David Dayen writes the blog “Unsanitized” for the American Prospect. In this post, he explains what Trump’s executive orders really do. Please open the links to see the many embedded links.

After weeks of unproductive talks with Democrats bending but the White House unyielding, over the weekend Donald Trump issued three memoranda and an executive order that, at this moment, reflect the only additional relief to the American people at a time when fiscal policy was the only thing preventing the economy from ruin.

We’ll get to what’s in these in a minute, but it’s worth noting what’s not there. The Heroes Act, House Democrats’ kitchen sink policy, added up to $3.4 trillion. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, who get the vapors at the sight of a deficit so they ought to know, the Trump orders would provide at best $225 billion in near-term funds, and on net, just $13 billion, tops, in new budgetary outlays. Everything in the orders either shuffles existing money around or kicks payments down the road; the new spending just assumes some missed collections.

I’ve read all four documents (here, here, here, and here) and I’d say CRFB is being amazingly generous assuming that anything close to even the meager funding it outlines will actually materialize. Let’s dive in.

Unemployment: the Trump action, if it actually worked, would give unemployed Americans an $400 extra per week retroactive to August 1, down from the $600 that expired in July. Of that sum, $300 would come from a FEMA disaster relief fund, and another $100 would have to be supplied by the states, using relief funds appropriated in the CARES Act. However most of that CARES Act money is already spoken for, and cash-strapped states don’t have a lot of extra money available to contribute. So I’d say it’s unlikely the state share will be included in a majority of states. Unemployed workers themselves will get half of what they previously got.

In addition, there’s only $44 billion available from the FEMA fund for the federal share. About $50 billion was spent on the $600 enhancement in the first two weeks of July, with nearly 30 million people receiving benefits. This is half that and maybe fewer recipients as hiring increases. But at most, this gets you another 5 weeks of support; by the end of August it’ll be done, even though it’s supposed to last until December.

When recipients will actually get anything is unclear; states would have to create an entirely new program through their antiquated unemployment insurance systems. It’s first-come first-served, so early states might get a little more for their residents while states that take months to figure things out could be shut out at the window entirely. And while the unemployed endure the wait, rent and other bills are still due.

Besides all that, it’s plainly unconstitutional, as David Super explains. The Disaster Relief Program being used isn’t intended for this purpose and its ability to deliver unemployment benefits is severely limited. Violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, which this does, carries criminal penalties. But while many will grumble, who exactly will sue to block the unemployed from getting even meager benefits? Treasury Secretary Mnuchin taunted Democrats with exactly this rationale on Sunday.

Payroll taxes: Set aside that people working need far less support than those who don’t. The president cannot change tax law to cancel taxes; he can defer payments. That’s what’s being done here. Any worker making less than $104,000 per year would have payroll taxes deferred from September 1 to the end of the year. They’ll still owe the taxes; they just won’t have to pay them until January.

This is a bureaucratic nightmare for employers, many of whom will likely opt to either keep paying them, or put them in an escrow account. Otherwise, they’d have to garnish a worker’s entire paycheck in January to cover back payroll taxes. My expectation is that this has next to no stimulative effect at all.

Trump says he wants to “terminate” these taxes if re-elected; he would need Congress to agree. It’s a political ploy to bribe the electorate, but if businesses just hang onto the money to avoid future fallout it won’t even work as a bribe. And Democrats are screaming that these taxes fund Social Security and Medicare and cancelling them would hasten a crisis (of course Congress could just, you know, fund Social Security and Medicare, and crisis solved.)

Evictions: This is just vaporware, the order just says that health officials should consider an eviction ban and that the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury Department should see what they can do about helping renters and mortgage borrowers with funds to stay in their homes. That’s it. The federal moratorium only covered a handful of cases anyway; this is more useless than that.

Student loans: Of the four orders this is the most useful, as it extends an existing forbearance for federal student loans. Again, borrowers would still owe the money eventually, but it’s somewhat useful to be relieved of the burden now. What this shows is that the Education Department has a lot of discretion to let these loans go uncollected indefinitely, if they choose, to say nothing of the authority to cancel student loans. Trump is proving the concept.

It was a grave error to hold off on critical priorities until “the next bill,” after all the leverage was squandered. These Pelosi hagiographies are embarrassing in the context of her blowing the chance to secure ongoing relief throughout the pandemic. Whoever replaces Pelosi when she leaves doesn’t have to repeat these mistakes, as long as they learn from them.

I was on Democracy Now today talking about these orders as well as the war on the postal service, and you can watch that at their website.