Trump demands Congress ‘amend’ massive spending package

President takes issue with the size of rebate checks and who's getting them; also criticizes "wasteful and unnecessary" spending

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Posted December 22, 2020 at 9:00pm

President Donald Trump on Tuesday night all but said he won't sign the year-end omnibus appropriations and coronavirus relief package, telling Americans the tax rebates aren't big enough and that the measure is littered with unnecessary spending.

The huge bill "they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace," Trump said in a four-minute, 29-second video posted on his Twitter feed.

He said he wants lawmakers to increase the "ridiculously low" $600 rebate checks to $2,000 and to "get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation ... 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."

Trump's comments throw a wrench into the carefully negotiated $900 billion relief bill and underlying $1.4 trillion fiscal 2021 appropriations package that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin played a role in negotiating. Mnuchin on Tuesday morning issued a statement praising the agreement, and a day earlier told CNBC that the $600 checks could begin to flow as early as next week.

Trump's implication was that he'd veto the package Congress cleared late Monday, though he didn't use that term. Sustaining a veto seems unlikely, given the Senate voted 92-6 in favor of the bill and the House, through a procedure known as dividing the question, got well in excess of veto-proof majorities on both pieces.

It's not clear how such a vote would go on a combined override vote, however, particularly among Republicans now that the president has made his feelings known.

There's also a timing issue since the 5,593-page package hasn't been officially enrolled yet, which is necessary before it's even sent to the president's desk.

[Senate clears massive year-end spending bill with coronavirus relief]

If the bill isn't quickly sent to Trump, there's a real risk of a "pocket veto" -- where the bill dies because no action was taken before the 117th Congress begins. The 10-day clock for a presidential signature or veto could run into the new congressional session that starts at noon Sunday, Jan. 3, at which point the bill would die. Sundays are excluded from the 10-day count under the Constitution, so enrollment and delivery of the bill would need to be occur by Tuesday night, or possibly Wednesday at the latest.

If the bill got to Trump's desk in time, Congress would have until noon that Sunday to override a possible veto.

In his Twitter video, Trump took issue with all manner of foreign assistance spending, among other items; the fact that couples with mixed immigration status could receive rebate checks; the smaller size of the checks; and lack of relief for restaurants.

"Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it," Trump said. The virus "wasn't their fault; it was China's fault."

Specific line items in the bill Trump singled out include:

  • $85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia.
  • $134 million for Burma.
  • $1.3 billion for Egypt and "the Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively military equipment." Military aid to Egypt has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy since the 1979 Camp David accords.
  • $25 million for "democracy and gender programs" in Pakistan.
  • $505 million in aid to Central American countries.
  • $40 million for the Kennedy Center in Washington, "which is not even open."
  • $1 billion for the Smithsonian Institution and $154 million for the National Gallery of Art: "Likewise, these facilities are essentially not open."
  • $7 million for "reef fish management."
  • $25 million to combat invasive Asian carp.
  • $2.5 million to "count the number of amberjack fish in the Gulf of Mexico."
  • $3 million for poultry production technology.
  • $2 million to "research the impact of downed trees."
  • $566 million for FBI construction projects. Trump earlier this year had sought $1.75 billion in congressional funding to build a new FBI headquarters at its current site across the street from the Trump Hotel.

On Tuesday night, Democrats' initial reaction was to suggest taking Trump up on his offer of $2,000 checks. "At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!" Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted.

The House has a pro forma session scheduled for Thursday in which Democrats could try to advance a direct payment bill by unanimous consent.

But that would require all House Republicans, some of whom already voted against the omnibus because of concerns about the debt, to agree to more spend on the checks. Although it's likely some conservatives would be inclined to object, it's unclear if any would be willing to return to the Capitol on Christmas Eve to buck the president.

Meanwhile a seven-day stopgap funding bill, which Trump signed Monday night, lapses Dec. 28 at midnight. If the omnibus stalemate persists, lawmakers will have to take up another continuing resolution to avoid a partial government shutdown over the New Year’s Eve holiday and into the swearing-in ceremony for the new Congress.

Niels Lesniewski and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.