by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
With negotiations over a (yes!) fifth COVID-19 rescue package at an impasse, President Trump took action on his own Saturday, signing executive orders on a number of “stimulus” measures. Whether his actions or Congress’ ultimately prevail, expect a pretty hefty price tag — and dubious economic benefits.
For starters, unilateral steps by a president, especially regarding the budget, are often legally and politically fraught. The Constitution gives Congress the power over the purse, and if there isn’t enough political will to act, it can be a stretch for presidents to simply use their “phone and pen” (as President Barack Obama put it when he issued his own EOs) and sidestep lawmakers.
Democrats have already questioned the legality of Trump’s move, and even he says he expects a lawsuit.
Besides that, some of his measures are questionable on the merits: His payroll-tax cut, for example, won’t help people out of work, and those with jobs don’t really need it.
Yet the moves might’ve been meant mostly to light a fire under Dems and prompt concessions. As with past packages, Democrats have been slowing any agreement, demanding the moon and figuring they can blame Trump for any stalemate. They’ve resisted, for instance, narrow stand-alone measures, even those both sides agree on. …
… Then there’s the $600 unemployment bonus approved under the previous rescue plan. Those payments got added to state jobless benefits, leaving many unemployed workers with more money than they made on the job and creating perverse incentives to prolong the high jobless rates. Republicans were willing to agree to $200 or 70 percent of a workers’ lost wages — but Pelosi insisted on leaving it as is: “There’s no in between,” she said last week. Trump would allow for $400 a week.