WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's orders to extend certain COVID-19 economic relief have sparked sharp criticism from Democrats, who might challenge the legality of the president's executive action.
As White House officials and Democratic lawmakers remain deadlocked over the new relief bill, Trump signed four actions on Saturday, trying to move around Congress and assert executive power.
One of the actions will extend extra unemployment benefits through the end of the year at a reduced level of 400 U.S. dollars per week, instead of the 600 dollars approved by Congress in late March, which expired at the end of July.
Trump said the reduced level of extra benefits will give people "a great incentive" to go back to work. The new order also demands states cover 25 percent of the 400-dollar weekly benefits.
"Instead of passing a bill, now President Trump is cutting families' unemployment benefits and pushing states further into budget crises, forcing them to make devastating cuts to life-or-death services," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
The Senate Republicans' 1-trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief proposal, unveiled in late July, would slash the federal benefits to 200 dollars through September, and then give an unemployed worker about 70 percent of previous wages when combined with state benefits, while Democrats want to maintain the 600-dollar benefits through January.
Another sticking point in the negotiation is direct aid to states and cities, as Democrats proposed a 1-trillion-dollar aid for struggling state and local governments in their previously unveiled 3-trillion-dollar relief proposal, while Republicans planned to offer no new money.
Earlier in the week, Democrats offered to cut their 3-trillion-dollar relief proposal by 1 trillion dollars if Republicans would agree to increase their roughly 1-trillion-dollar package by the same amount, but were rebuffed.
The other three actions Trump signed Saturday include a memorandum to defer certain payroll tax obligations, a memorandum to defer student loan payments and an executive order to reinstate the federal moratorium on evictions, which also expired at the end of July. The payroll tax deferment, which Trump repeatedly advocated, has met bipartisan opposition.
Trump's orders will likely face a legal challenge, as Congress has the constitutional authority to determine federal funding, according to U.S. media.
"Today's meager announcements show President Trump still does not comprehend the seriousness or the urgency of the health and economic crises facing working families. These policies provide little real help for families," Pelosi and Schumer said.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also lashed out at Trump's executive actions, calling them "half-baked."
"These orders are not real solutions. They are just another cynical ploy designed to deflect responsibility. Some measures do far more harm than good," Biden said in a statement, noting that Trump is putting social security "at grave risk" with the payroll tax plan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, however, welcomed the president's actions, blaming Democrats for sabotaging talks on the relief bill.
"Struggling Americans need action now. Since Democrats have sabotaged backroom talks with absurd demands that would not help working people, I support President Trump exploring his options to get unemployment benefits and other relief to the people who need them the most," McConnell said in a statement.
The Republican leader said before the jobless benefits expired that Senate Republicans "tried several times" to extend them while talks continued, but "Leader Schumer declared that nobody could get help unless all of Democrats' demands were met."
Pelosi and Schumer, meanwhile, argued that the country needs a comprehensive deal.
"The coronavirus is moving through our country like a runaway freight train and the economy is quickly running out of steam," they said. "The only solution to crush the virus and protect working families is to pass a comprehensive bill that is equal to the historic health and economic catastrophe facing our country." Enditem