Washington: President Donald Trump is rapidly approaching a Monday deadline to avert a government shutdown, but aides and politicians appear flummoxed about his strategy, left to interpret musings from his Twitter feed while he golfs and otherwise remains out of public view.
A large spending bill that Congress passed last week must be signed into law by midnight Monday (Tuesday AEDT) to prevent many federal agencies from significantly scaling back their operations. After Congress passed the bill, Trump posted a video on Twitter announcing his objections to it, saying that stimulus benefits were too small and that foreign aid was too excessive.
Since he posted the video last week, White House aides have not offered public briefings on Trump's strategy or plans. Instead, Trump has issued a series of tweets reiterating his demand for changes but not saying much more. Vice President Mike Pence is in Vail, Colorado and has also been out of sight in recent days.
Donald Trump heads off to play golf after the deadline passed to sign the stimulus bill. Credit:AP
The consequences of inaction are immense.
Starting Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees would be sent home without pay. And even the many federal employees who continue to work because they are deemed "essential," such as members of the military, will not be paid until a new funding bill is authorised.
In addition to a government shutdown, eviction protections for millions of Americans would lapse later this week, more than 14 million people could lose access to unemployment benefits and no stimulus checks would be issued. Without the bill becoming law, no new money would go toward vaccine distribution, schools, small-business aid or the ailing airline industry.
"I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he'll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behaviour if he allows this to expire," Republican Senator Pat Toomey said on Fox News Sunday. "So I think the best thing to do, as I said, sign this and then make the case for subsequent legislation."
"You don't get everything you want, even if you are the President of the United States," he said.
Millions of American families who have lost their jobs during the pandemic and are still struggling have no choice but to await the President's decision.
Deseree and Matthew Cox have had almost zero income since August, when Matthew was terminated from his management job in pest control. His application for unemployment benefits from Florida has never made it through the system's queue. The $300 per week Matthew, 38, scrapes together driving for DoorDash hardly makes a dent covering bills, rent and food for themselves and their two children who have special needs.
People will die without this money. People will get evicted.
The Coxes have depleted their savings and moved from South Florida to the Indianapolis area for cheaper cost of living and to be near family that could help with child care. But they say they need the extended unemployment benefits, rental assistance, extended eviction moratoriums and direct payments promised by Congress's $908 billion stimulus package.
"People will die without this money," Deseree Cox said. "People will get evicted. People will not be able to get their medication. To [them], $600 or $2,000, it seems so little. But to the American people right now, it's just everything."
Nancy Pelosi will on Monday reintroduce a plan to increase stimulus checks to $2000, hoping to highlight Republican resistance. Credit:Bloomberg
When Trump released the video last Tuesday demanding the larger stimulus payments, House Democrats tried to move quickly to approve the measure, but they were blocked by House Republicans on Christmas Eve. They are expected to try again Monday, but their chance of passing the measure with support from Senate Republicans appears small. Their only other option to avoid a government shutdown would be to pass a short-term spending bill but time is running out.
Trump stunned the nation when he criticised the stimulus legislation previously backed by his own administration as a "disgrace" and called on Congress to significantly amend it. Congress has not met Trump's demands, and there are no negotiations that could realistically amend the bill for it to be quickly reapproved. Five days after Trump's video, Congress and the nation are waiting for the President to clarify his intentions about the emergency relief package.
"Everybody in the White House is trying to figure out what's in Trump's head, if this is a bluff or if he's going to carry this out. He's been confronted with all the facts and evidence," said one person briefed by several White House officials over the weekend, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions. "Nobody knows what Trump is going to do. It's a bizarre situation."
One person who interacted with Trump in Palm Beach, Florida, in recent days said the President had not discussed the economic relief bill or the looming government funding deadline. Instead, Trump has been far more focused on his failed effort to reverse the election result, lashing out at Republicans in Congress and members of his own administration for not joining him in the fight.
If Trump vetoes the bill or does nothing, the federal government will shut down on Tuesday, local time. That raises the prospect of a prolonged government shutdown, until Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20.
The White House has provided no information about what its plans are to head off the potential economic calamity of a shutdown and the failure of the relief effort. A White House spokesman declined to comment when asked about the President's intentions.
Trump discussed the issue while playing golf in Florida with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and issued several tweets calling for $2,000 stimulus payments instead of the $600 payments pushed by his own treasury secretary.
People close to the White House described a chaotic scene in which senior officials anxiously await the President's next move. Republicans have expressed increasing concern that the President's move to blow up a carefully negotiated stimulus deal could hurt the party's prospects in the Georgia Senate races on January 5. If Republicans lose those two seats, Democrats will control the chamber.
With Trump and Pence ensconced in resort towns, the incoming Biden administration seized on the void to say the Trump administration was exhibiting rudderless leadership.
On Saturday, Biden accused Trump of an "abdication of responsibility" that would lead to "devastating consequences".
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