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CORONAVIRUS

$2,000 second stimulus check: Mnuchin "embarrassed" by Trump

US President Donald Trump says the new covid-19 relief bill is a "disgrace" and wants to up its "measly" $600 stimulus check, leaving Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's reputation in Congress "in tatters".

Update:
(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 2, 2020, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Treasury Department's and Federal Reserve's Pandemic Response&quot
GREG NASHAFP

President Donald Trump’s ongoing refusal to sign the new coronavirus relief bill is a major humiliation for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, according to political commentators in the US media.

Mnuchin, a Trump loyalist, was the White House's chief representative in months-long negotiations with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders over a follow-up package to March’s CARES Act - talks which finally yielded a $900bn aid bill that was passed by both houses of Congress on Monday.

Mnuchin calls $900bn stimulus bill "fabulous"; Trump dismisses it as a "disgrace"

Speaking to CNBC on the day it was approved, Mnuchin called the bill "fabulous" and, having been a central driving force behind the inclusion of a $600 stimulus check in the package, declared that Americans could expect to start receiving their direct payments "in one week".

In a Treasury Department statement reacting to the bill’s passage, meanwhile, he thanked President Trump for his role in delivering “additional economic relief for American workers, families, and businesses that, through no fault of their own, have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic”.

However, Trump on Tuesday posted a video in which he branded the relief bill a "disgrace" and called on Congress to up the "ridiculously low" stimulus-check amount to $2,000. The bill - which is attached to a $1.4tn federal funding package - has been sent to the president at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he is spending Christmas - but he is yet to sign, amid a barrage of tweets railing at its contents.

"I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill," Trump posted on Boxing Day, before adding in a later message: "Increase payments to the people, get rid of the ‘pork’."

Mnuchin standing among Capitol Hill lawmakers "in tatters"

According to the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, Trump's actions have left Mnuchin’s reputation in Congress "in tatters", given that the legislators with whom he negotiated the new stimulus package had believed he was directly representing the president's interests.

"Trump’s rejection of the deal has confounded many leaders on Capitol Hill because they had thought Mnuchin negotiated the package on behalf of the president," Stein wrote in the Post on Saturday. "The treasury chief’s standing with many lawmakers is now in tatters."

Meanwhile, Brian Riedl of the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank told Stein that Mnuchin has been "embarrassed". “Loyalty and assistance to President Trump generally gets rewarded with humiliation. This is how it ends for a lot of people who work for the guy,” Riedl said. "Secretary Mnuchin has been completely embarrassed."

House Democrats seek to up $600 stimulus check to $2,000

Democrats have thrown their support behind a $2,000 stimulus check, but on Thursday Republicans blocked their attempts to approve the increased figure by unanimous consent in the House, prompting the lower chamber’s speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to say she would be holding a full recorded vote on the proposal on Monday.

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

"House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly fought for bigger checks for the American people, which House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly rejected - first, during our negotiations when they said that they would not go above $600 and now, with this act of callousness on the Floor.

"On Monday, I will bring the House back to session where we will hold a recorded vote on our stand-alone bill to increase economic impact payments to $2,000. To vote against this bill is to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny them the relief they need."

Republican Senate unlikely to support $2,000 check

Even if the Democrat-held House votes in favor of the $2,000 stimulus check on Monday, though, it seems unlikely such a measure would get through the Republican-held Senate. Since Congress passed the $2.2tn CARES Act earlier this year, the upper house has battled to minimize the cost of coronavirus relief and would likely balk at the price tag of such a plan.

Indeed, CBS has quoted Heights Securities as saying that a round of $2,000 stimulus checks would add $385bn to the cost of the $900bn relief bill passed by Congress.

However, the result of two Senate run-off elections in Georgia could leave Democrats better-placed to spend big on economic aid after the 117th Congress is sworn in in the New Year. Having maintained their majority in the House in November’s congressional elections, Democrats will take control of the Senate if candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock beat Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively, on 5 January.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on 20 January, has said he wants to give Americans further direct stimulus on top of the $600 figure, describing the relief in the $900bn bill as no more than a "down payment".

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