Kill the bill? Here is what might happen to US COVID aid measure

Trump has hinted he might veto legislation passed by Congress if direct payments are not increased to $2,000 per person from $600.

US President Donald Trump faces several options as to what to do with the US COVID relief legislation passed by Congress [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

United States President Donald Trump’s surprise opposition to emergency coronavirus aid and annual government funding passed by Congress has left Americans and global financial markets wondering whether Washington will iron out its differences or descend into chaos in the coming days.

Trump has not yet said whether he will veto the $892bn for COVID-19 relief that is coupled with $1.4 trillion to fund an array of federal agencies through next September.

After months of political wrangling, the US Congress on Monday overwhelmingly approved an $892bn emergency coronavirus aid bill that contains a one-time, $600 payment to individuals to help them cope with a US economy hobbled by the pandemic.

But defying expectations, Trump on Tuesday hinted he might veto the gigantic legislation if the direct payments were not increased to $2,000 per person and if a slew of unrelated government spending projects, including foreign aid, were not jettisoned. Trump did not explicitly say he would veto the bill in its current form.

Here is how this standoff could play out:

Trump backs down

Trump signs the 5,500-page bill, despite Congress’ refusal so far to meet his demands.

Democrats on Thursday sought to increase the payments to Americans to the $2,000 per person requested by Trump, but the president’s fellow Republicans, who oppose the higher amount, blocked the effort.

Trump vetoes the bill

Trump rejects the bill that passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives and Senate.

This would present Congress with two options: Firstly: round up the two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override Trump’s veto before the bill expires and then it automatically becomes law. Secondly: sustain the president’s veto, a scenario likely if enough Republicans abandon the legislation, despite their earlier votes for passage. The bill is killed.

Trump does nothing

Trump runs out the clock within 10 calendar days (except Sundays) of receiving it from Congress, neither signing nor vetoing it. The situation is known as a “pocket veto”.

This step is somewhat complicated because it normally only works when Congress is adjourned.

In this case, the calendar works in Trump’s favour if he wants to kill the bill. Within that 10-day time frame, the current 116th Congress expires on January 3 and the new, 117th Congress is sworn in. Bills die if they are not enacted during the Congress in which they are introduced.

That means it could be left to President-elect Joe Biden to deal with after he is sworn in on January 20. Meanwhile, people who lost their jobs during the pandemic would suffer as unemployment insurance for more than 14 million workers expires on December 26.

Without enactment of the bill, the US government runs out of money at midnight (20:00 GMT) on December 28. If this battle is not resolved by then, Congress must either pass its fourth stopgap funding bill since last September or federal agencies will not have money to fully operate beginning on December 29.

In that case, tens of thousands of government workers could be furloughed and programmes interrupted.

If Congress does pass a temporary bill, Trump would have to approve it or the shutdown begins.

Source: News Agencies