Aug 9— Seizing the power of his podium and his pen, President Donald Trump on Saturday bypassed the nation’s lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and replace an expired unemployment benefit with a lower amount after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed.
At his private country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump signed executive orders to act where Congress hasn’t. Not only has the pandemic undermined the economy and upended American lives, it has imperiled the president’s November reelection.
Perhaps most crucially, Trump moved to continue paying a supplemental federal unemployment benefit for millions of Americans out of work during the outbreak. However, his order called for up to $400 payments each week, one-third less than the $600 people had been receiving. How many people would receive the benefit and how long it might take to arrive were open questions.
The Democratic congressional leaders Trump criticized and insulted with nicknames in remarks ahead of signing the orders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, dismissed Trump’s actions as “meager” in the face of economic and health crises facing Americans. Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race, Joe Biden, said the president had issued “a series of half-baked measures” and accused him of putting Social Security at risk.
Trump, who has not spoken with Pelosi since last year, sought to play the role of election-year savior, with the $400 weekly assistance, as well as a deferral of payroll tax and federal student loan payments and the continuation of a freeze on some evictions during the crisis.
“It’s $400 a week, and we’re doing it without the Democrats,” Trump said, asking states to cover 25% of the cost. Trump is seeking to set aside $44 billion in previously approved disaster aid to help states maintain supplemental pandemic jobless benefits, but Trump said it would be up to states to determine how much, if any of it, to fund, so the benefits could be smaller still.
Democrats had said they would lower their spending demands from $3.4 trillion to $2 trillion but said the White House needed to increase its offer. Republicans had proposed a $1 trillion plan.
Trump said the employee portion of the payroll tax would be deferred from Aug. 1 through the end of the year. The move would not directly aid unemployed workers, who do not pay the tax when they are jobless, and employees would need to repay the federal government eventually without an act of Congress.
“If I win, I may extend and terminate,” Trump said, repeating a longtime goal but remaining silent on how he’d fund the Medicare and Social Security benefits that the 7% tax on employee income covers. Employers also pay 7.65% of their payrolls into the funds.