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Chaos and delay: Trump signs $900-billion Covid relief bill, government spending package into law

WASHINGTON DC, USA: US President Donald Trump has signed into law a coronavirus relief and spending package bill, averting a partial government shutdown.

Trump had initially refused to sign the bill, saying he wanted to give people bigger one-off payments.

The delay meant that millions of Americans temporarily lost unemployment benefits.

The relief package worth $900 trillion was approved by Congress after months of negotiation.

It is part of a $2.3 trillion spending package that includes $1.4 trillion for normal federal government spending.

Global shares ticked up on Monday after Trump signed into law a $2.3-trillion pandemic aid and spending package he had until now refused to sign.

Futures contracts for the US S&P 500 share index last traded up 0.4%.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 share index inched up 0.4%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2%, though trade is slow with many markets still closed for holidays.

The rollouts of Covid-19 vaccines are also bolstering hopes of more economic normalisation next year, with Europe launching a mass vaccination drive on Sunday.

Had Trump not signed the bill into law by midnight on Monday, a partial government shutdown would have begun unless legislators passed a stopgap bill.

About 14 million Americans faced a lapse in unemployment benefit payments and new stimulus cheques. Unemployment benefits will now be restored.

It was not immediately clear why Trump – who is in Florida – finally decided to sign the bill into law. He had been under growing pressure from both sides of Congress.

Trump said he was signing the bill with “a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed”.

He will leave the office on January 20 after losing November’s election to Biden, although he has refused to admit defeat.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney said he was “relieved” that the legislation had at last become law.

Earlier, Republican Senator Pat Toomey said the president risked being remembered for “chaos, misery and erratic behaviour”.

US President-elect Joe Biden had warned of “devastating consequences” if Trump continued to refuse to sign.

In a strongly-worded statement published on the transition website on Saturday, Biden described Trump’s refusal to sign the bill as an “abdication of responsibility”.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because President Donald Trump refused to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said.

The coronavirus aid relief bill – with the larger budget bill rolled in – overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives and Senate last Monday but, a day later, Trump issued an implied veto threat, describing the package as a “disgrace” full of “wasteful” items.

The bill includes a payment of $600 to Americans earning less than $75,000 a year. Trump said he wanted Americans to receive $2,000 – but Republicans in Congress refused to agree to the change.

Trump also baulked at the annual aid money for other countries in the federal budget, arguing that those funds should instead go to struggling Americans.

His demand to send the measure back to Capitol Hill stunned lawmakers since he had largely stayed out of the negotiations.

His top economic adviser, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, had proposed the $600 payments early this month, and many questioned why the president had waited so long to object.