Three Memos and a Little EO

To mix cultural references: less than meets the eye.

Yesterday, at an event at one his golf courses, Trump announced the signing of executive actions ostensibly designed to provide additional relief to the country as is suffers from the effects of Covid-19. These unilateral actions were deemed necessary by the administration due to the lack of action in the Congress, even though the main roadblock to negotiation was the Republican-controlled Senate.

There does not appear to be a lot of there, there, save an unfortunate attempt, yet again, for Trump to behave in a unilateral fashion that further erodes the constitutional order (which, apart from the lack of serious policy outcomes, is no small thing).

In terms of what was signed, I will turn to the WaPo write-up of the event, which notes the following:

Trump also mischaracterized the legal stature of the measures, referring to them as “bills.” Congress writes and votes on bills, not the White House. The documents Trump signed on Saturday were a combination of memorandums and an executive order.

That last sentence is of interest, because much of the press coverage keeps calling all of the documents “executive orders” or, in an acknowledgement of the vagueness of what was actually done, “executive actions.”

The four actions are as follows:

  1. A memorandum directing the use of disaster relief funds to extend weekly unemployment benefits.
  2. A memorandum deferring payroll tax payments for people making less than $100k.
  3. A memorandum on student loan relief.
  4. An executive order on deferral of evictions.

In sum total, there isn’t a whole lot here. The extension of unemployment benefits is at a $400/week rate instead of the previous $600 and it assumes that states will pony up 25% of the benefit. Where the state’s share will come from or how this memorandum has any legal weight to it are their own questions. The memo simply says:

I am calling on States to use amounts allocated to them out of the CRF, or other State funding, to provide temporary enhanced financial support to those whose jobs or wages have been adversely affected by COVID-19.

Beyond where the state-level funds come from (or if the memo can compel state action at all–spoilers: it can’t) is the question of by what mechanism the federal funds would be allocated and when. As the WaPo write-up linked above notes:

The federal contribution would be redirected from disaster relief money at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those funds are not likely to last more than two months, and Trump would not say when the benefits would kick in.

This strikes me as easier said than done, even in regards to the $300 he is trying to commit from the federal side.

The payroll tax deferal is a terrible policy for at least two reasons. One, it doesn’t help the people who need help. By definition payroll taxes are only paid by people on a payroll. The problem right now are the millions of newly unemployed who can’t pay their bills.

Second, it is a deferral which means the tax bill will come due at some point. Won’t that be fun? There is also the question of whether it is enforceable or not. Back to WaPo:

Another document signed by Trump on Saturday attempts to defer payroll tax payments from September through December for people who earn less than $100,000. The impact of this measure could depend on whether companies decide to comply, as they could be responsible for withdrawing large amounts of money from their employees’ paychecks in a few months when the taxes are due.

The president said that if he wins reelection, he would seek to extend the deferral and somehow “terminate” the taxes that are owed. He also dared presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to try to recoup those tax dollars if elected in November. The payroll tax funds Social Security and Medicare benefits, and it’s unclear where those programs will get funding if the taxes are deferred.

Emphasis mine.

Also: the man is POTUS right now. If he can’t get legislation passed now, why in the world would anyone think his odds of doing so in the future will improve? It is the emptiest of empty promises, not to mention having a massively negative impact on Social Security and Medicare (which I know some Reps will see as a feature).

I am sure that student loan relief will be of some solace to those facing economic hardship and who still have debt, but this is the weakest of weak sauces for this current moment.

And, speaking of weak sauces, the deferral of evictions (the only actual executive order) really doesn’t do much. From the order:

my Administration, to the extent reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, will take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19.

If you read the whole thing, it boils down to: we will do what we can.

Awesome!

As the title of a NYT news analysis notes: Trump’s Go-It-Alone Stimulus Won’t Do Much to Lift the Recovery.

The executive actions President Trump took on Saturday were pitched as a unilateral jolt for an ailing economy. But there is only one group of workers that seems guaranteed to benefit from them, at least right away: lawyers.

Mr. Trump’s measures include an eviction moratorium, a new benefit to supplement unemployment assistance for workers and a temporary delay in payroll tax liability for low- and middle-income workers. They could give renters a break and ease payments for some student loan borrowers. But they are likely to do little to deliver cash any time soon to Americans hit hard by the recession.

Indeed. It was executive theater, and not much else. It will fool some folks for a while, but anyone actually expecting to get much help from these actions is going to be sorely disappointed.

I stand by my post yesterday: Trump has blown a chance to get a pretty good deal out of Congress and has traded it for the handful of not-so-magic beans of pretending to be acting on his own, but without actually accomplishing anything.

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FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, COVID-19, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Question for the lawyers on the thread. Considering that

    my Administration, to the extent reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, will take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures…

    does that mean that I can carry out my evictions/foreclosures if I can claim that they will not cause Covie-19 to spread?
    (And for the record, yes, I DO know that my editing of his statement was selective and self-serving. That’s what editing in this kind of a case is for–the deconstructive effect.)

    2
  2. gVOR08 says:

    He doesn’t want to do anything. He just wants to provide some cover for FOX et al to say he did something.

    6
  3. Mister Bluster says:

    Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations…
    (c) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

    Does this mean that any party can not sue any one (including Trump, an officer of the United States)* if this memorandum does not “put money directly in the pockets of American workers (who are laid off and not working)”?

    My Real Estate Tax is due next month. I think I am going to Copy this memorandum and take my sharpie to it so it ends up reading:

    SUBJECT: Deferring Jackson County, Illinois Real Estate Tax Obligations in Light
    of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster

    I’ll send it to the Courthouse with my Tax Bill and see how that flies.

    *Clinton v Jones “in his concurring opinion, Breyer argued that presidential immunity would apply only if the President could show that a private civil lawsuit would somehow interfere with the President’s constitutionally assigned duties.”

    I’ll bet Trump has a sharpie edited Constitution under his pillow that makes golf an assigned duty in Article XII.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It will fool some folks for a while,

    Well, you know what ol’ Abe said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

    My bet is the trumpsters will praise him to high heaven now and 20 years hence and insist that he and he alone saved America. They will say they personally know people who staved off foreclosure, clothed and fed their children, kept their cars, fed the cat and got Spot fixed only because of trump.

    3
  5. Gustopher says:

    Trump has blown a chance to get a pretty good deal out of Congress and has traded it for the handful of not-so-magic beans of pretending to be acting on his own, but without actually accomplishing anything.

    Trump won a news cycle, kicked the can down the road, and managed to put the Democrats in a position where if they sue to block any illegal actions they will be portrayed as villains.

    I think he accomplished a lot. Just nothing for the people in need.

    And if he pulls off something like this every day for the next 90 or so days, a lot of people will think he’s doing real things to help real people. It’s not that he has no long term plan, it’s that his long term plan is to keep doing his short term plan over and over.

    (If he was more clever, he would have pulled the money for extending the unemployment benefit from something Republicans hate, and said that this was a stopgap while negotiations continue and that congress will need to add funds to X to cover what is taken… and then the Republican Senate could eventually “compromise” to fund it at 80%)

    3
  6. @Gustopher:

    Trump won a news cycle,

    I am not certain of that, to be honest.

    kicked the can down the road,

    This I agree with.

    and managed to put the Democrats in a position where if they sue to block any illegal actions they will be portrayed as villains.

    Here I am not so sure. Having looked at these documents this morning (granted, not in super detail and not as attorney) I am not sure that lawsuits will be necessary to block actions, because I am not sure if these actions are, well, actionable.

    By what mechanism is he going to force states to pony up the $100?

    What is the distribution mechanism for the $300 from the feds? How will the funds be transferred? (and they won’t last until the election even if they figure that stuff out).

    The eviction issue appears to have little teeth. The school loan thing is largely a nothingburger.

    The payroll tax deferment may end up in court, but since it doesn’t help people in need in the first place, the exact political ramifications of that are unclear, especially since Dems can rightly point out a) a deferral only defers, and b) it is a threat to SS and Medicare.

    Will the MAGA hats love it? Sure. But, they are MAGA hats.

    11
  7. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I hope you’re right, but this from your OP…

    That last sentence is of interest, because much of the press coverage keeps calling all of the documents “executive orders” or, in an acknowledgement of the vagueness of what was actually done, “executive actions.”

    …seems to demonstrate a shallowness of scrutiny you surpassed with this simple action…

    Having looked at these documents this morning (granted, not in super detail and not as attorney) I am not sure that lawsuits will be necessary to block actions, because I am not sure if these actions are, well, actionable.

    The press has so sorely failed our country. It appears a journalism model built on commercial sales doesn’t lead to a well-informed populace.

    The Democrats would be better served to give Trump his victory lap, then to come back with “it’s not nearly enough” almost immediately. Keep the heat on Congressional Republicans, so when these “actions” don’t materialize as any relief for those who are hurting, they’ll be able to say they told you so.

    5
  8. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Will the MAGA hats love it?

    The MAGA hats would love it if trump the Lesser decreed half the unemployed to be thrown into a meat grinder to feed the other half.

    14
  9. Joe says:

    my Administration, to the extent reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, will take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19.

    To your question, Just nutha ignint cracker, looking only at this language, I have no idea where these “lawful measures” come to bear in an eviction proceeding. Is the US attorney going to intervene in all private evictions? And, if they do, what actual defenses are they going to raise? To Steven L. Taylor‘s point, nothing here is actually actionable.

    4
  10. grumpy realist says:

    First there’s the federal/states distinction. Second, there’s the Executive Branch/Legislative Branch distinction.

    I don’t see under what authority Trump can claim to state ANYTHING about people not getting kicked out of their houses.

    1
  11. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Trump in the White House is an ongoing process of showing that, if you don’t want to work for a living, the Presidency is a pretty good deal.

    1
  12. @Scott F.:

    The press has so sorely failed our country. It appears a journalism model built on commercial sales doesn’t lead to a well-informed populace.

    I will not argue with this. Although, in counterpoint, if WaPo had noted the three memos issue, I would not have gone to the WH web site to sort it out. The information is out there, it is just that it takes an active interest to often sort it out.

    1
  13. CSK says:

    I’m telling, you Trump is getting more and more heavy-handed with the bronzer. He must be up to a half a tube at a time now. Is this his idea of masking? Look at the difference in color between his face and hands.

    1
  14. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I agree the information is out there. This was discussed a bit on a recent thread. We live at such a time of unprecedented access to information, data and evidence for those with an active interest to use to educate themselves that people of means in the public eye really need to aggressively pursue the level of stupidity we see on display from politicians like Louie Gohmert. There is no excuse for our leaders to be uninformed today and to be misinformed is a tactic.

    (And thank you, Kingdaddy, for his coinage of “aggressive stupidity” which is now a fixture in my political discussions with friends.)

    That said, it is a complicated, hectic world and I contend there is a vital need for some gatekeepers to help sort out all the information that is available. The mainstream media has abdicated the gatekeeper role in favor of the shallow coverage of horse races, explosions, sound bites, and outrages of the day in order to draw in the most eyeballs. To the great detriment of our country, most consumers of news have no idea how much of the story they are not getting. Others come to OTB and the like.

    2
  15. Scott F. says:

    @CSK: If it were bronzer, wouldn’t he be able to pull off better coverage around his eyes? I always thought he used a tanning bed and the reverse raccoon effect came from the eye protecting goggles.

  16. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    You can see where the line of demarcation is on the side of his face, which would be better disguised by the product of a tanning bed. I think he’s probably afraid of getting the bronzing glop in his eyes, hence the white area around them

  17. Michael Cain says:

    It took my state’s Dept of Labor most of eight weeks to change and regression test our antiquated UI system software for the $600 payments. The tests for who can receive this benefit appear to be somewhat more complicated, so probably at least as long to code it up. It is unlikely that anyone here is going to see a penny of this, even if the state comes up with the matching funds, before the mail ballots start going out in October.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott F.: Even if you’re using bronzer, you need to either have skill and tools to put it on evenly or someone to do it for you. The raccoon eyes effect might be from tanning bed goggles but is more likely from not wanting to get bronzer in your eyes based on the unevenness of the over-body effect that others are noting.

    For my money, it’s just as likely to be things related to lighting in press pictures, but I’m not greatly invested in what kinds of makeup Trump uses. 😛

  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    From what I have been able to see, more or less every major news organization either got the details of the deferral completely wrong, or they all blithely reprinted AP’s erroneous characterization of the details without bothering to engage in any due diligence of their own.

    For starters, it’s a ceiling of $104,000 by my math, not $100,000. Beyond that, the memo only implicates the Social Security portion [26 USC 3101(a)] of FICA and RRTA [26 USC 3201(a)], at 6.2%. It explicitly excludes the Medicare portion [26 USC 3101(b)] of both, which ostensibly would continue to be withheld and remitted as normal. WaPo et al have fallen over themselves reporting that withholding of both would stop.

    That having been said, nothing about this mess of a dictat forces employers to actually stop withholding, and judging from the mess that it stands to create, I have my doubts that many will do so. This is theater.

    9
  20. CSK says:

    @Scott F.: @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Apparently Trump uses Bronx Colors, an inexpensive Swiss make-up line, and has since 2015 when it became available. His housekeepers refer to it as “una naranja espantosa,” which means “scary orange.”

    2
  21. Michael Cain says:

    @CSK: Geez, he’s the POTUS and claims he’s a billionaire. It can’t be that expensive to have someone on staff with decent colors in their kit and an airbrush to make him look goddamn perfect.

    4
  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Cain: Perfect? The only way to make him look perfect is to insert him into a coffin with the appropriate deathly pallor. I would think most any undertaker could manage that feat.

  23. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Cain: I’m sure Ivanka could recommend any number of firms/people with competent staff. Have we ever seen Ivanka with less than perfect hair and makeup?

  24. CSK says:

    @Michael Cain:
    You would think. But perhaps he feels it would be unmanly to have an artiste do his make-up outside of a tv studio. Apparently he coifs his own hair.

    1
  25. Teve says:

    @Scott F.:

    The mainstream media has abdicated the gatekeeper role in favor of the shallow coverage of horse races, explosions, sound bites, and outrages of the day in order to draw in the most eyeballs.

    I view it as “the mainstream media’s ability to gatekeep was obliterated by technological and economic forces.”

    It wasn’t a bunch of Charles Kuralts sitting around saying ‘hey let’s just turn into buzzfeed!’ Access journalism and the like are terrible consequences of changes in the marketplace.

    4
  26. Teve says:
  27. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    And you don’t think he’ll direct in his will that a substitute body be displayed instead?

    At the executor’s expense, naturally.

  28. Mister Bluster says:
  29. Modulo Myself says:

    It’s all theater. No sane employer will withhold FICA. If Trump and the GOP wish to end the contribution, they’ll have to do it via Congress. And how many people–not counting libertarians–have been arguing for this? About zero. Even the Republicans have always tried to float dubious alternatives to SS.

    But I can see a bunch of anti-mask type idiots boasting about how much their employees are making in September. That will play on Fox but for the rest of us, it will be grotesque theater.

    And I see that Bill Barr has to tie in the old Law and Order trope with some nutjob reactionary stuff about Rousseau and the Democratic religious cult led by Joe Biden wanting to tear stuff down, all in an interview with Mark Levin who is apparently still existing. These guys thought that BLM would terrify the suburbs, and they’re clearly faltering and falling back on pandering to the freaks who think that Natural Law should dictate how and if you have sex.

    1
  30. Mister Bluster says:

    @Modulo Myself:..that Natural Law should dictate how and if you have sex.

    Wouldn’t that be all the time?
    You know you got it if it makes you feel good,
    Oh, yes indeed.

    1
  31. rachel says:

    @Michael Cain:
    I think there are a couple things at work here besides him being cheap. First, I think that when he looks in a mirror, he doesn’t see himself as you or I see him. He has the opposite of body dysmorphic disorder, so he sees an ageing (but still virile) Adonis who needs just a little touching up here and there. Second, I think he does not believe in expertise in the cosmetic arts any more than he respects expertise of any other sort, hence the Dunning-Kruger makeup job.

    3
  32. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Question about the (old) 600 $ bonus from Federal Government to each person qualified to receive state unemployment benefits.
    How was this 600 $ distributed? Did recipients get one check from their state and another from the US Treasury? Or did they get one check from their state that included the 600 bonus, and the state then was reimbursed by the US Treasury?

    Anyone know for certain?

  33. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    No sane employer will withhold FICA

    Did you mean to say that ‘no sane employer will stop withholding FICA’ ?

  34. Grewgills says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:
    It was a single check, or rather a single deposit.
    The eligible amount along with state and federal withholding were listed followed by the “special federal payment” with state and federal withholding listed.

  35. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Grewgills: thanks, so the total check (or direct deposit) source was the respective state government. Correct?

    Then the state government’s were reimbursed for the federal portion?

  36. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @SLT…

    Yesterday, at an event at one his golf courses, which was built largely by undocumented workers, Trump announced the signing of executive actions ostensibly designed to provide additional relief to the country as is suffers from the effects of Covid-19.

    FTFY.

  37. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    A lot of Red Hats are going to po’ed on April 15th when they owe all that payroll tax Trump DEFERRED.

    1
  38. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I spent a good amount of time on Twitter enlightening people about the reality they’d be facing in the unlikely event their employer actually did stop withholding. Surprisingly, even many of the far righties sat up and took note. The advice to sequester whatever additional income it produces in some sort of interest bearing vehicle, so they’d have the funds to pay the bill, and make a little as well, was surprisingly well received.

    1
  39. Grewgills says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:
    Yes, the payments came from the State of Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
    I assume that the $600 was or will be reimbursed to the state.

  40. Grewgills says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    If Biden is president when that happens it won’t be Trump they blame. Hell, if Trump is president when it happens they still won’t blame him. He is incapable of failing in their world. He can only be failed.

    1