President Trump is looking to unilaterally extend several coronavirus relief measures as negotiations with Congress drag on while evidence of economic pain — including 1.2 million new unemployment claims filed last week — deepens.
It was the 20th straight week in which at least 1 million people sought jobless aid. The new claims also underscored the expiration last week of an extra $600 in weekly unemployment payments in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr. Trump said Thursday that he tasked his staff to work on an executive order for boosted unemployment benefits, a payroll tax cut, eviction protections and flexibility on student loan repayment.
There is bipartisan support for all the issues on the president’s list with the exception on a payroll tax, but talks bogged down on a package that Democratic demands swelled to $3.4 trillion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the idea of using an executive order, arguing the president is limited in what he can accomplish with his pen.
“I don’t think they know what they’re talking about,” the California Democrat said. “The one thing that the president can do is to extend the moratorium [on evictions], and that would be a good thing if there’s money to go with it.”
Mrs. Pelosi argued that without any funds to go with a moratorium extension for evictions, the public would ultimately be hit with much larger debts down the road and landlords would be entirely out of money.
Still, lawmakers haven’t made any significant progress toward a larger coronavirus relief deal — even as millions continue to go without those pandemic benefits.
More than 30 million Americans are currently claiming benefits, according to data from mid-July, with the unemployment rate around 11%. The latest job numbers will be released Friday.
Thursday’s update, with 1.2 million new claims in the first week of August, is the lowest since the pandemic began but is still astronomically high. The number never hit 700,000 in a single week before the outbreak shuddered the economy.
Lawmakers are facing another deadline to extend relief. This time it is a lifeline keeping small businesses afloat. The Paycheck Protection Program is set to expire Saturday.
“This is why Senate Republicans’ blueprint for another major rescue package would put $190 billion into a second draw of the PPP for the businesses that most need help. The House Democrats’ $3 trillion wish list totally left that out. They ignored the PPP; we want to re-up it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
White House negotiators said they need to have agreement on major issues by Friday if there’s going to be any hope for a deal.
Mr. McConnell announced his chamber would be skipping the regularly scheduled August recess amid COVID-19 relief negotiations.
“The House has already skipped town, but the Senate won’t adjourn for August unless and until the Democrats demonstrate they will never let an agreement materialize,” Mr. McConnell said on the chamber floor. “A lot of Americans’ hopes — a lot of American lives — are riding on the Democrats’ endless talk. I hope they are not disappointed.”
Democrats accused Republicans of coming late to the negotiations and then leaving early.
“As long as it takes to reach an agreement we will keep working and working and working until we get it done,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “Republicans have stalled for four months. If Republicans in the White House want to throw up their hands, walk away from the table, that’s on them.”