President Donald Trump said he would use executive action to extend the pandemic unemployment benefit, along with other measures, vowing to break the deadlock on Capitol Hill over a clutch of pandemic relief measures.
Trump made the remarks during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 7. Calling the enhanced unemployment benefit one of the key issues of the talks between White House and congressional negotiators, who have so far failed to reach an agreement, Trump said his administration would extend the jobless benefit through the end of the year.
Known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, this is the additional federal benefit of $600 per week over and above regular and state unemployment insurance payments and other forms of pandemic unemployment assistance. Established by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, the FPUC benefit expired on July 31, with lawmakers and White House negotiators broadly in agreement on the need for an extension but at odds over its size and duration. Democrats have pushed for a full, $600-per-week extension through January 2021, while Republicans have called for something more modest, arguing that its current level is so generous as to disincentivize employment and so disproportionately hurt small businesses.
Asked during Friday’s presser about whether Trump was considering extending the full $600-a-week benefit, the president said, “I won’t say that yet. You’ll see when it happens.”
He was also asked where the money would come from to pay for the extension given congressional power of the purse, Trump insisted that “we have plenty of money.”
Trump also vowed executive action to advance such issues as payroll tax deferment, continuing the evictions moratorium, and relief for indebted students.
“What we’re talking about is deferring the payroll tax for a period of months until the end of the year,” Trump said, adding that deferment of the payroll tax would be retroactive until July 1 and that it may be extended at the end of the year.
The president also promised to defer student loan payments and forgive interest until further notice, and extend the eviction moratorium.
“My administration continues to work in good faith to reach an agreement with Democrats in Congress that will extend unemployment benefits, provide protections against evictions. A terrible thing happens with evictions. Not fair. It wasn’t their fault that we were infected with this disease from China,” Trump said.
Trump said he might sign the relevant executive orders by the end of the week, adding that while he acknowledges the likelihood that “we’ll get sued,” the president said he wasn’t worried about an unfavorable outcome.
“No, not at all, no. Well, you always get sued. I mean, everything you do, you get sued. I was sued on the travel ban and we won. I was sued on a lot of things and we won,” Trump said, adding that he would also take executive action requiring health insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.
“This has never been done before,” Trump said.
Friday’s last-ditch effort by negotiators on Capitol Hill to break through in talks on pandemic relief collapsed in disappointment, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying, “Unfortunately we did not make any progress today.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the White House rejected an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to curb Democrat demands by about $1 trillion.
“We’ll go down $1 trillion, you go up $1 trillion,” Pelosi said in a news conference on Friday, arguing that she offered a major concession to Republicans.
A spokesman said Pelosi is in general terms seeking a “top line” of perhaps $2.4 trillion since the House-passed HEROES Act is valued at $3.45 trillion. Republicans have said their starting offer was about $1 trillion but have offered some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to states, among others, that have brought the White House offer higher.
Schumer urged the White House to “negotiate with Democrats and meet us in the middle. Don’t say it’s your way or no way.”