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December 23, 2020

Trump, upending expectations, calls $900B coronavirus relief bill a 'disgrace'

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    President Trump on Tuesday indicated he might not sign a Congress-approved $900 billion spending package that would extend funding for the federal government through the current fiscal year, provide some Americans and businesses with financial assistance, and prevent patients from receiving so-called "surprise" medical bills.

    Trump takes issue with federal spending package

    In a video Trump shared on Twitter on Tuesday, he criticized the spending package and called on federal lawmakers to instead pass a measure that would provide more direct financial assistance to many Americans. Under the spending package Congress approved and sent to Trump on Monday, the federal government would disperse payments totaling $600 to individuals with an adjusted gross income up to $75,000 or totaling $1,200 for married couples with a combined adjusted gross income of up to $150,000 based on their 2019 tax returns. However, Trump in the video said he wants Congress to pass legislation that would increase those payments to total $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for married couples. "I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000," he said.

    Trump called the spending bill a "disgrace" and also lambasted other provisions of the package, which includes routine funding for federal programs that provide foreign aid and support for institutions such as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian. Federal spending packages typically include such funding, the New York Times reports.

    But Trump called on Congress to "get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation," adding, "It's called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid."

    While Trump did not directly threaten to veto the bill, he insinuated that he might, the Associated Press reports.

    What would happen if Trump vetoes the bill?

    If Trump chooses to veto the bill and there is not enough support in Congress to override the veto, lawmakers could be faced with scrambling to pass new legislation to fund the federal government, which would shut down on Dec. 28 without a new spending measure.

    Vetoing the measure also would mean the federal government could not begin sending relief funds to Americans and businesses, which Department of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said could be distributed as early as next week under the spending measure Congress approved and sent to Trump.

    All of the other measures in the spending package also could be delayed or in jeopardy of not becoming law, including some key health care provisions. For instance, the bill that Congress passed and sent to Trump would, if approved:

    • Boost payments for specialty and other physicians for calendar year 2021;
    • Delay scheduled cuts to Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital payments and Medicare sequester cuts;
    • Extend funding for certain Medicare and Medicaid programs, community health centers, the National Health Service Corps, and other programs;
    • Provide $22 billion to help states conduct testing and contact tracing for the novel coronavirus and to support efforts to mitigate the virus's spread;
    • Provide $20 billion in funding to purchase vaccines against the coronavirus;
    • Provide $9 billion for efforts to distribute coronavirus vaccines;
    • Provide $3 billion for the federal Provider Relief Fund and give health systems more flexibility in how they use those dollars;
    • Protect patients from receiving surprise medical bills; and
    • Implement new requirements aimed at increasing price transparency in health care.

    What happens next?

    It is unclear whether federal lawmakers will work to pass a new spending package that meets Trump's demands or to amend the current spending package. According to the Wall Street Journal, many lawmakers left Washington after passing the package on Monday.

    On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democratic lawmakers for months had been trying to pass legislation that included higher direct payments to Americans, but they'd faced resistance from Republican lawmakers. "At last, [Trump] has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the [House floor] this week by unanimous consent. Let's do it!," Pelosi wrote in a tweet.

    According to the AP, an aide to Pelosi said Pelosi would bring legislation with the higher payments to the House floor for a vote on Thursday.

    But it remains to be seen whether Republican lawmakers would approve such legislation, the AP reports. As the AP notes, "Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on [coronavirus epidemic] relief and only agreed to the big year-end package as time dwindled for a final deal."

    Some lawmakers are calling on Trump to sign the spending package Congress approved and sent to him on Monday, saying it would fund the federal government and provide Americans and businesses with some relief while Congress works to approve additional relief funds.

    "Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open and we're glad to pass more aid Americans need," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a tweet.

    The Washington Post reports that, as of early Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had not commented on the latest developments. However, the Post reports that some other Republican lawmakers issued support for Trump's request.

    For instance, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a tweet wrote, "The American people are hurting and deserve relief. I know there is much bipartisan support for this idea. Let's go further."

    According to the AP, President-elect Joe Biden has said the current spending package doesn't do enough to help Americans and businesses, "but it does provide vital relief at a critical time." He added that he intends to propose another relief package once he takes office.

    America's coronavirus epidemic rages on, as Covid-19 hospitalizations reach a new high

    Policymakers' clashes over the federal spending and relief package come as America continues to see persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

    According to data compiled by the Times, U.S. officials as of Wednesday morning had reported a total of about 18.2 million cases of the novel coronavirus since America's epidemic began—up from about 18 million cases reported as of Tuesday morning.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 215,974—which is up by 4% when compared with the average from two weeks ago.

    As of Wednesday morning, data from the New York Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Puerto Rico and 27 states that have had a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

    Meanwhile, the New York Times' data showed that, as of Wednesday morning, the daily average number of newly reported cases over the past seven days was "going down" in Washington, D.C., and 22 states that had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission. Those states are Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    Hawaii has had comparatively low case rates, but it was seeing those rates "going up" as of Wednesday morning, according to the Times. In Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, meanwhile, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Wednesday morning, the Times' data showed.

    Meanwhile, U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, reached a new high on Tuesday, according to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project. The data showed that 117,777 Americans with Covid-19 were hospitalized for treatment on Tuesday, including 22,213 who were receiving care in an ICU and 7,830 who were on a ventilator.

    As of Wednesday morning, U.S. officials also had reported a total of about 323,002 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 319,763 deaths reported as of Tuesday morning.

    (Freking et al., Associated Press, 12/23; Broadwater/Rappeport, New York Times, 12/22; Beech/Holland, Reuters, 12/23; Ballhaus/Peterson, Wall Street Journal, 12/22; Peiser, Wall Street Journal, 12/23; New York Times, 12/23; "The COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 12/23).

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