Trump's virus relief negotiator takes vacation as Americans face evictions

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Mark Meadows is taking the week off as talks between the White House and Democrats stall and millions of people go without added unemployment benefits.

Donald Trump's chief of staff, one of Republicans' two top negotiators on a coronavirus relief package, is taking vacation this week, Politico reported, further dragging out the already stalled talks to provide critical funds to laid off workers.

According to Politico, Mark Meadows, who along with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has been trying to negotiate a deal with congressional Democrats, left town recently. The outlet noted the Trump administration "feels confident they have the upper hand" in negotiations, mostly thanks to Trump's executive actions over the weekend, but did not say whether that was what  prompted Meadows to take a vacation.

Trump's actions, however, which were announced over the weekend, don't accomplish much of anything.

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An eviction moratorium Trump claimed to create is not a moratorium at all, and simply instructs to federal agencies to "consider" whether stopping evictions is "reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19."

A payroll tax deferment announced on Saturday doesn't actually cut anyone's taxes, but rather defers them until Americans file their taxes next year. It would create a number of complications that could lead to companies — which pay a portion of their employees' payroll taxes — to opt out of the freeze altogether, deciding it's not worth the risk, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Some have noted that making the payroll tax holiday permanent, as Trump later said he might do, would eat into Social Security benefits the tax funds, endangering the program for the 63 million Americans who use it.

And numerous state governors have since slammed one of Trump's biggest actions — to unilaterally create a $400-a-week unemployment insurance extension — as unworkable. Trump's order would put states on the hook for $100 of that $400-a-week UI payment, and some governors have said they simply don't have the funds to make those payments.

Even as Meadows left Washington in the middle of talks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was blaming Democrats for the lack of a deal on coronavirus relief.

"Because of Democrats’ obstruction, the extra federal unemployment aid expired," McConnell tweeted on Monday. "The PPP is closed with no second round in sight. No new money for testing or schools. No second round of checks to families. Democrats held all this hostage for non-COVID-related liberal priorities."

House Democrats, however, passed a coronavirus relief bill on May 15 that McConnell not only refused to take up, but wouldn't even negotiate until just before the $600-a-week unemployment boost, which Congress first passed in March, expired in late July.

"This is such an appalling, disgusting lie," Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) tweeted Tuesday in response to McConnell. "Again, the House passed extensions of enhanced unemployment benefits and small business loan programs in May and Mitch McConnell blocked them. He prevented the Senate from doing anything to help people during the pandemic all summer."

Senate Republicans released their own legislation, which would have slashed the weekly unemployment payments to $200 a week, but never put it up for a vote — a likely indicator that there were not enough GOP senators to pass their version of the bill.

It remains unclear when a deal could be reached, with Meadows out and Republicans still demanding a lower price tag for coronavirus relief.

Politico reported it could be "weeks" before negotiations even resume.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.