Those Executive Orders

Like everything Trump does, they don’t match what he’s says he’s doing.

Remember the government shutdown that lasted from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019? Congress was refusing to fund Trump’s border wall, so he pulled out of a previously settled deal to fund the government. When public opinion didn’t rally behind his position, he relented on funding the government, but declared a state of emergency and used it to seize money Congress had appropriated for other purposes and redirect it to his wall. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the legality of this move, which seems to usurp Congress’ constitutional power of the purse, but it has allowed construction to continue so long that the case may become moot because the money is already spent.

Cases like these are never one-offs. Having gotten away with something once, Trump is bound to try it again.

So here we are: The CARES Act was passed in March as an emergency appropriation intended to see the country through the economic impact of the Covid-19 epidemic. At the time, no one imagined that the US would botch its response to the epidemic so badly that a thousand people a day would still be dying in August, so most of the CARES provisions ran out on July 31, including a moratorium on evictions and the $600-per-week enhanced unemployment payments.

Nancy Pelosi’s House had the foresight to pass a follow-up, the HEROES Act in May. But Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to the floor of the Senate, and did not start negotiating any CARES extensions at all until late July. With much of the Republican Senate caucus already plotting their resistance to the Biden administration, McConnell doesn’t have the votes to pass any CARES-extension bill without Democratic buy-in. So he left the negotiations to the White House team of Steve Mnuchin and Mark Meadows.

The White House refused to budge from its plan, which is about 1/3 the size of the HEROES plan, and contains no money to fill the budget gaps of state and local governments. Politically, Trump looks like the one with the most to lose if nothing gets done and the economy crashes, so Pelosi is not inclined to cave in to his demands without getting some concessions in return. So no deal has gotten done. (Has anybody noticed that our Art-of-the-Deal President never seems to get to Yes on a deal?)

So we’re back to the emergency-executive-powers trick. Or something. Maybe.

Saturday Trump signed three memos and an executive order which, in typical Trumpian fashion, don’t actually do what he claims. Here’s what is kinda/sorta in them.

  • A $400 unemployment enhancement to replace the CARES $600 replacement. Except that $100 has to come from the states, which may not have any money to cover it. The $300 federal contribution comes from a $44 billion pot of money that FEMA has, and of course won’t need during this record-threatening hurricane season. (This is literally an idea out of House of Cards, which FEMA officials rejected as unrealistic at the time.) Since we’re talking about 30 million unemployed people, the money will run out in about five weeks, assuming that they actually receive it and that it’s legal for Trump to spend it this way at all.
  • Eviction protection. Except, not really. The executive order asks relevant government officers to “consider” doing something to stop evictions, and to “identify” existing federal appropriations that might help stressed renters and homeowners, assuming that there are any such appropriations. If your landlord has a court date for your eviction, nothing in this order interferes with that proceeding.
  • Cuts in payroll tax deductions. The order doesn’t actually cut what you or your employer owe in Social Security and Medicare taxes. It just stops collecting those taxes for a while. So temporarily you might see more money in your paycheck, assuming you’re still getting one from somewhere, but your arrears will be building up, and will come due after the election. If he’s re-elected, Trump wants to cancel that debt too, but that just raises a new question: How do Social Security and Medicare get funded?

So basically what we have is flim-flam put together with a constitutionally questionable claim on FEMA money. In the context of the border-wall emergency, Trump is pushing us closer and closer to a model where the President can take any money Congress appropriates and spend it however he wants. It should go without saying that this is very, very far from the process the Founders thought they were establishing.

James Fallows raises the question we should all be asking:

I am not aware of any of the “strict constructionists” who blasted Obama for executive-order overreach, who have weighed in about Trump’s l’etat-c’est-moi wave of appropriation-by-exec-order. Are there any?

To be fair, a handful of Republican lawmakers have said something that expressed concern of some sort. But most of the hand-wringing was of the “Now look what the Democrats made him do” variety. If you’re looking for a flat-out “This is unconstitutional”, you won’t find it. Apparently respect for the Constitution is like fiscal responsibility or free trade or freedom or any of the other high-minded principles Republicans have put forward over the years. All such principled expressions are made in bad faith, and go out the window as soon as they become inconvenient.

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  • SamuraiArtGuy  On August 10, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    “Apparently respect for the Constitution is like fiscal responsibility or free trade or freedom or any of the other high-minded principles Republicans have put forward over the years. All such principled expressions are made in bad faith, and go out the window as soon as they become inconvenient.”

    Just like how Deficits only matter during Democratic Administrations, and interfering with the mail and election fraud are only crimes if Democrats do it. I heartily resent the bad faith arguments put forth by the Right – that sound good at the intellectual level – but are only so much snow shoved on the heads of the citizenry. if the Russian interference in the elections had benefited Democratic candidates, we’d be at freaking DEFCON TWO.

    And they are rolling out every voter suppression tactic in the friggin book, and staying up late thinking up NEW ones. The system could tolerate a few, but if this tactic here reduces turnout by 1% or that bit of propaganda there shaves off .5% point off Joe Biden’s margin… okay.. but multiply this by hundreds of scams, stunts, and propaganda efforts… they could STILL steal the election. Or at the least keep the Senate. And if that happens, Joe Biden might as well stay in Delaware till 2022 and not bother moving in.

    We’re going to have to actually win by double digits across the board to counter Trump and the GOP efforts to surpress, disenfranchise and discredit the vote.

    • Anonymous  On August 13, 2020 at 7:49 am

      From NPR:

      “Veteran political consultant Stuart Stevens has spent years working as a strategist for Republican campaigns, including the presidential bids of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.”

      “In his new book, “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump,” Stuart Stevens argues that the party’s support for Trump isn’t just a pragmatic choice. Instead, he says, it reflects the party’s complete abandonment of principles it long claimed to embrace, such as fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and family values.”

      I haven’t read the book, but the interview on NPR was fascinating.

    • jh  On August 14, 2020 at 4:55 pm

      This. But add in an alternate reality for conservatives where black is white and up is down. We can’t even implement a “de-nazification” process to redeem these creatures. And yes, I’m deliberately using dehumanizing language. Going high didn’t work. Also, at some point, how much of the “politeness” is accommodation to a nazi?
      Republicans will vote the way they vote. Bribing them with politeness doesn’t work. They’re surprised at the enmity right now? Why didn’t they raise their voices when democrats were called “demonrats” or “libtards”? Why didn’t they raise their voices when Hillary Clinton was investigated for the 5th Benghazi investigation? Even the ones we like are complicit in the degradation of the US political system. They need to own that. We tried reasoning with them. They have the same internet to fact check liberal claims or conservative claims. We extend the bigotry of low expectations to conservatives when we make excuses for their nonsense. I refuse to do so. There are absolutely no excuses for voting for Trump. None. And after the Republican nonsense with Trump, every single conservative voter should be apologizing on their hands and knees and happy if a liberal deigned to spank them for their gross stupidity.

      (I’ve been watching RVAT videos. Invariably, they babble about conservative values. Of Republican values. I have yet to figure out what that means. Because I see many hard working liberals. I see many honest liberals. I see many generous and kind and compassionate liberals. I don’t see liberals shooting and murdering people for fun. I see liberals balancing their check books and living within their means. Meanwhile, all I see with a conservative is lying, cheating and cruelty. I mean, they still praise “Saint Raygun”. If they were fiscally conservative, they would have been spitting on that idiot’s grave. But the thing was simple, Reagan is Trump and Trump is Reagan. The difference is that Reagan was more polite and knew not to say the quite parts out loud.

      Those of us who are decent human beings need to hold these savage republicans to reality. Have republicans explain Lee Atwater’s revelation. Explain the deficits. Explain why a fetal life is human life but a woman is not AND why defunding social programs that help children and single mothers is a good thing. Explain why blue states and blue areas are so productive. Because all I see are unsupported assumptions or as I call it, cheap marketing slogans. Let’s be real.. Republicans are the trash in the US. All they do is screw things up and attack americans and then, a Democrat has to come in a fix the mess and be held accountable for what the trash did. It’s disgustingly unfair. Just once, these republicans need to be named and shamed and bear the cost of who they voted for and who they supported.)

  • Bill Camarda  On August 11, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Ben Sasse — having cleared his GOP primary and with his Democratic opponent’s campaign having utterly collapsed — found the courage to mumble something loud enough to get Trump’s attention.


  • By Behind Our Masks | The Weekly Sift on August 10, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    […] This week’s featured posts are “The NRA and the Long Con” and “Those Executive Orders“. […]

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