Unemployment Benefits Expire Amid Tensions Over the COVID Relief Bill

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Posted: Dec 27, 2020 6:55 PM
Unemployment Benefits Expire Amid Tensions Over the COVID Relief Bill

Source: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Millions of Americans had unemployment benefits expire Saturday night at midnight eastern time because President Donald Trump has not signed the $900 billion COVID relief bill that Congress sent his way. 

The president warned last week that he would not be signing the bill, but instead would be sending it back to Congress for them to renegotiate. Specifically, he wanted to see the $600 per person direct cash payments upped to $2,000 per person. He also demanded that Congress get rid of the wasteful pork spending found in the bill. 

"It's called the COVID relief bill but it has almost nothing to do with COVID," he explained in his address. "This bill contains $85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia; $134 million to Burma; $1.3 billion for Egypt and Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment; $25 million for democracy and gender programs in Pakistan; $505 million to Beliza, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama; $40 million for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., which is not even open for business; $1 billion for the Smithsonian and an additional $154 million for the National Gallery of Art; ... $7 million for reef fish management; $25 million to combat Asian carpe; $2.5 million to count the number of amberjack fish in the Gulf of Mexico, a provision to promote the breeding of fish in federal hatcheries; $3 million in poultry production technology; $2 million to study the impact of downed trees; $566 million for construction projects at the FBI."

During his address to the nation, Trump knocked the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, saying not enough money is being allocated to small businesses. He referenced the restaurant industry, which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and government-ordered lockdowns.

"Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists, and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it," he explained. "It wasn't their fault. It was China's fault."

The president on Saturday renewed his calls for Congress to fix the bill in various tweets on Twitter. 

Late Sunday evening President Trump said "good news" about a COVID relief bill would be coming soon, although he was vague.

Congress is scheduled to return early this week, although it remains unclear whether they have renegotiated with Trump's demands. As it currently stands, the bill has a veto-proof majority, should the president officially decide to go that route. Whether or not Republicans would be willing to vote to override a presidential veto, however, remains to be seen.