President Trump on Saturday said he would take unilateral action to provide financial relief to Americans struggling with the coronavirus crisis, but it was unclear if he had the legal authority to do so.
Following the breakdown of talks on Capitol Hill to reach a bipartisan deal, Trump signed executive orders that he said would extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits, cut some employees’ payroll taxes, continue a temporary ban on evictions and reduce the burden of student loans.
It’s unlikely that Trump has the legal authority to make such changes on his own, because the power to collect taxes, spend money and write laws rests with Congress.
Trump may be hoping his orders — which he issued from his golf club in New Jersey, where he’s spending the weekend — changes the political dynamic around the stalled negotiations.
Trump said his plan would lower the current $600-a-week federal unemployment add-on to $400 a week.
Democrats are expected to sue to block Trump’s orders from taking effect. It remained unclear whether talks on Capitol Hill would result in a compromise bill.
Major areas of disagreement remain after 11 days of negotiations, most crucially over how much to spend overall.
Democrats, who control the House, are asking for $3.4 trillion. Republicans, who control the Senate, want to keep the package under $1 trillion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) told reporters that Democrats offered on Thursday to decrease their ask by $1 trillion if Republicans increased theirs by $1 trillion, and to compromise at roughly $2.4 trillion. She said the cut would come from making some programs expire earlier than planned.
Democrats made the offer again in a roughly one-hour meeting Friday but were turned down, said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“We could begin to meet in the middle,” he said. “Unfortunately, [Republicans] rejected it. They said they couldn’t go much above their existing $1 trillion and that was disappointing.”
“I’ve told them, ‘Come back when you’re ready to give us a higher number,’” Pelosi said.
Although both sides have made concessions in some areas, remaining points of disagreement include how much to provide for unemployment insurance, whether to continue delaying student loan payments, whether Congress should impose an eviction moratorium, or help renters make payments, and how much to provide to help schools reopen and to help state and local governments weather the crisis.
In a letter to colleagues Friday, Pelosi laid out the differences that remain, including:
- Democrats want $75 billion for COVID-19 testing and treatment, while the GOP wants $15 billion.
- The GOP has offered $150 billion for states and municipalities; Democrats propose $915 billion.
- She wrote that the sides are “a couple hundred billion dollars apart” on money to help schools reopen. Republicans included $105 billion for schools in their proposed legislation.
- Pelosi called for $67 billion for food, water and utility assistance. The GOP has proposed $250,000 for food.
Another major point of contention is the amount at which the federal government should supplement state unemployment insurance.
The $600-a-week payment that Congress approved in March expired at the end of July. Democrats say that should continue at least through the end of the year. Republicans have floated multiple proposals, including $400 for 20 weeks or 70% of wage replacement with a $600 cap.
“We have always said that the Republicans and the president do not understand the gravity of the situation, and every time that we have met, it has been reinforced,” Pelosi told reporters.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Democrats haven’t been willing to budge on how much they think the federal government should provide to supplement state unemployment insurance or to state and local governments.
“Both of those are still where they were two weeks ago,” Meadows said Friday. He said he was recommending the president issue executive orders for the time being.
“We’re going to take executive orders to try to alleviate some of the pain that people are experiencing. This is not a perfect answer. We’ll be the first ones to say that, but it is all that we can do and all the president can do within the confines of his executive power,” Meadows said.
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