Lexa Krug, contributing
With talks going nowhere fast on the second coronavirus relief package, there’s confusion over the latest presidential move to bypass negotiations with four executive orders. On Saturday, President Trump signed the orders to halt evictions, suspend student loan payments, defer the payroll tax, and to reinstate the unemployment extension with an additional $400 per week, down from the previous $600 extra weekly allotment.
States are confused about the new weekly provision because the order requires the states to pay their share of $100 per week per person for a total benefit of $400. The states say they don’t have the additional funds available and many states are looking at significant deficits due to the coronavirus.
Although signed by the president over the weekend, these actions may not be legal since Congress has the Power of the Purse, especially concerning the payroll tax deferment. Even Republican Senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska called out the president for taking solitary action with the executive orders. He wrote in a statement that “President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.” Because these actions go around Congress, there may be legal challenges down the road.
The payroll tax cut is triggering the most controversy. According to the Wall Street Journal, the nation’s employers are concerned they could be stuck with paying withholding taxes later if Congress can’t actually guarantee that payroll taxes will be forgiven. Additionally, 12.4 % of payroll taxes fund Social Security.
By going around Congress, the president appears to be going back on his word to leave Social Security untouched. As recently as July 23, Mr. Trump held a briefing in which he said that Democrats were pushing hard against a payroll tax cut so Republicans need to “go onto the next thing” when speaking about the upcoming second coronavirus relief package.
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In a joint statement over the weekend, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, said, “We’re disappointed that instead of putting in the work to solve Americans’ problems, the President instead chose to stay on his luxury golf course to announce unworkable, weak and narrow policy announcements to slash the unemployment benefits that millions desperately need and endanger seniors’ Social Security and Medicare.” There are also questions concerning what, if anything, the president can do to stop evictions since his order did not provide either funding for renters or landlords.
Prior to the stalled budget talks, the Democrats had whittled their $3 trillion wish list down to $2 trillion. Democrats wanted Republicans to boost their initial $1 trillion budget to $2 trillion. In an August 7 press conference, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the president had no intention of bailing out state and local governments; however, he added the president “is prepared to do something for the state and local [governments] that deals with the issue of additional coronavirus expenses.”
Democrats also insisted on better Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline workers like healthcare professionals, EMTs, transportation workers, teachers, and grocery store clerks, and sanitation workers. Republicans refused to back down on including liability protection with a moratorium of immunity extending through December 2024 for businesses. The aim was to reward businesses who made “good faith” efforts to protect employees from developing the coronavirus. As the two sides squared off, it was clear that any differences were not only about liability protection, but also involved bringing together two opposing philosophies about protecting workers versus insulating businesses against lawsuits.
What new wrinkles are created by the president’s executive actions? Since the discussed $1,200 direct payments weren’t included in the president’s executive orders, how long will it take for those checks to go out while Congress bickers?
Image credit: Fox11 Los Angeles
- “Sasse Criticizes Lawmaking by Executive Order”
- “Trump’s Payroll-Tax Deferment Plan and Social Security”
- “Trump says he told Republicans Dems wouldn’t allow payroll tax cut: ‘We have to go on to the next thing’
- “Pelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table”
- “Mnuchin on stimulus negotiations: ‘We didn’t make any progress today'”
- “McConnell calls for five-year lawsuit shield for businesses as part of next coronavirus bill”
- “Next Showdown in Congress: Protecting Workers vs. Protecting Employers in Pandemic”