Congress Fails on COVID Relief, so Trump Steps in With Executive Power

President Donald Trump took the reins from Capitol Hill on Saturday after Republicans and Democrats failed to come to a deal on another round of coronavirus relief funds.

While Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans were ready to move forward with a limited $1 trillion relief package, Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats were set on a $3 trillion alternative bill that would fund everything from marijuana cafes to climate change initiatives. Trump called off negotiations on Friday before unveiling a set of executive orders the next day that will give Americans some financial relief.

From the AP:

President Donald Trump has 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.

Trump’s orders on Saturday encroached on Congress’ control of federal spending and seemed likely to be met with legal challenges. The president cast his actions as necessary given that lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement to plunge more money into the stumbling economy, which has imperiled his November reelection.

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 president said the orders “will take care of pretty much this entire situation as we know it,” but not everyone was happy to see Trump use executive power to work around the inaction of Congress.

Both Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the president’s actions were far too “meager” to help Americans wade through the economic crisis. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden sounded a similar note, accusing Trump of producing “a series of half-baked measures” that would take a hefty toll on Social Security.

Trump also got hit from members of his own party, including Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who said the actions were reminiscent of the president’s predecessor.

“The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop,” said Sasse. “The president does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress.”

Democrats will almost certainly challenge Trump’s authority on these orders in court, which puts them in the politically disadvantageous position of actually fighting against the only relief that Americans are getting from the federal government. It could be that, with these orders, that is exactly the gambit Trump is counting on.

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