WASHINGTON DC, USA: US President Trump has urged Congress to amend a $900-billion coronavirus relief bill to more than triple its stimulus payments to Americans.
In a video message posted on Twitter, he said the package “really is a disgrace”, full of “wasteful” items.
“It’s called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid,” he said.
The $900 billion bill includes one-off $600 payments to most Americans, but Trump said the figure should be $2,000.
His statement stunned Capitol Hill. Republicans and Democrats have been negotiating a coronavirus stimulus rescue package since July and Trump – who has largely stayed out of the talks – had been expected to sign the legislation into law following its passage through Congress on Monday night.
The package of measures is linked to a bigger government spending bill, which includes foreign aid funding as well as a $1.4 trillion spending measure to fund federal agencies for the next nine months. Those agencies will have to shut if the president vetoes or refuses to sign it by midnight next Monday.
Most legislation that comes from Congress requires the approval of the president before becoming law.
However, Trump has not specifically said he would veto the bill. Even if he does, US media say there could be enough votes from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to override his veto.
In Tuesday night’s message from the White House, Trump baulked at spending in the bill on other countries, arguing that this money should go to struggling Americans.
He said: “This bill contains $85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia, $134 million to Burma, $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment, $25 million for democracy and gender programmes in Pakistan, $505 million to Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.”
The president questioned why the Kennedy Center, a performing arts complex in Washington DC, was set to receive $40 million when it is not open, and more than $1bn has been allocated to museums and galleries in the capital.
Trump concluded: “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it. It wasn’t their fault. It was China’s fault.
“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple.
“I’m 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.”
On Monday afternoon, congressional leaders unveiled a 5,593-page package and voted on it several hours later.
Several lawmakers protested that they had not been given an opportunity to read the contents.
Nevertheless the bill sailed through the House of Representatives by 359-53 and the Senate by 92-6.