President Donald Trump signed executive actions Saturday, brazenly moving around Congress and daring Democrats to sue him over measures he thinks will be popular in the country.
The most controversial action will enact a payroll tax deferment for people who make less than $100,000. That’s an idea that met bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill.
He’s also attempting to extend expanded unemployment benefits at a level of as much as $400 per week, 25% of which is being asked to be paid by states. That number is between the $600 extension sought by Democrats and the $200 suggested by Republicans. During his news conference in New Jersey, he also proposed to extend an eviction moratorium and defer student loan payments and forgive their interest.
The memorandum Trump signed on Saturday says that states must agree to enter into a financial agreement with the federal government requiring states to pick up 25% of the benefit in order for unemployed people to receive the aid. If a state says it doesn’t have the funds or doesn’t want to enter into the agreement, they wouldn’t receive any in extra benefits, leaving only their normal state unemployment insurance.
But the efforts, without the seal of approval from Congress, are a far-from-perfect solution and may be illegal.
“We’ve had it,” Trump said of talks for a new stimulus, which are on ice. Negotiators were pursuing a much larger bill that would also give help to reeling states and cities.
And since Congress has not authorized an extension of extra federal unemployment assistance, states would have to set up an entirely new system to deliver the aid. Building those programs could take months, according to Michelle Evermore, an unemployment expert at the National Employment Law Project.
“The states that don’t get the program set up as quickly as other states aren’t going to get any funding because it will run out,” Evermore told CNN’s Kristen Holmes on Saturday evening.
Trump also offered up the conspiracy theories that Democrats are trying to use the bill against him and Democrats all but begged the White House to meet them in the middle.
Bipartisanship that led Congress and the White House to act decisively in the spring to help Americans stay afloat as the pandemic spread feels like a distant dream. Rancor has only increased over what’s needed to help Americans as the virus continues and, as of this week, has claimed more than 160,000 American lives.
Trump did not say that hope for another stimulus was over. But the White House is still a trillion dollars short of Democrats’ demands. With the executive actions, Trump wants credit for helping people.
Rather than budge on the top-line figure and pass the big bill, Trump held a last-minute news conference in New Jersey Friday night and, with members of his private golf club looking on in a weird sort of news conference/campaign rally, he promised the executive actions.
If he didn’t need Congress to do these things, one wonders why he didn’t do them before now since the expanded unemployment benefits and eviction moratorium expired last month.
Related: 40 million Americans are at risk of eviction without a new stimulus bill
The idea of cutting revenue and spending money without the legislature would seem to violate the Constitution.
But Trump’s not concerned about the legality of the actions.
“No, not at all. No. You always get sued,” he said Friday. On Saturday, he almost taunted Democrats, pointing out if they went to court they’d be fighting expanded unemployment benefits.
The idea of a legal battle over executive actions will be cold comfort to people struggling and out of work and afraid of contracting a virus that continues to rip through the country, despite Trump’s false promise that it will just go away.
Finding creative ways around Congress has been a hallmark of Trump’s time in office, from enacting a travel ban on certain countries to finding money for his proposed border wall even though lawmakers in both parties refused to give it to him.
Democrats are sure to challenge these executive actions as being insufficient and, in the case of the payroll tax cut, which Trump has fixated on, unnecessary, since it will give money to people currently earning a paycheck and not help those put out of work by the pandemic.
And that is setting aside the fact that payroll taxes fund social security, which is already under stress. A holiday from funding the program could make the entitlement, which helps American seniors make ends meet, run out of money in less than 10 years, according to a new report.
Related: Trump keeps pushing for a payroll tax cut. Here’s what that means.
Trump has continued to insist that vast conspiracies are what stalled the bill.
For instance, Democrats want to give $1 trillion to states and cities gasping to maintain services despite losing much of their tax revenue due to the pandemic.
In that, Trump sees an effort to bilk taxpayers and bail out mismanaged cities.
“They’re really just interested in one thing and that is protecting people that have not done a good job in managing cities and states and nothing to do with Covid or little to do,” he said.
Influencing the election
Trump also made the wild accusation that “The Democrats are cheating on the election” by trying to pass this new stimulus bill.
“Because that’s exactly what they’re doing. If you look at what they’re doing even with these negotiations. That’s an influence, and an unfair influence, on an election,” he said.
It was an awkward charge since it came the same day a US intelligence official issued a statement confirming that Russia is, yet again, attempting to “denigrate” the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden in this case. But it also said China “prefers” that Trump doesn’t win.
The warning was lacking and the public doesn’t know the scale of efforts to influence the election, according to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who wrote in the Washington Post that he’s seen frightening classified information about Russia’s efforts and that the administration is trying to keep them hidden from public view.
“I was shocked by what I learned — and appalled that, by swearing Congress to secrecy, the Trump administration is keeping the truth about a grave, looming threat to democracy hidden from the American people,” the Connecticut Democrat wrote.
Democrats say the White House needs to budge
Where Trump sees conspiracies holding back the stimulus bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer see intransigence on the part of the White House.
“Meet us in the middle — for God’s sake, please — for the sake of America, meet us in the middle,” Schumer said Friday as talks stalled again.
He and Pelosi pointed the finger at White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for refusing to budge.
Related: The latest on stimulus talks
“We believe we have a responsibility to find common ground,” Pelosi said. “We’ll come down a trillion and you go up a trillion and we can figure out how we do that without hurting America’s working families,” she said.
On Capitol Hill, Schumer said the math of getting a bill that can pass requires the White House to add more money.
“The House doesn’t have the votes to go south of $2 trillion, the Senate Democrats can’t go south of 2 trillion, so that’s what compromise is all about,” Schumer said. “Because there are 20 Republicans who don’t want to vote anything that doesn’t mean the whole thing should shift in their direction. You have to meet in the middle.”
Nobody is meeting anywhere at the moment, since there are no more talks currently scheduled, according to Meadows.
CLARIFICATION: This headline and story have been updated to reflect that Trump signed one executive order and three memoranda.