$600 unemployment benefit: GOP reportedly discussing extension of soon-to-expire boost


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, July 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — It appears the Trump administration and GOP leadership are discussing a short-term extension of the $600 weekly unemployment aid set to expire on Friday.

According to Bloomberg, this comes as lawmakers are unlikely to settle on a broader coronavirus relief package before the unemployment insurance comes to an end.

Republicans have gone on record saying they want to replace the $600 weekly federal jobless benefit with a lower amount, to prevent the unemployed from receiving more aid than they would through a normal paycheck.

While the unemployment aid may soon be worked out, the overall coronavirus package faces Democratic demands for more virus testing, state funding and housing eviction protections. This as key GOP senators appear unhappy that the price tag could quickly swell above $1 trillion. Conservative Republicans vowed to slow-walk passage of any bill.

Exasperated Democrats, who already passed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s more sweeping $3 trillion package, said time is running out for President Donald Trump and his GOP allies to act.

“We’re in a national crisis,” Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer insisted on the chamber floor.

“We’re still on the 20-yard line?” he said, referring to White House comments. “Where have the Republicans been?”

According to the Associated Press, McConnell is moving forward with a draft stimulus proposal to launch talks with Democrats.

McConnell’s blueprint is expected to include new round of direct payments to earners below a certain income level, similar to the $1,200 checks sent in the spring. It also will likely have some version of Trump’s demand for payroll tax holiday for workers, which many Republicans oppose.

Republicans are expected to include at least $105 billion for education, with $70 billion to help K-12 schools reopen, $30 billion for colleges and $5 billion for governors to allocate. The Trump administration wanted school money linked to reopenings, but in McConnell’s package the money for K-12 would be split 50-50 between those that have in-person learning and those that don’t.

A private lunch session Tuesday grew heated as key Republican senators complained about big spending.

Supporters of the package “should be ashamed of themselves,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said as he emerged.

Paul compared GOP backers of the spending to “Bernie bros” — referring to the young supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “This is insane. … There’s no difference now between the two parties.”

As senators rose to speak about aspects of the bill, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz asked his colleagues, “What in the hell are we doing?”

Cruz warned if the economy is still shut down come November, Joe Biden will win the White House, Democrats will control the Senate and “we’ll be meeting in a much smaller lunch room,” according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the closed-door session.

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida left saying it’s wrong to “bail out” cash-strapped states. “Florida taxpayers are not going to pay for New York’s expenses,” he said.

Easing the payroll tax is dividing Trump’s party because it does little to help out-of-work Americans and adds to the debt load. The tax is already being deferred for employers under the previous virus relief package. Supporters say cutting it now for employees would put money in people’s pockets and stimulate the economy.

Democrats panned the emerging GOP outline as insufficient and blamed the pandemic’s devastation on Trump’s inaction.

“It is the Trump virus,” Pelosi said Tuesday.

At the start of the outbreak, Congress approved a massive $2.2 trillion aid package in March, the biggest of its kind in U.S. history. McConnell at the time said he wanted to “pause” new spending. Pelosi took a different approach, pressing ahead to pass her $3 trillion bill in May.

In the interim the virus crisis has only deepened and Congress is left with few options but to intervene.

Democrats are calling for $430 billion to re-open schools, bigger unemployment benefits and direct aid checks, and a sweeping $1 trillion for state and local governments. It includes a fresh round of mortgage and rental assistance, new federal health and safety requirements for workers.

With Republicans divided, the White House and McConnell will have to compromise with Democrats to pass any bill through Congress.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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