around the bill added up to precisely nothing in the end. He did not get Congress to budge on any of his demands, instead caving completely after his puzzling delay.
Axios reports that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Senator Lindsey Graham had spent days trying to persuade Trump to sign the bill, emphasizing “wins” the president could take credit for. They also reportedly “invoked his legacy, and reminded him he didn’t want to hurt people.” (He apparently needed reminding.)
The timing of Trump’s signature is far from ideal. His sudden, unrealistic demand that Congress issue $2,000 checks to Americans delayed proceedings to the point that 14 million Americans saw their pandemic unemployment benefits temporarily expire — though the Department of Labor says there won’t be a delay in administering those benefits. By delaying for close to a week after ignoring the negotiation process entirely, the length of the $300 unemployment assistance program will also be effectively shortened from 11 weeks to 10 weeks. If his failure to sign had continued past tomorrow night, the government would have been shut down during a pandemic that has killed 1 in 1,000 Americans.
In addition to the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit, the bill will include a $600 direct check to Americans making less than $75,000 — despite Trump’s protestations that lawmakers return to the table to boost that payment to $2,000, a number some progressive Democrats initially demanded. There will also be $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program to provide forgivable loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees to cover payroll, rent, and utilities. Other stimulus measures include $82 billion for schools, $69 billion for public-health and vaccination efforts, $45 billion for transportation, $25 billion in rental assistance, and an end to most surprise medical billing.
Naturally, a statement Trump issued to go along with his signature is full of flourishes with tenuous connections to reality. He blames “Democrat-run states” for shutdowns that have hurt the economy, while condemning a spending bill featuring items the White House requested in its budget as “wasteful.” He claims he will send back a “redlined version” of the bill to Congress, where lawmakers will take heed of his cuts and his request for $2,000 direct checks to Americans. However, Trump does not have line-item veto power, and Republicans have been staunch in their opposition to increasing the aid.
In a bit of wishful thinking, Trump also notes that “the House and Senate have agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud” that took place during the election. But while an alarming number of House Republicans have signed on to the president’s quixotic attempt to overturn the election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not — focusing instead on the very real prospect of securing his party’s majority in the upper chamber.