by Jim Watson with Sebastian Smith in Washington
President Donald Trump on Saturday signed executive actions extending financial relief to Americans hit by the coronavirus pandemic as polls showed a large majority of voters unhappy with his handling of the crisis.
The four measures marked a presidential show of strength after Trump’s Republican party and White House team failed to agree with opposition Democrats in Congress on a new stimulus package aimed at stopping vulnerable Americans from falling through the cracks.
“We’ve had it and we’re going to save American jobs and provide relief to the American workers,” Trump said at a press conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was spending the weekend.
With double digit unemployment, disruption to businesses from social distancing rules, and persistent coronavirus spread, many Americans had been relying on relief measures approved earlier by Congress, but which mostly expired in July.
Trump said his decision to circumvent Congress with executive actions would mean relief money getting “rapidly distributed.”
In reality, his measures are likely to face court challenges because Congress controls federal spending, and in any case they may add up to less money than initially appears.
For Trump, lagging badly in the polls against his Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the November 3 presidential election, the orders were partly about showing he is in charge.
He turned the signing ceremony in the ballroom of the golf club into an assault on his opponents and threw in several false claims about his accomplishments in office.
To cheers from club members invited to watch the event, Trump insulted the Democratic “crazy” leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, denounced Biden as “far left,” and claimed that Democrats want to “steal the election.”
Biden called Trump’s orders Saturday “a series of half-baked measures.”
“They are just another cynical ploy designed to deflect responsibility,” Biden said, adding that Americans need a “real leader” who would work to hammer out a deal with lawmakers.
– Haggling in Congress –
One key Trump order promises to get $400 a week added to Americans’ unemployment benefits, while two others offer some protection from evictions and relief for student loans.
The $400 assistance is below the $600 offered in the expired stimulus package. It may also end up amounting only to $300 extra a week, because Trump said $100 would be provided from state, not federal, budgets — and only if states were willing or able to do so.
A fourth measure — opposed by many Republicans as well as Democrats — ordered a freeze in payroll taxes. This makes a big headline for Trump but is only a deferral, rather than a cut in the tax.
“Today’s meager announcements show President Trump still does not comprehend the seriousness or the urgency of the health and economic crises facing working families,” Pelosi said on Twitter Saturday. “These policies provide little real help for families.”
Democrats, Republicans and White House negotiators had worked all last week without coming close to a deal on an overall congressional relief bill for those struggling to make ends meet in the world’s richest economy.
Democrats pushed for a massive new $3 trillion stimulus package aimed at propping up the economy, repairing the tattered postal system in time for the presidential election and giving the unemployed an extra $600 a week.
Democrats later announced they could drop the price tag but refused the Republicans’ offer of a $1 trillion package.
© Agence France-Presse
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