The Democratic-led US House of Representatives voted 275-134 in favour of President Donald Trump's $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks on Monday, sending the measure on to an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But even as Democrats helped secure approval for what the Republican president sought on spur payments, they led a House vote just a short time later to override his veto of a separate $740 billion defense policy bill. The rebuke, in Trump's final weeks in office, would be the first veto override of his presidency if seconded by the Senate this week. Trump last week threatened to block a massive pandemic aid and spending package if Congress did not boost stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000 and cut other spending. He backed down from his demands on Sunday as a possible government shutdown loomed, brought on by the fight with lawmakers.
But Democratic lawmakers have long wanted much bigger relief checks and used the rare point of agreement with Trump to advance the proposal or at least to put Republicans on record against it in the vote on Monday, less than a month before Trump leaves office. The 275 votes for passage meant the stimulus proposal narrowly exceeded the two-thirds of votes cast needed. A total of 130 Republicans, two independents and two Democrats opposed the increased checks on Monday.
Trump, who lost November's election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden but has refused to concede defeat, finally signed the $2.3 trillion package into law Sunday night after holding it up with a veiled veto threat. But he continued demanding $2,000 checks. The $2.3 trillion includes $1.4 trillion in spending to fund government agencies and $892 billion in COVID-19 relief.
Increasing the checks would cost $464 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which prepares cost estimates for legislation before Congress.
Global markets were buoyed after Trump approved the package. Wall Street's main indexes hit record highs on Monday as Trump's signing of the aid bill bolstered bets on an economic recovery and drove gains in financial and energy stocks.
Republican Representative Kevin Brady said the bill does nothing to help people get back to work. "I worry that as we spend another half a trillion dollars so hastily, that we are not targeting this help to the Americans who are struggling the most and need that help," he said.
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 relief package extends a moratorium on evictions that was due to expire on Dec. 31, refreshes support for small-business payrolls, provides funding to help schools reopen and aid for the transport industry and vaccine distribution.