President Trump signed executive orders on Saturday to provide more aid to people hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, including extending $400 weekly unemployment benefits and granting a payroll tax holiday for workers making less than $100,000, as he accused congressional Democrats of “stonewalling” negotiations.
“Through these four actions, my administration will provide immediate and vital relief to Americans struggling at this difficult time,” the president said at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Mr. Trump also said he’s weighing additional income tax relief and capital gains tax cuts.
The president’s dramatic action, which is likely to encounter legal challenges, suspends payroll taxes until the end of the year, retroactive to Aug.1, for people earning up to $100,000 per year; provides enhanced federal unemployment benefits of $400 per week through December; defers student loan payments and forgives interest; and renews a moratorium on housing evictions.
Mr. Trump’s move came after two weeks of negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York failed to produce a deal. Democrats were seeking a package of aid totaling about $3.5 trillion; the White House and Senate Republicans were proposing relief totaling about $1.5 trillion.
The president said the Democrats’ bill was backed by presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden, and included measures such as banning voter ID and providing stimulus checks for illegal aliens, that are “completely unrelated” to the pandemic.
“What does this have to do with the coronavirus?” Mr. Trump asked. “They want to bail out states that have been badly run by Democrats. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have chosen to hold this vital assistance hostage on behalf of very extreme partisan demands. They want to steal an election.”
He said the payroll tax holiday will be made permanent if he’s reelected.
“If I’m victorious on Nov. 3, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax,” Mr. Trump said. “Biden probably won’t be doing that.”
The president said states will be asked to cover 25% of the extra unemployment benefits. Federal benefits of $600 per week, which had been added to regular state jobless benefits, expired last week.
He said Democrats are “actively blocking” funding to help K-12 schools reopen safely, extra money for the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and direct payments to most families averaging $3,400.
Despite opposition in both parties to the payroll tax holiday, Mr. Trump said “everybody wanted it.” Payroll taxes fund Social Security and Medicare.
“The very important thing is the people want it and the people need it, actually,” the president said.
Deferring payroll taxes would require workers and employers to repay the money at some point. Employers pay half the tax, up to 15.3%, and withhold the other half from employees’ wages.
The Treasury secretary has authority to defer tax collections after presidentially declared disasters. The administration used the authority this year to postpone the traditional April 15 tax filing deadline until July 15.
The president said the money for the federal unemployment benefits would come from about $1 trillion in unspent portions of the CARES Act, approved in March. He said people would receive the aid “very soon.”
“If we get sued, it’s somebody that doesn’t want people to get money,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s not going to be very popular.”
The president included a measure to provide “temporary financial assistance” to renters along with his action on halting evictions. He signed one executive order and three memoranda to implement the relief measures, according to the White House.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said states cannot afford to pay the 25% share of the extended unemployment benefits under the president’s order.
“This scheme is a classic Trump con: play-acting at leadership while robbing families of the support they need,” Mr. Wyden tweeted. “This ‘plan’ fails to reinstate supercharged [$600] unemployment, and would throw already overburdened state programs into chaos, making it harder to get benefits out the door.”
The president’s order said that more than $80 billion from a $150 billion fund for states in the CARES Act hasn’t been spent, and another $70 billion from the Department of Homeland Security can be used for the extra jobless payments.
Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, praised Mr. Trump’s move.
“Democrats all or nothing strategy jeopardizes the certainty Americans need to pay their bills,” he tweeted. “Pres Trump puts the American ppl first compared to nonstop political games by Democrats.”
Mr. Wyden also said the president’s payroll holiday “scheme could also drain the Social Security trust fund for a fake tax cut.”
“While employers are unlikely to risk a massive tax liability by not collecting payroll taxes or having to double up collection later, if they do go along with this stunt, it would drain the Social Security trust fund,” Mr. Wyden said. “This fake tax cut would also be a big shock to workers who thought they were getting a tax cut when it was only a delay. These workers would be hit with much bigger payments down the road.”
“In the interim, workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own would get nothing, and workers who have lost shifts and tips would get little help.”