President Donald Trump signs executive actions for economic relief during a news conference amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2020.
Since Congress can’t come to an agreement, President Donald Trump on Saturday signed four executive actions aimed at providing Americans economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
But they face both the possibility of being challenged in the courts and of being difficult to implement.
He touted that his “administration will provide immediate and vital relief to Americans struggling in this difficult time,” but so far it’s unclear exactly when and how that can happen.
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President Donald Trump swooped in on Saturday to show Americans that he was trying to fix what Congress couldn’t.
Before a crowd of masked, cheering supporters at his private golf club in New Jersey, the dealmaker-in-chief announced four executive actions aimed at providing Americans economic relief amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He signed memos and orders on student loans, evictions and foreclosures, the payroll tax, and unemployment benefits.
While Trump claimed the moves would provide “immediate and vital relief to American struggling in this difficult time”, upon further inspection, the four actions face significant legal challenges, implementation problems, and possible opposition from both parties.
Congress can’t reach a deal
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks off the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
The Democratic House and the Republican Senate have been fighting for weeks over the next stimulus bill. The two parties are still more than $1 trillion apart in their proposals.
Meanwhile, nearly 31 million Americans are on unemployment, and the US GDP plunged by a record 33% in the first quarter.
Related: 6 months of coronavirus in the USA, reviewed in 6 minutes
One of the biggest sticking points between the two parties was the additional $600 a week the federal government had been providing in addition to state benefits to jobless Americans.
Republicans argued the weekly boost “paid people to stay home”, while Democrats insisted it was necessary. “They don’t understand the crisis in the country,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of the Republicans.
But Schumer didn’t like Trump trying to take action when Congress couldn’t, either.
He and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement on Saturday that the administration’s moves amounted to little more than empty gestures.
“These policy announcements provide little real help to families,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “Instead of passing a bill, now President Trump is cutting families’ unemployment benefits and pushing states further into budget crises, forcing them to make devastating cuts to life-or-death services.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speak to reporters after their coronavirus relief negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the US Capitol in Washington on August 7, 2020.
1. Trump’s memo on the $400 a week unemployment boost could take months to implement
The weekly $600 federal unemployment insurance expired on July 31, so Trump proposed a $400 a week boost.
But as Business Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig pointed out, the president’s memo outlines a “lost wages program” outside of the usual unemployment insurance system that experts say could take months for overwhelmed states to implement. And states may not be able to pay the 25% Trump says they should.
2. Trump’s memo on the payroll tax could gut Medicare and Social Security, and companies probably won’t follow it
Even though Trump’s memo directs the treasury secretary to defer payroll taxes through the end of the year, experts told Zeballos-Roig that companies will likely hold on to the money in case they end up on the hook for it, so workers probably won’t see it in their paychecks.
Furthermore, the payroll tax funds Medicare and Social Security, two popular programs that millions of Americans rely on for health insurance and financial support.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called the move “a reckless war on Social Security.”
3. Trump’s order on evictions and foreclosures is light on details
People wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Trump’s housing order passionately outlines how important it is to keep Americans in their homes during the pandemic, particularly so they can successfully socially distance themselves from others and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. It also lays out how Black and Hispanic Americans have endured the brunt of the pandemic’s economic hardships.
It says “It is the policy of the United States to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, residential evictions and foreclosures during the ongoing COVID-19 national emergency.”
But the text is light on details of how the Trump administration will keep Americans from getting foreclosed upon or evicted.
Perhaps more specifics will come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the coming days.
4. Trump’s memo on federal student loan relief could let borrowers defer payments until the end of the year
CARES Act help for student loan borrowers was set to expire at the end of September, so Trump’s memo extends his administration’s policy to set Department of Education loan interest rates to 0% and let borrowers defer payments through the end of 2020.
Does Trump have the authority to take these actions?
Before Trump signed his signature in Sharpie, people started speculating whether he had the power to take executive action on these economic issues.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to decide how the federal government spends its money. The executive branch carries out those directives. Therefore, a court battle is likely on one or all of the executive actions, challenging Trump’s authority to make them.
When asked about possible legal challenges at the press conference on Saturday, Trump said he believed they would go “very rapidly through the courts, if we get sued — maybe we won’t get sued.”
Below are links to the full text of the 4 executive actions Trump signed on Saturday:
Extending federal unemployment benefits: “Memorandum on Authorizing the Other Needs Assistance Program for Major Disaster Declarations Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019”
Enacting a payroll tax holiday: “Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster”
Preventing evictions and foreclosures: “Executive Order on Fighting the Spread of COVID-19 by Providing Assistance to Renters and Homeowners”
Suspending student loan payments: “Memorandum on Continued Student Loan Payment Relief During the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Connor Perrett contributed reporting.
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