With both parties failing to come to an agreement on a second Coronavirus relief bill, President Trump is threatening to (ab)use his executive authority to extend unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions if Congress cannot reach a deal. It is unclear where the president believes this authority comes from. The federal government cannot legally spend money that is not appropriated by Congress and the Constitution requires that spending bills originate in the House of Representatives.
Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN on Wednesday, “What I am saying is by Friday, if we haven’t made significant progress and we are just too far apart, the President is prepared to take executive action on those, the two items you are talking about. Making sure eviction protection is done, he will do that through executive action. Making sure enhanced unemployment payments — that stopped because Democrats refused to say ‘yes’ just a few days ago.”
“He will do executive actions and take executive actions to actually address those two areas to make sure that at least what he can do is take action because Congress won’t,” Meadows continued.
President Trump reiterated the threat today in a tweet, which added a payroll tax cut and student loan repayments to the laundry list of items that could be included in an Executive Order.
The enhanced unemployment benefits and eviction moratorium are part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in March. The law does not give the president the authority to spend money unilaterally but may be able to extend the eviction moratorium. The Congressional Research Service noted that the moratorium has formally expired but a 30-day notice requirement in evictions means that the moratorium continues until August 24.
“He may be able to extend the moratorium on evictions, but unless you have some money with that, it’s helpful but it’s not the whole thing,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on MSNBC.
The Trump Administration has reportedly made concessions. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the Republican and Democratic relief proposals differed in several key areas. One was that Republicans wanted to reduce the extra unemployment payment from $600 to $200. CNBC reports that the Trump Administration has increased the offer to $400 with a temporary continuation of the $600 payment until a broader deal is reached. The White House has also agreed in principle to extend the eviction moratorium through September. Both benefits expired at the end of July and the Paycheck Protection Program expires this Saturday.
For their part, Democrats had proposed $25 billion in funding for the Postal Service, which has been beleaguered by a projected $13 billion loss in revenue due to the pandemic and worries that it cannot handle the surge in absentee ballots for the upcoming election. The request for the Post Office has been decreased to $10 billion.
The two parties are also far apart on a number of other relief proposals. These include funding for state and local governments, school funding, which Republicans want to link to reopening, and assistance for housing and food.
Both parties seem to have used the pandemic relief as an opportunity to sneak through items that have not been able to pass Congress in other legislation. The Democrats included removing the cap on property tax exemption in their bill while the Republican version included $30 billion in defense spending, some of which would replace funds that President Trump diverted to the border wall.
One of the main culprits in the relief fight is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is holding fast to the Democratic request for the $600 unemployment enhancement. The flip side is that Pelosi’s Democrats passed a relief bill in May that would have extended benefits through January, but Republicans didn’t start negotiating or present an alternative package until late June.
The break “allowed us to learn the coronavirus didn’t mysteriously disappear,” McConnell told the New York Times on Wednesday. “It is still here.”
Even Republicans admit that it will be Pelosi’s and Schumer’s Democratic caucuses that carry the bill. Republicans are divided on even their own smaller, $1 trillion relief bill. It will take a bipartisan group to ultimately drag the relief bill across the finish line as some Republicans are belatedly once again becoming concerned about federal spending. I’m a deficit hawk myself, but, as I have written in the past, a deadly pandemic in which people need to stay home so that they don’t spread an infectious virus is perhaps the one time when it really makes sense for the government to shovel money out the door and pay people to stay home.
Instead, President Trump and the Republicans are walking into Pelosi’s trap. The GOP is divided on a popular and necessary bill. Rather than giving in to the Speaker’s demands, the president is prepared to act unilaterally in an illegal executive action. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is.
President Trump’s return to the well of abusing executive authority and national emergencies to bypass Congress is yet another reminder that the vaunted dealmaker is out of his league and has no business in the Oval Office. It is also a reminder that Nancy Pelosi also does not have the best interests of the country at heart and should not be entrusted with leadership of Congress. Only one of those problems is likely to be resolved this year.
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