President Donald Trump has issued a signing statement declaring that he can block a watchdog from telling Congress when information is withheld about payouts to businesses in the massive new $2 trillion economic relief law.
Democrats fought hard for provisions in the measure to ensure transparency and accountability regarding $500 billion in payouts to businesses to help them survive the coronavirus crisis.
In an early draft of the measure, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was granted enormous discretion to dole out payments with no oversight for a minimum of six months. Creation of a special inspector general oversight post to supervise funding was a key concession by Senate Republicans in order to win Democratic support to get the law passed. The IG was granted authority to seek information from government agencies about payouts, and to inform Congress if such requests were not met.
But on Friday, Trump wrote in a statement to accompany his signature making the measure law that the new Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery cannot go to Congress — as the law states — if refused information about loans and investments made by the treasury secretary, unless the president approves.
The provision authorizing the IG to unilaterally inform Congress is “unreasonable,” Trump said in his statement. “My administration will not treat this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to Congress without … presidential supervision,” according to the statement.
Trump’s statement also said he would not follow the law’s requirement to consult with congressional committees about any reallocation of funds, because this would be an “impermissible form of congressional aggrandizement.” And he won’t consult Congress, as required by the law, about the staffing of the new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub dismissed the signing statement as “just a note saying ‘I will fight you.’ And what does Trump want to fight over? He says he wants to fight to keep Congress and regular Americans from knowing about fraud, waste and abuse in implementing the bailout,” Shaub added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC Friday that Trump’s tactics to undermine spending supervision were “not a surprise.” But she vowed that Congress “will exercise its oversight” of the law through a panel.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet: “And just like that, the Congressional oversight provisions for the 1/2 TRILLION dollar Wall St slush fund (which were *already* too weak) are tossed away the day the bill is signed.”
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