Trump bypasses Congress, signs executive orders extending certain benefits of coronavirus

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Seizing the power of his podium and his quill, US President Donald Trump decided on Saturday to bypass the country’s elected lawmakers as he claimed the power to defer payroll taxes and extend an expired unemployment benefit after the collapse negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue plan.At his private country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump signed four executive orders to act where Congress failed to do so, saying the Washington stalemate had forced him to act as the pandemic undermined the economy and jeopardized his hopes of re-election in November.

Perhaps more importantly, Trump has decided to continue paying additional federal unemployment benefit for millions of Americans out of work during the outbreak. However, his order required up to $ 400 in US payments, a third less than the $ 600 people received. Congress allowed the higher payments to expire on Aug. 1, and negotiations to extend them have been mired in partisan deadlock, with the White House and Democrats miles apart.

Democratic leaders in Congress Trump criticized and cursed with nicknames in remarks before signing the orders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s actions “meager” in the face of the economic and health crises facing Americans.

Executive orders could face legal challenges involving the president’s power to spend taxpayer dollars without the express approval of Congress.

Trump has remained largely on the sidelines during the administration’s negotiations with congressional leaders, leaving the talks on his side to Mark Meadows, his chief of staff, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Trump’s adoption of executive actions to circumvent Congress stands in stark contrast to his criticism of former President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders on a more limited basis. And the president’s retreat from talks with Congress breaks with his assured negotiating skills.

Now Trump, who hasn’t spoken with Pelosi since last year, has sought to play the role of election year savior, with $ 400 in weekly aid, as well as a tax deferral on the federal student payroll and loan payments; and the continued freeze on some evictions during the crisis.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, addresses reporters following a meeting with White House officials as they continue to negotiate a coronavirus relief program in Washington on Friday. (Andrew Harnik / The Associated Press)

“It’s $ 400 a week, and we’re doing it without the Democrats,” Trump said, asking states to cover 25% of the cost. It was not immediately clear where the federal part would come from – although the president suggested he was looking to use unspent funds from previous coronavirus relief bills – and Trump said it would be up to the states. determine how much, if any, funds.

On Friday night, the president told his club that “if the Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage, I will act under my authority as president to give Americans the help they need.”

Democrats had said they would reduce their spending demands from $ 3.4 trillion to $ 2 trillion, but said the White House must increase its supply. Republicans have come up with a $ 1 trillion plan.

White House aides have watched the talks break down with apprehension, fearing that failure to strike a deal would further harm an economic recovery already showing signs of slowing. Friday’s jobs report, although it exceeded expectations, was smaller than the past two months, in part because a resurgence of the virus has led states to cancel their reopenings.

The president’s team believes that the economy must stabilize and show signs of growth for him to have any chance of winning re-election.

Aides hoped to frame the expected executive orders as an indication that Trump was acting in a time of crisis. But it would also reinforce the view that the president, who took office saying he was a negotiator, was unable to steer the process towards a deal.

Trump said on Saturday that the orders “will sort out pretty much this whole situation as we know it.” But their scope is much smaller than the legislation of Congress, and even the Wizards admitted that they did not meet the needs of everything that was needed.

“It’s not a perfect answer – we’ll be the first to say it,” Meadows said on Friday as talks broke down. “But that’s all we can do and all the president can do within the limits of his executive power, and we’re going to encourage him to do it. “

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after talks with Democrats broke off in Washington on Friday. (Andrew Harnik / The Associated Press)

Trump said the employees’ share of the payroll tax would be postponed from Aug. 1 until the end of the year. The move would not directly help the unemployed, who do not pay tax when they are unemployed, and employees will eventually have to reimburse the federal government without an act of Congress, where there is bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill.

Essentially, the deferral is an interest free loan that should be paid off. Trump has said he will try to get lawmakers to extend it, and that the timeline will line up with a lame post-election session in which Congress attempts to push through government funding bills.

“If I win, I can extend and terminate,” Trump said, repeating a long-held goal but being silent on how he would fund Medicare and Social Security benefits the tax covers. 7% on employee income. Employers also pay 7.65 percent of their payroll into the funds.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement saying he supported Trump “exploring his options for getting unemployment benefits and other relief to those who need it most.” Like Trump, McConnell accused Democrats of using the coronavirus package negotiations to pursue other goals.

Democrats said they were not favorably impressed with Trump’s orders. In a joint statement, Pelosi and Schumer said that “these political announcements bring little real help to families.” They added, “Democrats reiterate our call for Republicans to come back to the table, meet with us halfway, and work together to bring immediate relief to the American people. Lives are being lost, and time is running out ”.

The Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee of the Tax Drafting House, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, accused Trump of “brazenly bypassing Congress to institute tax policy that destabilizes Social Security.” Also citing a threat to Medicare funding by Trump’s action, Neal said, “This executive order is a poorly disguised first step in an effort to completely dismantle these vital programs by executive decision. ”

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has made fun of the president’s plan to postpone the payroll tax. “This bogus tax cut would also be a big shock to workers who thought they were getting a tax cut when it was just a delay,” Wyden said. “These workers would be hit with much larger payments later. “

House, Senate members leave Washington

The House and Senate do not sit in Washington, with members sent home on instruction to be ready to come back and vote on a deal. With no deal in sight, their absence has raised the possibility of a protracted standoff that runs through August and even September.

Often a deadlock in Washington has little consequence for the public – but not this time. It would mean more hardship for millions of people who lose improved unemployment benefits and additional damage for an economy hit by the still raging coronavirus.

Friday’s negotiations on Capitol Hill were only a “disappointing meeting,” Schumer said. He said the White House had rejected an offer by Pelosi to cut Democratic demands by around $ 1 trillion. Schumer urged the White House to “negotiate with the Democrats and meet with us in the middle.” Don’t say it’s your way or not. ”

This Capitol Hill session followed a combative Thursday night meeting which, for the first time, cast real doubt on the ability of the Trump administration and Democrats to come together on a fifth COVID response bill. -19.

Pelosi said the talks were almost dead until Meadows and Mnuchin ceded ground.

The failed negotiations are particularly distressing for schools, which are relying on billions of dollars from Washington to help cover the costs of reopening. But other priorities are languishing as well, including a new round of direct payments of $ 1,200 to most people, an injection of money for the struggling US Postal Service, and money to help states run elections. in November.

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