Administration Officials Defend Executive Action on Pandemic Relief
A number of critical provisions are also left unaddressed without a broader deal, including a lapsed federal program for small businesses, another round of stimulus checks, aid to schools confronting the beginning of the academic year and funds for state and local governments reeling from the toll of the pandemic.
“The downside of executive orders is you can’t address some of the small business incidents that are there,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said in a pretaped interview that aired Sunday on Gray Television. “You can’t necessarily get direct payments, because it has to do with appropriations. That’s something that the president doesn’t have the ability to do. So you miss on those two key areas. You miss on money for schools. You miss on any funding for state and local revenue needs that may be out there.”
The White House lawyers had been crafting the executive actions over the past two weeks. By Friday, after the talks remained at a stalemate, it became clear that they would need to move forward with the plan. Mr. Trump was eager to sign the payroll tax order on Friday evening, according to a senior administration official, but after his legal team said it was not yet ready, he opted to do so on Saturday at his Bedminster golf club.
Officials in recent days had been debating which measures to employ, with Mr. Mnuchin resistant to the payroll tax suspension and Mr. Kudlow arguing in support of it, according to a senior administration official. Although White House officials believe the executive actions have given Mr. Trump the upper hand, his advisers continue to say that more support for schools and another round of stimulus checks are needed to keep the economic recovery on track.
Among the most complicated measures is the president’s intention to revive lapsed weekly federal unemployment payments of $600 through the repurposing of other federal funds, including from a pot of disaster relief aid, to create a $400-a-week bonus payment. That payment, however, is contingent on states providing $100 per week and establishing an entirely new program — called a “lost wages assistance program” — to distribute the aid.
But states are also facing plunging revenues because of the pandemic. They have already struggled to allocate the original $600 payment because of overwhelmed and often antiquated systems, and some experts warn that the revised benefit could last for only five weeks.
Mr. Trump went golfing on Saturday with Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who had tried to nudge the president toward higher weekly subsidies to supplant lost income. Mr. Trump joked that they would simply have to run the printing presses faster to make up the additional amount it would cost, a person familiar with the discussion said.
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