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Wisconsin Democrats decry Trump unemployment benefits order

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democratic leaders expressed hope Monday that President Donald Trump’s executive order requiring states to pay for a quarter of additional unemployment benefits won’t stand and that Congress will reach a deal on a broader relief package to help cash-strapped schools, governments and others.

Keeping the unemployment order in place could be another big hit to a state budget that already has been subject to more than $300 million in cuts with more expected, Democrats said. Republicans were mostly silent or withholding judgment on Trump’s action.

“We just need the president to negotiate with Congress to do this right,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “We need something in place to provide certainty.”

Trump announced an executive order Saturday that extends additional unemployment payments of $400 a week to help cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic. Congress had approved payments of $600 a week at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, but those benefits expired Aug. 1 and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension. Many Republicans have expressed concern that a $600 weekly benefit, on top of existing state benefits, gives people an incentive to stay unemployed.

Under Trump’s plan, the $400 a week requires a state to commit to providing $100.

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, said Trump’s action “only created more uncertainty and confusion for folks across our state and our country that need help.” Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin accused Trump of “offering more executive chaos.” Both she and Evers called on Trump to work with Congress to reach a bipartisan deal.

Pocan said given questions over the legality of Trump’s order, the financial burden it puts on states, and the lack of funding for other key areas of need, his action was “not a real solution.”

“There’s all kind of questions,” Pocan said. “It’s one thing to golf all day and sign a document. It’s another to do it in a way that’s acceptable.”

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Glenbeulah, said he was still considering Trump’s executive order.

“It remains to be seen what Congress’ role will be moving forward,” Grothman said.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Green Bay, said he was “still looking into” whether Trump’s executive actions were constitutional.

“I understand the president’s desire to take immediate action to help those hit hardest by this virus,” Gallagher said. “That he had to resort to the decision is a reflection of a much larger problem: Congress isn’t doing its job.”

The other five members of Wisconsin’s U.S. House delegation, as well as U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Republican legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, also did not respond to questions about whether they backed Trump’s order and what effect it would have on the state budget.

Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, of Mason, called Trump’s orders a “joke.”

“Once again, he wants to put the burden on already strapped state governments,” she said.

State Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, a Democrat from Oshkosh, said he found it “hard to imagine” Trump’s executive order being acceptable or remaining in effect.

“Anything that adds uncertainty isn’t helpful,” Hintz said.

Evers’ administration earlier this year projected a potential $2 billion budget shortfall due to the pandemic. In July, Evers ordered a $250 million cut to state government for the current fiscal year, a move that came three months after he made $70 million in cuts. State lawmakers are bracing for even deeper cuts to come as the pandemic continues.

Curt Witynski, deputy executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said he hoped the Trump orders were just part of a “temporary impasse.”

“The fiscal cliff Wisconsin state and local governments face is substantial,” Witynski said. “Without robust and flexible federal aid to offset these lost revenues and ensure that the state can continue to invest in local governments through critical programs like shared revenue, municipalities will be forced to make significant budget cuts in 2021 and 2022.”

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