EDITORIAL: Rally resources for legitimate pandemic aid

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump speaks at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In assessing the executive orders President Donald Trump signed Saturday to provide economic stimulus amid the unrelenting coronavirus pandemic, it is tempting to quote the character Roxie Hart in a key scene from “Chicago”: “Thanks. … For nothing.”

Because the measures — technically, one executive order and three memoranda — even if they were to go into effect, which is unlikely, fall far short of what’s needed to counter the effects, let alone prevent a deepening, of the nation’s virus-induced recession.

Ostensibly, the executive actions would provide as much as $400 a week in unemployment benefits, a “payroll tax holiday” for workers earning less than $100,000 a year, and relief for those facing eviction or struggling to meet student loans.

In reality, they will provide nada.

Showing he has learned nothing since the first weeks of his presidency, Trump basically followed this same confusing script as his infamous Muslim travel ban in early 2017: Unveiling a broad, poorly-thought-out policy while leaving it to others to fill in the blanks and do the heavy lifting.

His memoranda for the $400 unemployment benefits — “That’s generous but we want to take care of our people,” Trump set aside his golf clubs long enough to announce from his New Jersey country club — requires states to enter into an agreement with the federal government and provide 25 percent of the funding. Never mind the burdensome bureaucratic logistics, states are tapped out.

In fact, much-needed federal aid to states — a focal point of a $3 trillion relief packaged passed in the House back in May — was nowhere to be seen in Trump’s orders.

The president’s remaining elements are likewise ill-defined and, as reflected especially by the “tax holiday,” ill-conceived. Consider the financial blow millions of Americans would endure next April 15 when the holiday is over, and those income taxes come due. Not to mention: Where is the logic in assisting working Americans when it’s the tens of millions of newly unemployed that are most in need?

Rather than serious governance, these measures — like the president’s recently reconstituted coronavirus news conferences — appear to be more about presenting Trump as “presidential” than in providing any useful assistance. There’s certainly more than a little legal uncertainty surrounding them.

“Absurdly unconstitutional,” was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s succinct appraisal.

“There is only one group of workers that seems guaranteed to benefit from them, at least right away: lawyers,” wrote the New York Times.

Added Trump’s all-but-certain Democratic presidential challenger, Joe Biden: “This is no art of the deal. This is not presidential leadership. These orders are not real solutions.”

Nothing new there. The Deal Maker-in-Chief has proven himself woefully inept at brokering substantive agreements. Whether it’s needlessly shutting down the government in a failed bid to get money for his border wall, getting played by North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un on his nation’s nuclear arsenal, or failing to close the deal on China trade, Iranian nukes or repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, the president’s record is largely one of failure.

Add to this list his response to the global pandemic and the subsequent recession.

None of which changes the fact that negotiation is exactly what’s needed now. Trump’s unenforceable orders wouldn’t help even if they were enacted. Congressional leaders must reset stalled talks with the White House — Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin has been an honest broker in this regard — and come to terms on wisely crafted, robust and enactable measures for shoring up the economy, its tens of thousands of struggling business, and the millions of out-of-work Americans through the duration of the pandemic.

Enough with the presidential showmanship; the nation needs legitimate leadership.