WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump railed against the federal spending in the sweeping coronavirus relief package, arguing Congress was prioritizing foreign aid and funds for other programs over sending more generous direct payments to struggling Americans.
But the list Trump rattled off during a surprise video announcement Tuesday night conflated the coronavirus stimulus measure with the year-end federal government omnibus spending bill passed in tandem by the Senate.
Moreover, much of the spending allocations Trump criticized were the exact amounts he requested for those programs in his fiscal 2021 budget:
— $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military? Trump’s budget asked for $1.3 billion.
— $134 million for Myanmar? Trump’s budget had sought $131,450,000.
— $40 million for the Kennedy Center? Trump’s budget asked for $40,400,000.
Trump’s gripes focused largely on foreign aid, arts and humanities, and fish.
— “$7 million for reef fish management, $25 billion to combat Asian carp, $2.5 million to count the number of amberjack fish in the Gulf of Mexico. A provision to promote the breeding of fish in federal hatcheries,” he listed among programs he didn’t think should be funded.
Trump is threatening not to sign the bill, creating confusion among Republicans, jeopardizing relief for millions of Americans and raising the possibility of a government shutdown beginning next week.
In most cases, the programs the president cited had the support of key Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Trump voiced his complaints, highlighted on Fox News and other conservative media, during an 11th-hour video declaration that he supported a larger payout to Americans than the $600 checks Congress agreed to pay. The criticism ignored the fact that his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, had negotiated the $600 figure and that Trump’s call for $2,000 was certain to face opposition from many deficit hawks in the Republican Party.
“The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace,” Trump said. “For example, among the more than 5,000 pages in this bill, which nobody in Congress has read because of its length and complexity, it’s called the COVID Relief Bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID.”
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., pushed back on Trump’s criticisms Wednesday, highlighting that Mnuchin negotiated the package and Trump was updated by GOP leadership during the talks.
“The COVID supplement is a good compromise and the president should take it,” Bacon said. “The foreign aid items were not part of the COVID bill but did reflect the budget request made by the president. The bill will help struggling small businesses, the unemployed, and those who can’t pay their rent or mortgage. It also will help America get to the place where vaccines are readily available.”
The complicating issue is that Congress attached the coronavirus relief to the must-pass federal spending bill absent which the government would shut down. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that the relief, particularly the direct payments to Americans, should stand on its own.
“We need to send a clean bill with just $2,000 survival checks and a separate spending/COVID relief bill,” tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. “Negotiating everything into one bill is how we got here, since Trump wants to sign a bill with survival checks, let’s send one to his desk right away.”