Trump signs order for coronavirus relief, with lower level of extra aid for jobless


Donald Trump said on Saturday that he would extend enhanced coronavirus unemployment benefits and employment taxes into next year with executive orders, but cut the level of some of the support.

Speaking at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump said he was taking action after Congress had failed to agree a deal, blaming “far left” Democrat demands in a campaign-style speech.

Trump said he would use unspent funds from the Cares act to continue unemployment payments to millions of newly unemployed Americans at a rate of $400 per week – a $200 drop from the earlier $600 payment, defer payroll tax through the end of 2020, defer student loans and interest, and extend the federal eviction moratorium.

Democrats, who are likely to challenge the orders in court, had been pushing for a resumption of the $600 extra aid, which ended on 31 July, saying it was a lifeline for those hit hardest by the economic crisis.

“Congressional Democrats have stonewalled our efforts to extend this relief,” Trump told reporters from a ballroom at the resort where club members, wearing masks, were invited to stand at the back.

Trump said he has also cut income and capital gains taxes, though he did not lay out specific proposals. He vowed to extend and make payroll cuts permanent “if I win in November.”

The action to extend unemployment payments, cut payroll taxes, continue the suspension of tenant evictions and to ease the burden of student loan debt came in one executive order and three memoranda.

Asked by a reporter why the benefits would be $400 instead of the previous $600, Trump responded: “This is the money they need, this is the money they want, this gives them a great incentive to go back to work.” He added: “There was a difficulty with the 600 number because it really was a disincentive.”

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Trump used the event to attack Democrats, accusing party leaders of attempting to freight emergency spending with voter ID reforms that would amount to an attempt to “steal the election”, stimulus checks for illegal aliens, and early prison release for felons.

“What does this have to do with coronavirus? This has nothing to do with what were talking about,” said Trump. Democrats, he claimed, had been taken over by “the radical left so they can go to Portland and try and rip the place apart.”

The announcement came one day after negotiations with congressional Democrats on a broad pandemic aid package collapsed with the two sides around $1tn apart in the amount of money they want to commit to extending support to millions faced with economic hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In comments to the New York Times published on Saturday before Trump’s announcement, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said she’s been unwilling to bow to the administration’s demands for a stopgap solution. “We’re not doing short-term action, because if we do short-term action, they’re not going to do anything else, she said, adding: “This president is the biggest failure in our history.”

At a hastily-arranged press conference on Friday, Trump had vowed not only to suspend payroll tax and extend unemployment benefits but to also defer student loan payments indefinitely and forgive interest, and extend a moratorium on tenant evictions.

The impasse meant that the $600-a-week bonus pandemic jobless federal benefit, which expired at the end of July, would be lost and potentially lead to a sharp rise in poverty rates and homelessness.

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Trump had vowed to use his “authority as president to get Americans the relief they need” but constitutional law experts voiced doubt that executive power extends to spending money on relief efforts without congressional authorization. However, Trump vowed to override any roadblock democrats attempted to erect.

“If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage, I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need,” Trump said before Saturday’s announcement.

Democrats have complained that the White House had rejected their offer to cut their larger demand for coronavirus relief from $3tn to $2tn. Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said he’d urged administration negotiators led by treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin to accept the offer.

“Don’t say it’s your way or no way,” Schumer said, noting that the Republican offer “doesn’t cover opening of schools. It doesn’t cover testing. It doesn’t cover dealing with rental assistance. It doesn’t cover elections. It doesn’t cover so many things.”

The Republican package, they added, also failed to include an additional $1,200 direct payment to individuals, money for states to hold elections in November, or support for the beleagured US Postal Service, which Pelosi said was “central to the life of our democracy” in an election year when many Americans will be voting by mail.

Republicans countered that Democratic party leaders were overlooking the limitations of their position.



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