Trump signs executive orders on coronavirus economic relief

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed four executive orders Saturday for coronavirus economic relief, upending negotiations with Congress after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on Friday.

The executive orders defer payroll taxes through the end of the year for Americans earning less than $100,000 a year.

They also defer student loan payments through the end of the year; continue eviction moratoriums; and extend enhanced unemployment benefits that expired last week, but at a reduced level of $400 instead of the prior $600.

The payroll-tax order defers rather than eliminates them, which means the government could choose to collect the money at a later date.

“If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax,” Trump said. “Joe Biden and the Democrats may not want that, they don’t want that.”

When asked by reporters why the enhanced unemployment benefits would not be kept at the $600 level, as Democrats had pushed for, Trump said the new rate gives Americans “a great incentive to go back to work.”

The president said he was directing the federal government to cover 75 percent of the enhanced unemployment, and calling on states to cover the remaining 25 percent. That may be difficult for states with revenue shortfalls and budgets stretched thin due to the pandemic.

The orders, which Trump announced in a press conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, come after talks with Democrats over another round of assistance hit an impasse Friday.

Democrats promised last week to file a legal challenge if Trump acted through executive order to circumvent Congress, which has the constitutional authority to determine federal spending.

Trump brushed off those challenges Saturday, telling reporters “I guess, maybe they’ll bring legal actions, maybe they won’t. But they won’t win.”

“I honestly don’t believe they love our country, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said Saturday, criticizing Democrats’ response to the pandemic.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows indicated after talks with Democrats appeared to break down on Friday that Trump could act on his own to implement three pieces under discussion: renewing federal unemployment benefits, extending an eviction moratorium and providing student loan relief.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had previously indicated Trump may have the authority to extend the eviction moratorium.

Trump first threatened Thursday that if a deal was not reached by the end of the week — a largely arbitrary deadline — then he would utilize executive orders to circumvent Congress and enact jobless benefits and an eviction moratorium on his own.

At the last-minute press conference Friday night, Trump said that an executive order was “being drawn right now” and accused Democrats of holding “critical relief hostage.”

The Democratic negotiators, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, told reporters on Friday they had offered the White House a compromise that would have included about $2 trillion in aid, which was rejected.

The two sides also remain far apart on state aid. Democrats and some Republicans have said that amid a financial crunch sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, assistance to states is necessary to ensure vital services like police and firefighters can continue.

Trump has repeatedly said additional state funding would be a “bailout” for blue states, although numerous Republican-led states are also facing coronavirus-caused financial crises.

The two parties also disagreed on how school funding should be disbursed. Pelosi told reporters the White House wants money to go largely to schools that reopen; Democrats want the aid to also fund schools that are unable to reopen and must spend to launch and implement distance learning programs.

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