Senate Republicans Monday unveiled a pared down coronavirus relief package that includes another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for taxpayers and a reduced supplemental unemployment benefit as the surge in coronavirus cases threatened a resumption of business shutdowns.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the measure has three components: “kids, jobs, healthcare.”
McConnell noted the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 150,000 Americans, caused mass layoffs “on a historic scale” and left widespread uncertainty in its wake.
“We are at an important crossroads,” McConnell said in a speech in the well of the Senate ahead of the formal introduction, imploring Democrats to eschew partisan posturing and negotiate a bill that can be adopted quickly.
The package provides $100 million to help school districts and universities open safely, provides liability protections to businesses and schools to prevent frivolous lawsuits, provides “direct checks for households at the same amount as before” and increases payments to households with disabled adults, and calls for a reexamination of U.S. dependence on China for basic commodities.
McConnell said the legislation is a “tailored and targeted draft that will cut to the heart of the three crises facing our country.”
McConnell described the economic recovery as fragile and warned Democrats against stonewalling the legislation in hopes the ensuing chaos would better their chances in November.
“The Senate majority was content to do almost noghting for three long months,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in his response, adding, “We are on the precipice of several cliffs” because of GOP inaction. He chastised Republicans for not including money to provide food for children.
He said the Republican proposal does not nearly go far enough.
The plan represents the opening salvo in negotiations with Democrats. In May, House Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion package that not only provided stimulus checks but would extend the current pandemic unemployment compensation at the current level through the end of January.
The $600 a week supplemental benefit, created in March as part of the $2.1 trillion CARES Act, expires July 31, but as a practical matter will not be available after this week, leaving more than 20 million Americans in limbo.
Republicans fear keeping the supplemental benefits at the $600 a week level encourages people not to look for new jobs, allowing them to make more money on unemployment than they do on the job. Instead, they want to reduce the weekly bonus to $200 and have states implement a formula that would provide unemployed workers 70% of their paychecks. The new scheme would take effect within two months.
But the National Association of State Workforce Agencies said it could take as long as 20 weeks to implement such a system after guidelines are issued.
“We are skeptical that state UI [unemployment insurance]infrastructure has improved dramatically since the CARES Act given how overloaded the system has been,” market research firm Evercore ISI said in a note Monday.
Final negotiations with the White House spanned the weekend amid disputes within the Republican party. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned Sunday half of Republicans are opposed to further stimulus, and Democrats will be unhappy with the size of the package. He predicted no agreement until at least next week.
The Republican package includes $100 billion more for the error and fraud-ridden paycheck protection program, which still has $100 billion left over from the first two tranches of funds, and extends a limited moratorium on evictions.
The bill diverges from the Democrats’ plan over money for state and local governments hit hard by expenses related to handling the pandemic. Schumer, D-N.Y., warned failure to ease the burden on governments will lead to a wave of layoffs among government workers.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have suggested lawmakers just deal with the unemployment issue, money for schools and liability provisions now and leave other contentious issues for the future – an approach rejected by Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ruled out any temporary extension of unemployment benefits. Schumer said Monday if the $600 a week supplement had not been adopted, the nation would be in the midst of a depression now, and if not extended, “We could go into a depression.”
Trump had wanted the bill to include a payroll tax cut, but that was opposed by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
Deven R. Desai, an associate professor of law and ethics and associate director of machine learning at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a Hill opinion piece the country needs a G.I. bill to recover from the pandemic.
“A G.I. Bill for the COVID era would be for all Americans and seed a new generation of prosperity. It would educate the next wave of creators, innovators and leaders to take us into the future,” Desai wrote.