Trump Orders Encroach on Congress 08/09 10:21
President Donald Trump has bypassed the nation's lawmakers as he claimed the
authority to defer payroll taxes and replace an expired unemployment benefit
with a lower amount after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus
rescue package collapsed.
BEDMINSTER, N.J. (AP) -- President Donald Trump has bypassed the nation's
lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and replace an
expired unemployment benefit with a lower amount after negotiations with
Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed.
Trump's orders on Saturday encroached on Congress' control of federal
spending and seemed likely to be met with legal challenges. The president cast
his actions as necessary given that lawmakers have been unable to reach an
agreement to plunge more money into the stumbling economy, which has imperiled
his November reelection.
Trump moved to continue paying a supplemental federal unemployment benefit
for millions of Americans out of work during the outbreak. However, his order
called for up to $400 payments each week, one-third less than the $600 people
had been receiving. How many people would receive the benefit and how long it
might take to arrive were open questions.
The previous unemployment benefit, which expired on Aug. 1, was fully funded
by Washington, but Trump is asking states to now cover 25%. He is seeking to
set aside $44 billion in previously approved disaster aid to help states, but
said it would be up to states to determine how much, if any of it, to fund, so
the benefits could be smaller still.
Many states already faced budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic
and would have difficulty assuming the new obligation.
Trump hopes the four executive orders he signed will signal to Americans
that he is acting where Congress will not to address economic fallout from the
COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended nearly all aspects of American life. It's
unclear what the economic impact of his actions will be, and his orders do not
address several areas that have been part of the congressional negotiations,
including funding for schools and state and local governments.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
dismissed Trump's actions as "meager" in the face of economic and health crises
facing Americans. Democrats initially sought a $3.4 trillion package, but said
they lowered their ask in talks to $2 trillion. Republicans had proposed a $1
Trump's Democratic opponent in the presidential race, Joe Biden, called the
orders "a series of half-baked measures" and accused him of putting at risk
Social Security, which is funded by the payroll tax.
Trump's embrace of executive actions to sidestep Congress ran in sharp
contrast to his criticism of former President Barack Obama's use of executive
orders on a more limited basis. Though Trump cast it as a necessary step given
the deterioration of congressional negotiations, the president himself was not
an active participant in those talks.
The orders "will take care of pretty much this entire situation, as we know
it," Trump said, despite the fact that they are far smaller in scope than
congressional legislation, and even aides acknowledged they didn't meet all
In addition to the extension of some unemployment benefits, Trump's orders
call for a deferral of payroll tax and federal student loan payments and
efforts to halt evictions. The evictions executive order directs the Treasury
and Housing and Urban Development departments to identify funds to provide
financial assistance to those struggling to pay their monthly rent.
Trump said the employee portion of the payroll tax would be deferred from
Aug. 1 through the end of the year. The move would not directly aid unemployed
workers, who do not pay the tax when they are jobless, and employees would need
to repay the federal government eventually without an act of Congress.
In essence, the deferral is an interest-free loan that would have to be
repaid. Trump said he'll try to get lawmakers to extend it, and the timing
would line up with a post-election lame-duck session in which Congress will try
to pass government funding bills.
"If I win, I may extend and terminate," Trump said, repeating a longtime
goal but remaining silent on how he'd fund the Medicare and Social Security
benefits that the 7% tax on employee income covers. Employers also pay 7.65% of
their payrolls into the funds.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement saying he
supported Trump "exploring his options to get unemployment benefits and other
relief to the people who need them the most." Like Trump, McConnell accused
Democrats of using the coronavirus package negotiations to pursue other goals.
The Democratic chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee,
Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, accused Trump of "brazenly circumventing
Congress to institute tax policy that destabilizes Social Security." He also
cited a threat to Medicare funding.
The use of executive actions drew criticism from Republican Sen. Ben Sasse
of Nebraska. "The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is
unconstitutional slop," said Sasse, a member of the Senate's Judiciary and
Finance panels. He added that Trump "does not have the power to unilaterally
rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the
American people acting through their members of Congress."
With no deal on virus relief in sight, lawmakers went home on Friday with
instructions to be ready to return for a vote on an agreement. A stalemate that
could stretch well into August and even September was possible, casting doubt
on the ability of the Trump administration and Democrats to come together on a
fifth COVID-19 response bill.
Often an impasse in Washington is of little consequence for the public ---
but this would mean more hardship for millions of people who are losing
enhanced jobless benefits and cause further damage to the economy.
Schumer said the White House had rejected an offer by Pelosi to curb
Democratic demands by about $1 trillion. Schumer urged the White House to
"negotiate with Democrats and meet us in the middle. Don't say it's your way or
The breakdown in negotiations over the last several days was particularly
distressing for schools trying to reopen . But other priorities were also
languishing, including a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people,
a cash infusion for the struggling Postal Service and money to help states hold
elections in November.
Senate Republicans were split, with roughly half of McConnell's rank and
file opposed to another rescue bill.