Trump signs coronavirus relief orders after talks with Congress break down

BEDMINSTER, N.J. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Saturday signed executive orders giving additional financial aid to Americans hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic after his negotiators failed to reach an agreement with Congress.

Trump said the orders would net the tens of millions less than $ 400 a week during a health crisis that killed more than 160,000 Americans, less than $ 600 a week earlier in the year exceeded.

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, this gives them an incentive to get back to work," Trump said of the lower increased unemployment benefits.

Republicans have argued that the higher payments would deter unemployed Americans from returning to work, although economists, including Federal Reserve officials, denied that claim.

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 has been rejected by both Democrats and his Republican counterparts in Congress.

His orders would also stop evictions from federal government sponsored apartments and provide zero percent interest on government-funded student loans, he said.

"Congressional Democrats have blocked our efforts to extend this relief," Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club in a room that was filled with cheering supporters.

House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi had urged the increase in unemployment benefits to be extended to the previous rate of $ 600 a week approved at the start of the crisis.

Nearly two weeks of talks between White House officials and Congressional Democrats ended Friday, with the two sides still about $ 2 trillion apart on next steps to tackle the heavy human and economic toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking in the United States, where it killed more than 160,000 people.

US President Donald Trump speaks after signing executive orders for economic relief during a press conference amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, the United States, on August 8, 2020. REUTERS / Joshua Roberts

Trump initially downplayed the threat of the disease, criticizing inconsistent messages on public health steps like social distancing and masks.

The $ 600 weekly rise in unemployment benefits, which served as a lifeline for the tens of millions of Americans who lost their jobs in the pandemic, expired in late July.

Senate minority chairman Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Friday offered to cut a proposed $ 3.4 trillion coronavirus aid package, which the House passed in May but ignored by the Senate, by nearly a third if Republicans would agree to more than double their counteroffer of $ 1 trillion.

White House negotiator Steven Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows turned down the offer.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, unveiled late last month, met with immediate opposition from his party, and up to 20 of the 53 Senate Republicans were expected to oppose it.

POSSIBLE CHALLENGE

Democrats have already warned that such orders are legally dubious and likely to be challenged in court.

They spoke out on behalf of others – Pelosi said this week she would welcome an executive order stopping the eviction of leases.

While Trump had repeatedly circulated the idea of ​​executive orders to push ahead with relief, Schumer said Friday that the White House team had recognized that power was limited.

"The other possibility is that they are executing executive orders that, by their own account, as they repeatedly told us, are not nearly as good," said Schumer. "It's not about opening schools. Testing isn't covered. Dealing with rent support isn't covered. Elections aren't covered. Not that many things are covered."

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A legal battle could last months and Trump managed to bypass Congress on its spending by declaring a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border to move billions of dollars from the defense budget to build a wall he promised in the 2016 election campaign.

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; Letter from Scott Malone; Adaptation by Diane Craft, Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis

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