US Congress fails to agree to boost stimulus payments

House Democrats vow to try again on Monday, and will hope to avoid the possibility of Trump vetoing the spending and stimulus bill

epa08902643 US House Majority Leader Democrat Steny Hoyer (L) participates in a news conference beside Democratic Representative from Michigan Debbie Dingell (2-R) and Democratic Representative from Virginia Don Beyer (R), on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 24 December 2020. US House Democrats on Christmas Eve attempted to pass a bill by unanimous consent that would raise direct checks to individuals to two thousand US dollars, up from 600 dollars, and four thousand dollars to couples, after US President Trump indicated he would not sign a coronavirus stimulus package and government spending bill that passed both chambers of Congress on 21 December. The unanimous consent request was blocked by House Republicans.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS / POOL

US Republicans blocked an effort to amend the hard-won pandemic relief package to more than triple direct payments to struggling Americans, something demanded by President Donald Trump.

After months of partisan bickering, legislators finally approved a stimulus package late on Monday to help families and businesses struggling to survive the hit to the economy from the coronavirus before millions lose their benefits.

The legislation includes one-time payments of $600 to most taxpayers, but Mr Trump dropped a bombshell on the celebrations this week, hinting he might veto the bill unless the amount was increased to $2,000.

Democrats, who have been pushing for months to increase pandemic support, cheered his statement, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for Republicans to support an amendment.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives held a Christmas Eve “pro forma” session, normally a brief affair with little business, in an effort to seek bipartisan approval to send the revised payments to Trump’s desk for signature.

But Republicans refused to agree to the change.

“So we do not have unanimous consent,” said Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, who was acting as speaker pro tempore.

Ms Pelosi lambasted Republicans and vowed to call the House back on Monday to approve the amendment in a regular session.

“Today, on Christmas Eve morning, House Republicans cruelly deprived the American people of the $2,000 that the President agreed to support. If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” she said in a statement.

“House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly fought for bigger cheques for the American people, which House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly rejected.”

The stakes are high, especially if Mr Trump vetoes the bill.

About 14 million jobless workers will lose their pandemic unemployment benefits, while millions more face eviction when a moratorium expires at the end of the year.

And the stimulus measure is wrapped up with a $1.4 trillion funding bill, without which the government will be forced to shut down at midnight on Monday.