President Donald Trump said that he is looking into executive action to extend enhanced unemployment benefits, protections against evictions and a temporary suspension of payroll tax collection.
What is unclear is whether the president has the authority to do so. What is clear is that Trump and the White House are using the prospect of a unilateral action to pressure Democrats to make concessions as leaders negotiate on Capitol Hill over another coronavirus relief package.
On Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN that, if no significant progress is reached by the end of the week and “we are just too far apart, the president is prepared to take executive action.”
Meadows said that they still are getting legal opinions on the president’s authority but believe that the previous relief legislation, the CARES Act, passed in March, gave Trump some flexibility to do so.
“If Congress can’t get it done, the president of the United States will,” Meadows said.
But the level of the unemployment benefit is among the sticking points as Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin meet daily with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The $600 a week in enhanced benefits expired last week, and while Democrats want them extended through the end of January, the White House and Republicans have balked at the amount. Senate Republicans introduced a bill that cuts the benefit to an extra $200 per week as states phase in a formula to replace 70% of workers’ lost wages.
Trump and Meadows did not say at what level the unemployment benefits would be if they were extended via executive action.
The negotiations for a new relief package have been about much more. Democrats also want money to make up for shortfalls in state and local government budgets because of the pandemic, but Trump calls such proposals a “bailout” and says that it would merely be relief for Democratic government mismanagement.
“This is a huge crisis,” Schumer said. “Our caucuses will only support a bill that meets that crisis. To have a skinny little bill and say that we will only do those and walk away from all of the other responsibilities, when we are in a deep recession, when we are in a major health crisis, we are not living up to our obligations to the American people.”
Pelosi said, “I feel optimistic that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but how long that tunnel is remains to be seen.”
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