BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – President Donald Trump’s end run around Congress on coronavirus relief is raising questions about whether it would give Americans the economic lifeline he claims and appears certain to face legal challenges. Democrats called it a pre-election ploy that would burden cash-strapped states.
"When you look at those executive orders ... the kindest thing I could say is he doesn’t know what he’s talking about or something's wrong there,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “To characterize them as even accomplishing what they set out to do, as something that will take the place of an agreement, is just not so.”
After negotiations with lawmakers on the next package of pandemic economic assistance hit a wall, Trump used what he said were the inherent powers of the presidency to forge ahead on tax and spending policy that Congress says it is granted by the Constitution.
Trump asserted he had the authority to defer payroll taxes and extend an expired unemployment benefit, although at a lower amount than what the jobless had been getting during the crisis. His reelection chances imperiled by the pandemic, the Republican president contended his orders “will take care of pretty much this entire situation, as we know it.”
But the orders appeared to carry less weight than Trump promoted and cut federal relief spending by shifting more onto the shoulders of struggling states. Critics said the actions crossed a legal line and fell well short of what is needed to help right the fragile economy.
“Paltry,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, given the scope of the economic and health crises.
Though certain to further strain relations with Congress, the moves were framed by the White House as the president breaking through the Washington gridlock in order to directly distribute aid. Advisers hope it will sustain an economic recovery that Trump likely needs to defeat Democrat Joe Biden in November.
With an eye on reversing his slide in the polls, Trump took full credit for the measures, which he signed at his New Jersey golf club on Saturday after congressional talks broke down this past week. Democrats initially sought a $3.4 trillion package but said they lowered their demand to $2 trillion. Republicans had proposed a $1 trillion plan.