Democrats want rushed vote on Trump's $2,000 coronavirus aid checks

Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives want to swiftly pass legislation on Thursday, as part of a coronavirus initiative to ease the burden of the economy, allowing direct payments of $ 2,000 to Americans after President Donald Trump unexpectedly on the provision has passed.
The stakes on this long-term offering are huge as millions of Americans desperately await new aid from Washington in a COVID-19 pandemic spiraling out of control in the US and other countries.
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Late Monday, Congress overwhelmingly approved a $ 892 billion coronavirus assistance bill that includes a one-time payment of $ 600 to individuals to help them cope with a pandemic-ravaged U.S. economy to help.
The aid was funded with $ 1.4 trillion to keep the federal government going for this fiscal year, which ends September 30, 2021.
Despite expectations, Trump hinted on Tuesday that if direct payments were not increased to $ 2,000 per person and a number of unrelated government spending projects, including foreign aid, were not dumped, he could veto the gigantic legislation.
Trump, who was waiting to receive the $ 2.3 trillion bill from Congress, did not specifically say he would reject the bill in its current form.
But with his warning, he suspended coronavirus aid and the federal government's ability to operate normally beyond next Monday if the available money ran out.
In a challenge to Congressional Republicans trying to keep the cost of coronavirus aid below $ 1 trillion, Democrats happily accepted Trump's call for greater stimulus checks for Americans.
On Wednesday, House Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi tweeted, "Mr. President, sign the bill to keep the government open! Call on McConnell and McCarthy to approve the Democrats' unanimous consent for $ 2,000 in direct payments! This can go until Christmas Eve around Noon! "
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Chairman Kevin McCarthy, the two leading Republicans in Congress, and their aides have remained silent about Trump's request for larger checks.
But McCarthy, in a letter to his Republican counterparts late Wednesday, described a counter-attack his party would be planning Thursday to seek changes to the foreign aid component of the spending bill.
Either side could block the other side's proposal in a stalemate that leaves the bill passed on Monday unchanged.
With a procedural maneuver that is rarely used for important laws, the Democrats should try early Thursday to get the $ 2,000 payment initiative through the house in a lightning-fast and unanimous manner. But in order to prevail, all members of the House of Representatives would have to participate in the 435-seat chamber by not objecting to the maneuver.
If the Democrats' chess game fails, it would be up to Trump to either legally sign or veto the combined $ 2.3 trillion of coronavirus aid and government funding.
Supporters of Congress could have the vote to override a veto. If not, Congress and the White House would be in a potentially chaotic showdown just weeks before Trump's replacement by President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, on Jan. 20.
To avoid a government shutdown, Congress could resume operations by passing a fourth emergency funding bill before midnight Monday. For this option to work, lawmakers would need Trump's collaboration at a time when he is still being consumed by his loss to Biden in the November 3rd presidential election.
However, the stopgap solution would not include coronavirus help.
In another showdown with Trump, Congress plans to overturn its veto on Wednesday against a bill approving US military programs. The house wants to vote on Monday, and the Senate could follow up on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Grant McCool)
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