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Trump throws pandemic relief into doubt

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In his final days in office, President Donald Trump has demanded changes to a hard-won bill to provide relief to Americans struggling amid the pandemic./AFP
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Dec 24, 2020 - 09:03 AM

WASHINGTON — The government will additionally shut down if Trump does not sign the bill by December 28.

Trump has not yet received the bill and he did not explicitly say he would not sign. It is almost unprecedented for a president to veto a bill that received such overwhelming bipartisan support.

But his veto Wednesday of a defense funding bill, the NDAA, ensures lawmakers will return to Washington after Christmas to override the action.

And while Congress also would almost certainly override a presidential veto of the funding package, Trump could pull off a “pocket veto,” by simply refusing to sign the bill until the current Congressional term ends and the new session is installed January 3.

The new Congress could resubmit the bill, but not before more damage is done to the faltering economy.

Despite the risks, Wall Street stocks finished mostly higher Wednesday as investors looked past the possibility the stimulus bill could die and instead focused on the possibility of a richer package.

The legislation includes $13 billion in funding for food stamps and $284 billion for another round of small business aid under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), as well as aid for US airlines that have been badly damaged by the collapse in travel.

Faltering recovery 

As Covid-19 cases have spiked, sending the US death toll over 320,000, the American economic rebound has stuttered — even as the rollout of vaccinations offers hope for a recovery in 2021.

Recent data show consumer confidence slumping, along with declines in income and spending, and economists warn of a wave of small business bankruptcies without more help.

Job market gains have stalled and new applications for unemployment benefits have increased in four of the past six weeks, with more than 20 million workers receiving some form of aid as of December 5, according to government data.

Diane Swonk of Grant Thornton warned of the risk of a further slowdown.

“The aid bill passed by Congress should help to blunt losses as we move into January. The challenge now is to get the bill signed and cash into people’s pockets,” she said.

While the housing market has remained a bright spot in the US economy given record low interest rates, new and existing home sales fell in November, according to government and private data.

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