Trump tries to unilaterally extend pandemic relief. But Congress controls the purse

President Trump signed executive orders over the weekend that aimed to extend federal unemployment benefits, extend an eviction moratorium, suspend payroll taxes for some employees, and provide student loan relief.

One of Trump’s orders would give people an extra $400/week. That’s down from the $600/week originally passed by Congress. But whereas the federal government was paying for all of the additional benefits before, Trump’s order requires states to chip some of that money. 

But Trump probably can’t force states to do this, says Loyola Law Professor Jessica Levinson. “He can ask them. He can cajole them. He can suggest.”

Levinson explains, “It turns out it’s Congress who controls the purse strings, Congress who has the power over taxing and spending. So the general answer is that the president can probably do at least some of this because these orders are actually less sweeping than the president has described. But particularly when it comes to things like deferring the payroll tax … it’s very likely that that’s not constitutional. That’s the president of the United States invading Congress’ purview.” 

She adds, “Do you want anybody who’s in the Oval Office to have the power to change the tax code unilaterally? And that should really be what we’re asking ourselves.”

Also, late last week, a federal appeals court said Congress could subpoena former White House Counsel Don McGhan to testify. This harkens back to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.