As the odds that Congress will pass a new coronavirus relief package by Friday continue to fade, President Trump on Wednesday said he may take executive action to increase unemployment benefits, extend a federal moratorium on evictions, and suspend federal payroll tax collections. It remains unclear, however, how much he could do without an act of Congress.
US new coronavirus cases surpass 4.8M, deaths top 158K
The news comes as U.S. officials on Wednesday reported about 53,726 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases reported in the country since the epidemic began to 4,832,400 as of Thursday morning—up from 4,778,800 cases reported as of Wednesday morning.
In July, America's coronavirus epidemic hit a new peak, with officials reporting an average of nearly 65,000 new coronavirus cases per day—about double the average number of new cases the country had reported each day during the epidemic's previous peak in the spring. But as of last week, the daily average number of newly reported coronavirus cases in the United States decreased by 8.7% to 59,182 new cases per day, according to Axios' "Vitals." The drop in the country's daily average of newly reported cases came as coronavirus testing nationwide also declined by nearly 8%, "Vitals" reports.
Data from the New York Times shows that Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 10 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases rise over the past 14 days: Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
According to the Times' data, the average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past two weeks remained mostly stable in Guam; Washington, D.C.; and 29 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Eleven states—Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Washington—saw their average daily numbers of newly confirmed cases decrease over the past 14 days, according to the Times' data.
Despite seeing a decline in its daily average number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past two weeks, Florida on Wednesday became the second state to report a total of more than 500,000 cases of the virus since the America's epidemic began, with a total of 502,731 reported cases, the Times' data show. California so far is the only state that has reported more cases than Florida, with a total of 532,776 cases reported since the start of America's coronavirus epidemic.
Meanwhile, growth in America's national coronavirus-related death rate has been rising.
According to the Times' data, Puerto Rico and 22 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported deaths linked to the coronavirus rise over the past 14 days: Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
U.S. officials reported 1,253 new deaths tied to the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the country's total of reported coronavirus-linked deaths since the epidemic began to 158,552 as of Thursday morning—up from 157,302 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning.
Trump considers executive action to extend coronavirus relief
As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans have been working to reach a deal on a new coronavirus relief package that would address a boost in unemployment benefits that expired last week.
Under a coronavirus relief package that federal policymakers implemented earlier this year, unemployed Americans were able to receive a flat, weekly additional benefit of $600 that was funded by the federal government on top of typical state unemployment benefits. However, the federal supplement expired last Friday, as federal lawmakers failed to reach an agreement to extend the benefits increase and provide additional economic support to Americans and businesses.
Policymakers continued negotiations on a new coronavirus relief package over the past week and Congress had hoped to approve a new package by this Friday, but many Senate Republicans say they don't expect that policymakers will reach an agreement on the package by the end of this week.
Since last Monday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Department of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have met daily to negotiate an agreement, but they have been unable to reach a consensus on a number of measures, including how much money the package should include overall and how to move forward with boosting unemployment benefits.
On Wednesday, Meadows said, "At this point we're either going to get serious about negotiating and get an agreement in principle or—I've become extremely doubtful that we'll be able to make a deal if it goes well beyond Friday."
Trump on Wednesday said he may take executive action to extend a federal moratorium on evictions, suspend federal payroll tax collections, and increase unemployment benefits if Congress does not soon reach a deal on a new coronavirus relief package.
Two people briefed on the White House's plan told the Washington Post that the Trump administration has reached out to federal agencies to determine which funds they have not yet spend under a relief package implemented earlier this year—and to see whether those funds can be redirected for other purposes, including the unemployment boost.
It isn't clear, however, whether Trump has the legal power to unilaterally make such significant changes to tax and spending policies. His administration has faced lawsuits over its past efforts to reallocate federal funds to support a border wall with Mexico.
Further, Pelosi argued that, even if Trump extends an eviction moratorium, the move wouldn't be effective without funding. "And, again, he can't do the money without the Congress of the United States," she said.
Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, also raised concerns about Trump's proposal. "Trump once again is trying to make an end run around Congress and act unilaterally in an area that generally requires legislative action," he said.
Rozell added, "Executive orders do not exist to replace legislation or the normal give-and-take between the branches in making law" (Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 8/6; Lewis, CNBC, 8/5; Werner, Washington Post, 8/5; Carney, The Hill, 8/5; Cochrane/Tankersley, New York Times, 8/6; New York Times, 8/6; Wener et al., Washington Post, 8/3).