Orders aim to temporarily extend unemployment aid and eviction protections; court challenge possible
President Donald Trump on Saturday signed four executive orders aimed at helping Americans cope with the economic fallout from the pandemic, following the collapse in talks with Democrats Friday over a rescue package.
One order would partly renew unemployment benefits included in a previous stimulus package which expired last month.
The president also signed an order that would suspend the payroll tax — something he had wanted to do before the recent talks with Congress.
The final two executive orders would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants struggling to pay their rent or mortgages and would also ease the burden on students carrying education-related debt.
The president said the orders:
1. Defer payroll taxes retroactively from Aug. 1 for Americans earning less than $100,000 a year. Trump said if he wins re-election, he would seek to extend the deferral and somehow “terminate” the tax.
2. Implement a moratorium on evictions and give financial assistance to renters.
3. Add $400 per week in extra unemployment benefits through the end of 2020 and requires states to cover 25% of the additional benefits. The extra weekly benefits would be available until Dec. 6, about a month after the Nov. 3 general election, or until the disaster fund’s balance drops to $25 billion, according to the executive action.
4. Postpone student loan interest and payments through the end of 2020.
“We have repeatedly stated our willingness to immediately sign legislation,” Trump said at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. “Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have chosen to hold his vital assistance hostage.”
Because the Constitution gives Congress the power to appropriate federal spending, Trump has limited authority to act unilaterally — and risks a legal challenge if congressional Democrats believe he has overstepped. “Maybe they’ll being legal actions, maybe they won’t" Trump said of Democrats in Congress. "They won’t win.” He added that the cases would go “very rapidly” through courts if litigated. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dodged a question in an MSNBC interview about whether Democrats would pursue legal action to block Trump’s executive orders, saying Democrats are putting their energy into finding common ground. White House officials have studied using leftover money approved by Congress for use by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But it is unclear if the administration can repurpose those funds for unemployment benefits without violating the Antideficiency Act, a federal budgeting law.
Current impasse. Both sides said Friday they’ll only come back to the table when the other side has something new to offer. Republicans proposed a $1 trillion plan, while Democrats asked for $3.4 trillion before lowering their request to $2 trillion via “budget gimmicks,” according to White House officials. “They said they couldn’t go much above their existing $1 trillion,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. Pelosi said: “I told them come back when you are ready to give us a higher number.” Democrats said they’d cut the cost of the package only by moving up expiration dates of relief programs, not cutting the amount of aid they want to provide. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows dismissed that as a budget gimmick. “They can’t come up with any significant cuts in their bill,” he said. “What they want is a $2.5 trillion blank check.” Meadows said Democrats have not budged at all in their demands for giving state and local governments $915 billion or for extending enhanced unemployment benefits at $600 per week. Schumer said House Democrats wouldn't have the votes to pass a bill that dips below $2 trillion.
“We had major disagreement between us on the schooling in terms of the dollar amount but also how the money would be spent," Pelosi said on MSNBC. "The president is insisting that most of the money that they are allocating will go to schools that are opening, actually when the evidence is that across the country school districts are saying largely, overwhelmingly that they will be opening virtually or in a hybrid fashion.” Pelosi also said that while the parties agree on extending an eviction moratorium for renters, Republicans have offered zero money for rental assistance. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, "We said we’d consider some payments on rental assistance as well.”
Both sides acknowledge Trump's executive orders will not provide all the relief that is needed. “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. Schumer said the executive orders would have limited power because Trump can’t spend money without congressional approval.
It’s unclear if negotiators will return to the table this month. Democrats on Friday signaled they were still holding out hopes that talks with the White House could be revived. The House and Senate have run through the legislative weeks they had scheduled for the summer and sent lawmakers home, though with plans to call them back as soon as there is any deal.
Perspective: No one at this stage is ruling out further negotiations. Ag industry stakeholders are closely watching the situation as their hoped-for additional direct payments and other assistance such 2020-crop aid, indemnity payments for livestock producers and possible relief for the biofuels sector could be delayed or dealt a more sustained blow. The White House could authorize USDA to tap the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) or perhaps utilize Treasury Department funding for some aid, contacts advise.