Trump demands changes to $900bn US stimulus package


US president Donald Trump has rejected a nearly $900bn stimulus bill that passed both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-held House, saying the landmark economic relief package was a “disgrace”.

In a four-minute video posted to Twitter on Tuesday night, the president railed against the nearly 5,600-page piece of legislation, which was passed a day earlier and headed to his desk for signing.

The Covid relief bill includes almost $300bn in small business relief; a new round of direct payments of up to $600 for American adults; and a $300 per-week top-up in unemployment insurance until mid-March, among dozens of other provisions designed to ease the damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

The president said he would ask Congress to “amend” the bill and “increase the ridiculously low $600 [direct payment] to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple” — and said he wanted a tax break for corporate lunches to be expanded.

The economic stimulus provisions were attached to a wider appropriations bill to fund the federal government and avert a government shutdown. If the president does not sign the legislation by the start of next week, the federal government will be shut down from December 29.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, said Republicans had “repeatedly refused to say what amount” the president wanted for direct payments.

“At last, the president has agreed to $2,000,” Mrs Pelosi said on Twitter. “Democrats are ready to bring this to the floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, did not immediately respond on Tuesday night.

“I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package, and maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done,” the president said.

Joe Biden, the former vice-president, defeated Mr Trump in the November 3 presidential election. He was officially selected by the electoral college last week. But Mr Trump has refused to concede defeat, repeatedly claiming, without evidence, that the election was rigged against him. He later on Tuesday posted a 14-minute video on social media repeating conspiracy theories about the election.

Mr Trump’s comments on the stimulus bill on Tuesday night were at odds with Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, who had negotiated on behalf of the White House with congressional leadership.

Earlier in the day, Mr Mnuchin released a statement saying he was “pleased” with the bill, which he said would “provide critical additional economic relief for American workers, families, and businesses that, through no fault of their own, have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic”. He suggested the direct payments to individuals could go out as soon as next week.

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In his Twitter video, Mr Trump rattled off several provisions of the omnibus bill that he disagreed with, appearing to conflate parts of the legislation to continue funding the federal government with aspects targeted to provide relief to families and businesses suffering amid the pandemic.

Mr Trump specifically took issue with a provision that critics have called the “three martini lunch” tax break — which allows businesses to fully deduct corporate food and beverage expenses from their federal taxes — saying it was not generous enough.

The president, who owns a chain of hotels and resorts, has long pushed for the tax break, claiming it would boost the restaurant industry. Democrats reportedly accepted the measure in exchange for an expansion of tax credits for low-income Americans, but imposed a two-year limit on the deductions.

“This two-year period must be withdrawn, which will allow the owners to obtain financing and get their restaurants back in condition,” the president said. “Congress can terminate it at a much later date, but two years is not acceptable, it’s not enough.”

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