President Trump on Saturday signed orders to extend unemployment benefits, suspend payroll taxes, and offer federal eviction and student loan relief, taking unilateral action that is on shaky legal ground amid stalled negotiations about a fifth round of coronavirus relief in Congress, The Hill reported. The president announced the slew of executive actions from his private club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending the weekend after lawmakers on Capitol Hill were unable to reach an agreement with White House negotiators. The president was not physically present for any of the talks over the last few weeks, but has said he received regular updates from his staff. One memo extends the enhanced unemployment benefits that expired roughly two weeks ago and have been critical to millions of Americans out of work due to the pandemic. The benefits will be lowered from $600 to $400 per week, with states required to cover 25 percent of the cost, Trump said. Another of the orders directs the Treasury Department to allow employers to defer payment of employee-side Social Security payroll taxes through the end of 2020 for Americans earning less than about $100,000 annually. The text of the executive order states that the intended deferral period would start Sept. 1, but Trump suggested that it could be retroactive to Aug. 1. Trump also said that he hoped to forgive the deferred payroll taxes and make permanent payroll tax cuts if he is reelected in November. Read more.
In related news, President Trump’s attempt to circumvent Congress to provide coronavirus relief in the absence of a broad agreement resulted in confusion and uncertainty on Sunday for tens of millions of unemployed Americans and countless businesses seeking aid after critical benefits lapsed, the New York Times reported. As negotiations with congressional Democrats remained at an impasse, administration officials were on the defensive a day after the president’s legally questionable executive actions, at times contradicting one another as they sought to explain how the measures would work and how quickly Americans could see any form of relief. In a series of television appearances on yesterday, they insisted that Americans would receive the aid promised by Trump, including a $400 weekly supplement to unemployment checks. But that funding will be contingent on agreement from state officials, who are already struggling amid budget shortfalls caused by the economic crisis, and the siphoning of aid from a federal fund for disaster relief in the middle of what is expected to be an active hurricane season. The series of measures Trump signed on Saturday were intended to revive unemployment benefits, address an eviction ban, provide relief for student borrowers and suspend collection of payroll taxes after two weeks of talks between congressional Democrats and administration officials failed to produce an agreement on a broader relief package. But the patchwork of moves was less significant than what the president described in his news conference, and the plan appeared unlikely to have immediate, meaningful impact on the sputtering economy, in part because it provided no direct aid to struggling businesses. Because Congress has the constitutional authority to allocate federal spending, Trump is likely to need congressional agreement, and legislation, to deliver additional financial relief to American families and businesses. Read more.