Unemployment benefits from the CARES Act expired at the end of July. The House passed a new relief bill, but the Senate could not negotiate the passage of any relief bill by Aug. 1. In the face of crisis and inaction, President Donald Trump took the bull by the horns and issued executive orders to continue a federal unemployment subsidy. Constitutional conservatives abhor legislation by executive order; in this instance, the offense was motivated by an impotent U.S. Senate whose hallmark is inaction during crisis.
The problem with using executive orders to accomplish what the Senate is incapable of doing (other than the obvious violation of separation of powers) is the source of funding is from a different government agency (FEMA) than the initial subsidy, and the parameters for obtaining the relief are different. So, operationalizing the executive orders is arduous and time-consuming. And for the unemployed, delays in payment equal delinquencies in essential expenses like utilities, housing, and food. Since the Senate is well aware of the bureaucratic hurdles engendered by legislation through executive order, one would think that Congress would get busy negotiating an extension of the CARES Act. But instead of doing their job during the time of economic crisis, Congress went on vacation.
To be fair, the House came back in session to pass a bailout bill for the Postal Service. The Senate, however, has not returned to work to do anything. Apparently, the Senate believes that legislation by executive order is a perfectly fine way to govern, even though the Constitution mandates otherwise. And because the executive orders require states to chip in $100 for the federal $300 unemployment subsidy to occur, broke states have limited ability to provide the relief. Montana’s fiscal health was strong going into the Covid-19 crisis, which qualifies Montana workers for continuing federal unemployment subsidies. The Senate should take a gander at Montana to learn the wisdom of adhering to the Constitution, saving for a rainy day, and working during a crisis rather than vacationing.
If the Senate did its job, an extension of the CARES Act without changing the bureaucratic process already established in March could have occurred. But it appears vacation is much more important than helping the American public and adhering to the Constitution. Since the Senate doesn’t seem to understand its job description and continues to collect a paycheck while Americans are suffering, the Senate should be laid off. Instead of collecting six-figure annual salaries, our United States senators should feel the pain of unemployment and should have to wait for hours on the phone to obtain unemployment benefits just like every other unemployed American. Since American suffering hasn’t provided any inspiration, maybe a layoff would cause the Senate to actually do their job.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.