Trump seems ready, will­ing to by­pass law­mak­ers on virus aid

The Saline Courier Weekend - - NEWS - By Jonathan Lemire AP Writer

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Ready and will­ing to by­pass elected law­mak­ers, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump seemed set to claim the power to de­fer pay­roll taxes and ex­tend ex­pired un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits after ne­go­ti­a­tions with Congress on a new coro­n­avirus res­cue pack­age col­lapsed.

The White House sig­naled Satur­day that the pres­i­dent was soon ex­pected to sign four ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, con­tend­ing Wash­ing­ton’s grid­lock had com­pelled him to act as the pan­demic un­der­mined the coun­try’s econ­omy and the Novem­ber elec­tion nears. Trump sched­uled an af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence at his coun­try club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Per­haps most cru­cially, he in­tended to ex­tend the un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits that have run out, but it was not clear whether the as­sis­tance would re­main at $600 a week or where the money would come from. He also planned to de­fer the pay­roll tax un­til the end of the year, hold off stu­dent loan pay­ments and en­force a freeze on evic­tions.

Trump has largely stayed on the side­lines dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ne­go­ti­a­tions with con­gres­sional lead­ers. The talks, which broke down in re­cent days, were led on his side by chief of staff Mark Mead­ows and Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin.

The pres­i­dent said at his club on Fri­day night that

“if Democrats con­tinue to hold this crit­i­cal re­lief hostage I will act un­der my au­thor­ity as pres­i­dent to get Amer­i­cans the re­lief they need.”

Democrats had said they would lower their spend­ing de­mands from $3.4 tril­lion to $2 tril­lion but said the White House needed to in­crease their of­fer. Repub­li­cans have pro­posed a $1 tril­lion plan.

White House aides have watched the talks break down with ap­pre­hen­sion, fear­ful that fail­ure to close a deal could fur­ther dam­age an eco­nomic re­cov­ery al­ready show­ing signs of slow­ing down. Fri­day’s jobs re­port, though it beat ex­pec­ta­tions, was smaller than the past two months, in part be­cause a resur­gence of the virus has led to states rolling back their re­open­ings.

The pres­i­dent’s team be­lieves the econ­omy needs to sta­bi­lize and show signs of growth for him to have any chance at win­ning re­elec­tion. Aides were hop­ing to frame the ex­pected ex­ec­u­tive or­ders sign­ings as a sign that Trump was tak­ing ac­tion in a time of cri­sis. But it also would re­in­force the view that the pres­i­dent, who took of­fice declar­ing he was a dealmaker, was un­able to steer the process to an agree­ment.

Also, the an­tic­i­pated or­ders would be smaller in scope than con­gres­sional leg­is­la­tion.

“This is not a per­fect an­swer — we’ll be the first ones to say that,” Mead­ows said Fri­day as talks broke down. “But it is all that we can do and all the pres­i­dent can do within the con­fines of his ex­ec­u­tive power, and we’re go­ing to en­cour­age him to do it.”

Trump has not spec­i­fied how the pay­roll tax de­fer­ral would work, and it was un­clear whether he had the au­thor­ity to take such an ac­tion without ap­proval from Congress.

The move would not aid un­em­ployed work­ers, who do not pay the tax when they are job­less, and would face bi­par­ti­san op­po­si­tion in Congress. The cut, long a Trump wish, would af­fect pay­roll taxes that are in­tended to cover Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits and take 7 per­cent of an em­ployee’s in­come. Em­ploy­ers also pay 7.65% of their pay­rolls into the funds.

Both the House and Se­nate have left Wash­ing­ton, with mem­bers sent home on in­struc­tions to be ready to re­turn for a vote on an agree­ment. With no deal in sight, their ab­sence raised the pos­si­bil­ity of a pro­longed stale­mate that stretches well into Au­gust and even Septem­ber.

Of­ten an im­passe in Wash­ing­ton is of lit­tle con­se­quence for the pub­lic — but not so this time. It would mean more hard­ship for mil­lions of peo­ple who are los­ing en­hanced job­less ben­e­fits and fur­ther dam­age for an econ­omy pum­meled by the still-rag­ing coro­n­avirus.

Fri­day’s ne­go­ti­a­tions at the Capi­tol added up to only “a dis­ap­point­ing meet­ing,” said Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. He said the White House had re­jected an of­fer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-calif., to curb Demo­cratic de­mands by about $1 tril­lion. Schumer urged the White House to “ne­go­ti­ate with Democrats and meet us in the mid­dle. Don’t say it’s your way or no way.”

That Capi­tol Hill ses­sion fol­lowed a com­bat­ive meet­ing Thursday evening that for the first time cast real doubt on the abil­ity of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Democrats to come to­gether on a fifth COVID19 re­sponse bill.

Pelosi de­clared the talks all but dead un­til Mead­ows and Mnuchin give ground.

The break­down in the ne­go­ti­a­tions is par­tic­u­larly dis­tress­ing for schools, which have been count­ing on bil­lions of dol­lars from Wash­ing­ton to help with the costs of re­open­ing. But other pri­or­i­ties are also lan­guish­ing, in­clud­ing a fresh round of $1,200 di­rect pay­ments to most peo­ple, a cash in­fu­sion for the strug­gling Postal Ser­vice and money to help states hold elec­tions in Novem­ber.

Mnuchin said re­newal of a $600 per-week pan­demic job­less boost and huge de­mands by Democrats for aid to state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are the key ar­eas where they are stuck.

Democrats have of­fered to re­duce her al­most $1 tril­lion de­mand for state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments con­sid­er­ably, but some of Pelosi’s pro­posed cost sav­ings would ac­crue chiefly be­cause she would shorten the time­frame for ben­e­fits like food stamps.

Pelosi and Schumer con­tinue to in­sist on a huge aid pack­age to ad­dress a surge in cases and deaths, dou­bledigit job­less­ness and the threat of poverty for mil­lions of the newly un­em­ployed.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans have been split, with roughly half of Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell’s rank and file op­posed to an­other res­cue bill at all. Four prior coro­n­avirus re­sponse bills to­tal­ing al­most $3 tril­lion have won ap­proval on bi­par­ti­san votes de­spite in­tense wran­gling, but con­ser­va­tives have re­coiled at the prospect of an­other Pelosi-bro­kered agree­ment with a whop­ping deficit-fi­nanced cost.

Mccon­nell has kept his dis­tance from the ne­go­ti­a­tions while co­or­di­nat­ing with Mnuchin and Mead­ows.

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