BEDMINSTER, N.J. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed an ordinance on Saturday to restore unemployment benefits to tens of millions of Americans who had lost their jobs to the coronavirus pandemic as the US marked a grim milestone of 5 million cases.
This week, negotiations collapsed between the White House and leading Democrats in Congress on how best to help Americans deal with the grave human and economic consequences of the crisis that killed more than 160,000 people across the country are.
Trump said the orders would provide an additional $ 400 (£ 307) a week in unemployment benefits, less than the $ 600 a week that passed earlier in the crisis. Some of the measures likely faced legal challenges as the US Constitution gives Congress authority over federal spending.
"This is the money they need, this is the money they want, it gives them an incentive to go back to work," the Republican president said of the lower payments. He said 25% of this was paid by states whose budgets were hit hard by the crisis.
Republicans have argued that higher payments would deter unemployed Americans from returning to work, although economists, including Federal Reserve officials, denied this claim.
Trump's attempt to take relief efforts out of the hands of Congress was immediately criticized by some Democrats.
"Donald Trump is trying to divert attention from his failure to extend the $ 600 markup for 30 million unemployed people by issuing illegal executive orders," said Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. "This program is a classic Donald Trump scam: you play in leadership positions and rob the people of the support they desperately need."
The House of Representatives with a Democratic majority passed a coronavirus support package in May, which the Republican-led Senate ignored.
Trump also said he has suspended the collection of wage taxes paid for Social Security and other federal programs. He has raised this idea repeatedly, but it was rejected by both parties in Congress. He said the suspension would apply to people earning less than $ 100,000 a year.
His orders would also stop evictions from government-funded rental apartments and provide zero percent interest on government-funded student loans.
Trump initially downplayed the threat of the disease, criticizing inconsistent messages on public health steps like social distancing and masks.
He spoke to reporters at his New Jersey golf club on Saturday in a room filled with cheering supporters.
Nearly two weeks of talks between White House officials and Congressional Democrats ended Friday, with the two sides still about $ 2 trillion apart.
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi had urged that the increased unemployment benefits, which expired in late July, be extended to the previous rate of $ 600 and that more financial support be given to city and state governments hard hit by the crisis.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer on Friday offered to cut the $ 3.4 trillion coronavirus aid package passed in May by nearly a third if Republicans agreed to their counteroffer of $ 1 trillion US dollars more than double.
White House negotiator Steven Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows turned down the offer.
The $ 1 trillion package revealed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell late last month met with immediate opposition from his own party. Up to 20 of the Senate's 53 Republicans expected to oppose it.
Trump did not rule out a return to negotiations with Congress.
"I'm not saying they won't come back and negotiate," he said. "Hopefully we can do something with them at a later date."
Democrats have already warned that such injunctions are legally in doubt and likely to be challenged in court, but a court battle could last months.
Trump previously managed to bypass Congress on its spending and declare a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border to shift billions of dollars from the defense budget to pay for a wall he promised in the 2016 election campaign would have.
Congress passed laws to stop him, but there were too few votes in the Republican-controlled Senate to override his veto – a scenario that would likely play out again in less than 90 days before the November 3rd presidential election.
Reporting by Jeff Mason, additional reporting by Raphael Satter, Brad Brooks, and Rich McKay; Letter from Scott Malone; Adaptation by Diane Craft, Daniel Wallis, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall
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