US govt shutdown nears, COVID aid stalls

Tim Reid and Richard Cowan
·2-min read

US President Donald Trump will spend Christmas Day at his Florida resort as millions of Americans face the risk of losing jobless benefits and a partial government shutdown looms next week.

The possibility of a shutdown follows Trump's threat to not sign a $US2.3 trillion ($A3 trillion) coronavirus aid and spending package.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, whose victory Trump still refuses to acknowledge nearly two months after the November 3 election, is spending the day at his Delaware home and has no public events.

Meanwhile, the US Congress, which normally is adjourned the last week of December, will be preparing to return to work.

On Monday the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on overriding Trump's veto of a $US740 billion ($A974 billion) bill authorising the country's defence programs.

If the House vote succeeds, the Senate could hold its vote as early as Tuesday.

The fight over the spending and aid package comes as Americans face an unprecedented holiday season, amid a pandemic that is killing people in record numbers.

Nearly 320,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 this year and the daily death toll is repeatedly well over 3000, the highest since the pandemic began.

On Christmas Eve, Trump played golf at his course in West Palm Beach, Florida, and tweeted a series of grievances repeating his baseless claims about the election result.

One tweet was aimed at Senate Republicans, whom Trump accuses of abandoning him because many now publicly recognise Biden as the winner.

Trump stunned members of both parties when he unexpectedly announced this week his dislike of the $US2.3 trillion spending bill, a package that had taken the House and Senate months to negotiate.

The bill provides $US892 billion ($A1.2 trillion) in coronavirus relief, and $US1.4 trillion ($A1.8 trillion) in regular government appropriations.

Trump, who was represented in the negotiations with lawmakers by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and had not objected to the terms prior to the House and Senate votes, complained that the package was too full of money for special interests and foreign aid.

He also said the $US600 ($A790) in direct payments to most Americans was too small, demanding instead that the amount be increased to $US2000 ($A2600).

In December 2018, Trump started a 35-day government shutdown when he refused to sign a spending bill that didn't include the funding he wanted for a border wall.

Without his signature on the coronavirus aid bill, about 14 million people will lose unemployment benefits on Saturday, and a partial government shutdown will begin on Tuesday.