President Donald Trump is moving to suspend payroll taxes and extend expired unemployment benefits after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed.
Trump signed four executive orders related to what he called ‘China virus relief’ during a press conference at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Saturday afternoon.
It came hours after the White House signaled that Washington’s gridlock had compelled him to act as the pandemic undermined the country’s economy and the November election nears.
Trump had threatened to bypass elected lawmakers during a briefing on Friday night, saying: ‘If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need.’
The president turned his official event on Saturday into a semi-political rally, launching broadsides against Democratic rival Joe Biden and the news media as members of his Bedminster golf club laughed at his attack lines.
Doubling down on his strikes against congressional Democrats, Trump accused them of blocking a resolution because they want ‘bailout money for states that have been badly managed for many years’.
‘Many of the far-left policies they’re pushing have nothing to do with the corona,’ Trump said.
Trump first announced an order that would allow employers to defer payroll tax through the end of the year.
It’s unclear whether he has legal authority to do so, given that the constitution gives Congress the power to control taxes.
The second order included a freeze on evictions that will allow hard-hit renters to remain in their homes even if they can’t afford payments.
A third order, perhaps the most crucial, will extend the unemployment benefits that have run out, offering people an additional $400 per week – down from the $600 that was offered under the initial benefits plan.
Trump remarked that there should never have been an issue in coming to a benefits deal with Democrats, who had wanted to renew the original $600 a week.
Republicans originally proposed $200 a week and then upped their offer to $400, but Democrats still said it wasn’t enough. This was one of the major areas of difference that held up getting a legislative deal.
Asked if the reduction in supplemental benefits to $400 would be a ‘hardship’ for the millions currently eligible, Trump replied: ‘Well no, it’s not a hardship, this is the money that they need this is the money they want and this gives them a great incentive to go back to work.’
‘And as you know they were different there was difficulty with the $600 number, because it really was a disincentive,’ he added, referring to the fact that the $600 federal supplement put total average unemployment benefits higher than the average wages in more than 30 states.
The fourth and final order will extend the suspension of student loan payments through the end of the year.
Of the new orders, Trump said: ‘We didn’t think we would have to [take executive action] but Democrats have been unreasonable. Not just unreasonable, ridiculous.’
Up until now, Trump has largely stayed on the sidelines during his administration’s negotiations with congressional leaders.
The talks, which broke down in recent days, were led on his side by chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Democrats had said they would lower their spending demands from $3.4trillion to $2trillion but said the White House needed to increase their offer. Republicans have proposed a $1trillion plan.
White House aides have watched the talks break down with apprehension, fearful that failure to close a deal could further damage an economic recovery already showing signs of slowing down.
Friday’s jobs report, though it beat expectations, was smaller than the past two months, in part because a resurgence of the virus ha….