Donald Trump is considering issuing an executive order to suspend the collection of payroll taxes — the main source of funding for Social Security — in a move that has been opposed by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers.
Mr Trump announced he was considering the unilateral move during a coronavirus press briefing on Tuesday. The president said he was considering an executive order to extend enhanced unemployment benefits that ended last week, but that he was also considering suspending the payroll tax as well.
"We're also looking at various other things that I'm allowed to do under the system, such as the payroll tax suspension. And so we're allowed to do things," he said.
Advocacy groups and lawmakers have opposed the proposed move, calling it an "unconstitutional" abuse of power.
Legal experts doubt Mr Trump has the authority to make such a move.
In an interview with Roll Call, Mark Mazur of the Tax Policy Institute said that only Congress can halt the collection of taxes.
"No one really has the authority to not collect taxes," Mr Mazur said. "We collected taxes during World War II."
Advocacy groups have also pointed to the move as an attempt to undercut Social Security.
"Donald Trump is so desperate to defund Social Security, he may rip the Constitution to shreds to make it happen," Social Security Works, an advocacy group opposing cuts to the social program, tweeted.
Mr Trump stands alone in his desire to suspend the payroll tax. Republicans excluded it from their version of a coronavirus stimulus package, and Democrats noted in a statement issued Monday that the proposal was a "foolhardy idea."
"Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate have rejected the president's proposal to include a payroll tax cut in the next Covid-19 response package, yet the president remains fixated on the foolhardy idea," the statement said.
Apart from opposing it on the grounds that it would undercut Social Security funding, the president's plan was also opposed by lawmakers because it wouldn't actually help the Americans struggling the most financially due to the pandemic.
"A payroll tax cut does not help unemployed Americans--the group of people most in need right now--and it would drain money from Social Security and Medicare," the statement said. "It is difficult to fathom a worse moment to weaken these lifelines than during a pandemic and crushing economic recession."
A payroll tax cut would only help employers and Americans who still have jobs. Those who are in the most precarious situations, however, are the the tens of millions who've been left unemployed due to the coronavirus. The tax cut would not help them.
On the contrary, the tax would most benefit those earning more money, as their taxes are higher than those with lower incomes.