Washington — Senate Republicans are set to unveil their fourth phase of federal coronavirus response efforts Monday, rolling out their legislative package as enhanced unemployment benefits are beginning to expire for millions of Americans who are out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The legislation is the culmination of talks between the White House and Senate Republicans and represents the opening bid in negotiations with congressional Democrats, who passed a $3 trillion measure in May.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill is called the HEALS Act, for health, economic assistance, liability protection and schools, and is a “tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of the three distinct crises facing our country”: children, jobs and healthcare.
“We have one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor. “The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads.”
The senator from Kentucky urged his Democratic colleagues to come to the table for negotiations, saying he hopes the GOP’s proposal “will occasion a real response, not partisan cheap shots.” But the plan is already facing opposition from Senate Democrats, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling it “totally inadequate” and a “half-hearted, half-baked legislative proposal.”
The proposal from Senate Republicans, estimated to cost around $1 trillion, is expected to include another round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans, with additional support for families with adult dependents, billions of dollars for schools and assistance to jobless Americans, though Republicans have rejected extending the $600 enhanced unemployment benefits that expire for roughly 30 million Americans this weekend.
Instead, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that Republicans and the White House are prepared to provide unemployment benefits that would replace 70% of a worker’s prior wages, though the specific figures for unemployment benefits remain in flux as talks have continued into Monday.
“The original unemployment benefits actually paid people to stay home and actually a lot of people got more money staying at home than they would going back to work,” he said. “So the president has been very clear, our Republican senators have been very clear, we’re not going to extend that provision.”
Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s top economic adviser, said Sunday that the measure will also include tax credits for small business and restaurants. It will offer liability protections for businesses and other institutions, as well as more aid for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and for coronavirus testing and treatment, McConnell said.
Senate Republicans are fractured over the proposal, with some of the body’s more conservative members taking issue with its $1 trillion price tag.
On “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he is not on board with the next legislative package and believes the focus should be on an economic recovery plan that offers a payroll tax cut and eases taxes and regulations on small businesses.
While President Trump championed including a payroll tax cut in the next bill, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last week it will not be among the provisions in the upcoming package.
Both Meadows and Mnuchin suggested during separate interviews Sunday that Congress may have to pass a narrow, more targeted bill aimed at providing protections for unemployed Americans first and negotiate a more comprehensive measure in the coming weeks.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rejected taking a piecemeal approach. The extension of enhanced unemployment benefits is likely to be a sticking point in negotiations, as well as federal aid to local and state governments, which Democrats have allocated billions for.
On Monday, Pelosi called on GOP congressional leaders and top White House officials to meet with her and Schumer to begin negotiating and “get the job done.”
“We have stood ready to negotiate for more than two months. Unfortunately, it still remains unclear if Republicans will produce a proposal today,” Pelosi said in a statement, adding that “if Republicans care about working families, this won’t take long.”
“Time is running out,” she continued. “Congress cannot go home without an agreement.”
A summer song: Jimmy Buffett
Is the United States “hitting bottom”?
Invasion! Asian giant hornets have arrived