US President Donald Trump signs executive orders extending coronavirus economic relief, during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump signs executive orders extending coronavirus economic relief, during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump tried to assert executive power by signing four actions Saturday, one of which will provide as much as $400 in enhanced unemployment benefits — 25% of which states are being asked to cover — after Democrats and the White House were unable to reach an agreement on a coronavirus stimulus relief bill this week.

The other three actions he signed include a memorandum on a payroll tax holiday for Americans earning less than $100,000 a year, an executive order on “assistance to renters and homeowners” and a memorandum on deferring student loan payments.

“I’m taking action to provide an additional or extra $400 a week and expanded benefits, $400. That’s generous but we want to take care of our people,” Trump said about his memorandum on unemployment benefits at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Trump said $300 (or 75%) of the enhanced aid will come from the federal government, and $100 (or 25%) will therefore have to come from the states. Since governors would have to pay that $100 for people to get the full benefit, it is not clear how many of those unemployed would be able to receive the full $400 benefit.

A memorandum issued by the White House shortly after Trump’s news conference said that up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund would be made available for “lost wage assistance” to supplement state payments.

But when asked about the President’s executive action asking states to pay 25% of the $400 unemployment relief, an official from a northeastern state run by a Democratic governor laughed. “We don’t have that money,” the official said.

This official went on to say that they were not given any heads up on this executive action and that in the wake of the pandemic, their funds are completely tapped.

In fact, states have asked Congress to provide them with an additional $500 billion to help shore up their budgets, which have been crushed by the loss of tax revenue amid the pandemic. This has been one of the main points of contention between Democrats, who want to allocate additional aid, and Republicans, who don’t want to bail out what they say are badly managed states.

The millions of Americans who’ve filed for jobless benefits have drained several states’ unemployment benefits trust funds. Already, 10 states have borrowed nearly $20 billion from the Treasury Department to cover their share of payments, which typically last 26 weeks.

When asked by a reporter on Saturday why $400 instead of the previous $600, Trump responded, “This is the money they need, this is the money they want, this gives them a great incentive to go back to work.”

He went on to say, “there was a difficulty with the 600 number because it really was a disincentive.”

Trump administration officials had maintained some people receiving the original $600 extra benefit would not have an incentive to return to work because they were making more with unemployment aid than they did in salary.

Likewise, Republicans haven’t wanted to continue the $600 supplement, which expired July 31 and was part of the historic expansion to the nation’s unemployment benefits program lawmakers passed in late March, because they say it could delay people’s return to work. When combined with state benefits, about two-thirds of workers make more than they earned at their former jobs, a University of Chicago study found. GOP lawmakers initially floated giving the jobless a $200 supplement for at least two months and then a payment that would provide 70% of the laid-off worker’s former wage, when added to state benefits.

Democrats, on the other hand, say the economy is still weak and the jobless need the $600 to pay their bills.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Trump’s executive actions and continued the partisan finger-pointing, blaming Democrats for having “sabotaged” talks.

“Struggling Americans need action now. Since Democrats have sabotaged backroom talks with absurd demands that would not help working people, I support President Trump exploring his options to get unemployment benefits and other relief to the people who need them the most,” McConnell said in a statement Saturday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump’s executive actions, describing them as “meager” and accusing the President of not grasping the severity of the current crisis.

“We’re disappointed that instead of putting in the work to solve Americans’ problems, the President instead chose to stay on his luxury golf course to announce unworkable, weak and narrow policy announcements to slash the unemployment benefits that millions desperately need and endanger seniors’ Social Security and Medicare,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called Trump’s actions “half-baked.”

“This is no art of the deal,” Biden said in a statement. “This is not presidential leadership. These orders are not real solutions. They are just another cynical ploy designed to deflect responsibility. Some measures do far more harm than good.”

Trump said he believes that the unemployment aid will be “rapidly distributed,” even though there are potential challenges over the legality of his executive action.

Democrats are likely to challenge the executive actions in court. Trump first laid out the executive actions at a hastily called news conference on Friday at his New Jersey golf club, where he said he wasn’t concerned about the legality of the actions he promised.

Trump also pushed one of his favorite tax moves that both parties had opposed, including in the latest stimulus bill. One of his memoranda calls for deferring the employee portion of payroll taxes — 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare — for workers making less than $100,000 a year through the rest of 2020.

If he’s reelected, Trump said, he plans to forgive the taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll taxes.

“I’m going to make them all permanent,” he said.

Otherwise, presumably, workers would have to pay the taxes at the end of the year.

The controversial measure, however, wouldn’t do anything to help the unemployed and would likely weaken the already strained finances of Social Security and Medicare.

Trump also said Saturday his administration was looking at additional income tax and capital gains tax cuts for American taxpayers.

“We are going to be looking at capital gains for the purpose of creating jobs and income taxes is self-explanatory, and it will be income tax for middle income and lower income people, but middle income people who pay a lot of income tax, you have tax inequality. I’m saying that as a Republican, and you do have tax inequality,” Trump said.

He did not provide further details.

As reported by CNN