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WaPo: Trump about to "push boundaries" with unilateral action on COVID-19 relief

What kind of unilateral action can Donald Trump take in the face of congressional gridlock on COVID-19 relief? Apparently the White House plans to find out, and the Washington Post doesn’t sound too happy about it. They make note that Trump has “pushed boundaries on executive power,” but never once mention his predecessor, who openly bragged that he could use his pen and phone to work around the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Or maybe the Post doesn’t remember how Barack Obama created DACA and DAPA out of thin air and contradicted actual statutes in doing so. Hmmm. At any rate, they’re worried about boundaries now:

The Trump administration is looking at options for unilateral actions it can take to try to address some of the economic fallout caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic if no relief deal is reached with Congress, according to two people with knowledge of the deliberations.

The discussions are a reflection of officials’ increasingly pessimistic outlook for the talks on Capitol Hill. The White House remains in close contact with Democratic leaders, but a wide gulf remains and deadlines have already been missed.

It’s not clear what steps the administration could take without the help of Congress on issues such as lapsed enhanced unemployment benefits or the expired moratorium on evictions — the two matters President Trump has recently identified as his highest priorities in the ongoing talks. Both of those programs were authorized by Congress earlier this year but were designed to be temporary.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has pushed the boundaries on executive power, with steps such as declaring a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border that he said allowed him to redirect Pentagon money to build a wall. His administration also has been aggressive in attempting to “reprogram” money by trying to move it from one account to another without congressional approval.

Interestingly, the Post never mentions that the Supreme Court actually ruled that Trump’s authority extended to those monies. And just as interestingly, the Post never mentions that the Supreme Court overturned DAPA as executive overreach and all but ruled DACA illegal as well, even if they didn’t like the way the Trump administration tried to shut it down. Pens and phones get treated very differently, even when the contexts suggest the opposite treatment should be offered.

However, there probably isn’t too much that Trump can do about monetary aid without Congress. The White House might be able to extend an eviction moratorium through HUD, although it might only apply to housing subsidized by HUD in the first place — which would likely still cover a significant part of the eviction risk at the moment. Monetary aid would require far larger amounts of money than can be simply moved around in the federal budget to be effective, even in a short term period. Plus, moving that money from funding operations to direct aid would require massive layoffs that would only exacerbate the situation.

No, the Constitution requires that Congress appropriate funds, even when it’s imaginary money. Anything else might be more symbolic than substantial, more of a way to show that Trump is focused on the plight of the common folk while Congress dithers over pork. That could be enough to put pressure on House Democrats and Senate Republicans to come up with a package more quickly, and talks are continuing apace.

This morning, reports of progress are emerging, but only incremental progress. The second round of stimulus checks are apparently a go:

Familiar fault lines continue to separate the White House and congressional Democrats on the next coronavirus stimulus package a day after an extended meeting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and administration officials including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Pelosi and Mnuchin both took to the airwaves on Sunday morning to lay out their competing visions for the rescue bill. The key sticking point separating Democrats and Republicans continues to be the federal boost to unemployment assistance, which was set at $600 per week in March but recently lapsed. …

The White House has said it would support a one-week extension of the $600 per week rate but Democrats have rejected the proposal as unworkable.

Despite disagreement over unemployment assistance, Mnuchin said the two sides were still on the same page about the need for direct cash payments of $1,200 to most Americans.

Speaking to reporters following his interview, Mnuchin said that Trump was in favor of the stimulus measure and that the checks were likely to be sent more quickly than they were the first time, possibly as soon as a week after the legislation is signed.

So stimulus checks are about the only point of public agreement at this time, it seems. Even though Steny Hoyer suggested last week that House Democrats would negotiate on the unemployment bonus, Pelosi has dug in her heels at $600 per week for the rest of the year. Trump would probably take a pass on that fight, but Senate Republicans chafed at it when it was first proposed in March and they’ve been wanting to amend it ever since.

Interestingly, no one seems to be saying much in public about the real trade-off — block-granted state aid vs liability protection for businesses. It doesn’t come up at all in either the WaPo or CNBC reports. Does that portend a coming compromise that could unlock a Phase 4 package … or just mean that the two sides are so far apart that they’re not even discussing the biggest fight?