The White House is exploring whether President Donald Trump can act on his own to extend enhanced unemployment benefits and eviction protection if lawmakers fail to act, people familiar with the matter said.
The White House is concerned about the economic impact of the $600 a week supplemental benefits, the people said, as Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach an agreement over a new coronavirus stimulus package.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Trump would be able to accomplish either goal without Congress acting. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Talks to break an impasse have become increasingly urgent with millions of jobless Americans left without additional aid, and the Senate scheduled to leave for an extended break.
Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on some of the biggest sticking points, including extending the supplemental unemployment insurance, despite claims of some progress on other issues following a weekend meeting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows. “We’ll be meeting again tomorrow,” Meadows said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term.”
The four negotiators are set to meet at 1 p.m. in Washington at Pelosi’s office.
Informal White House adviser Stephen Moore, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, called on Trump to use executive action to suspend collection of the payroll tax. The Washington Post earlier reported on the discussions.
Democrats have insisted that supplemental unemployment benefits be continued at the $600 per week level, which was set in the March stimulus package. Senate Republicans argue such an amount discourages work, and have presented several proposals to cut it to as little as $200 per week for two months and then cap it at 70% of wages.
A recent University of Chicago study found 68% of jobless workers eligible for benefits receive more in unemployment payments than they previously earned. But a Yale University study published last week found no evidence that the extra unemployment benefits discouraged people from returning to work.
The White House also has proposed temporarily extending the unemployment aid and the eviction moratorium while talks continue. Pelosi has rejected that without more progress towards an agreement for a broader package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to force votes this week on various Republican plans to extend the lapsed supplemental unemployment payments. None are likely to pass, as some GOP senators are opposed to any additional stimulus spending and Democrats are unified behind their leadership in pushing for a comprehensive bill.
Besides the question of aid for the unemployed, roadblocks to a broader agreement include McConnell’s plan to shield employers against lawsuits stemming from Covid-19 infections, and Democrats’ drive to provide $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments.