US House approves $2,000 coronavirus aid cheques sought by President Trump

Bill heads to Republican-led Senate and an unclear fate

epa08908544 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (C) walks to her office from the House floor following debate in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 28 December 2020. The House will vote on a bill, the Caring for Americans With Supplemental Help Act or CASH Act, that will increase the 600 US dollar direct stimulus payment checks to 2,000 US dollars in line with President Trump's own demands.  EPA/SHAWN THEW

The Democratic-led US House of Representatives voted by more than two thirds to meet President Donald Trump's demand for $2,000 Covid-19 relief cheques on Monday, sending the bill to an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Mr Trump last week threatened to block a massive pandemic aid and spending package if Congress did not boost people's stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000, and cut other spending.

He backed down from his demands on Sunday as a possible government shutdown loomed, brought on by the fight with legislators.

But Democrats wanted the $2,000 relief cheques and used the rare point of agreement with Mr Trump to advance the proposal, or put Republicans on record against it, in the vote on Monday.

One hundred and thirty Republicans, two independents and two Democrats opposed the increase on Monday, while 275 voted in favour.

Mr Trump finally signed the $2.3 trillion package into law, while still demanding $2,000 cheques.

It includes $1.4tn in spending to fund government agencies and $892 billion in Covid-19 relief.

It is not clear how the measure to increase aid cheques will fare in the Senate, where some Republican politicians have said the higher amount would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the latest relief bill.

The Senate is due to convene on Tuesday. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday made no mention of plans for a vote, after welcoming Mr Trump's signing of the relief bill.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 330,000 people in the US and led to widespread economic hardship, with millions of families relying on unemployment benefits and relief funds.

President-elect Joe Biden said he supported raising the individual cheques to $2,000 at an event in Wilmington, Delaware.

Georgia Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who face Senate run-offs next month that could determine who controls the chamber, welcomed Mr Trump's move, without saying whether the payments should be increased.

"Republicans have a choice: vote for this legislation; or vote to deny the American people the bigger paycheques that they need," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as the debate was under way.

And Democratic representative Dan Kildee said: "We would have included much larger payments in the legislation had he spoken up sooner. But it's never too late to do the right thing."

But Republican Kevin Brady said the bill did nothing to help people get back to work.

"I worry that as we spend another half a trillion dollars so hastily, that we are not targeting this help to the Americans who are struggling the most and need that help," Mr Brady said.

The US Treasury Department is expecting to send the first $600 stimulus cheques to people and households as early as this week, as planned, a senior official said on Monday.

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