The proposal offered by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) would renew federal unemployment payments at 66 percent of lost wages, or $200 per week. The strategy has the general backing from the White House, which is eager to extend the bulked up unemployment insurance.
Republicans viewed this as a way to put pressure on Senate Democrats the day before the benefit lapsed. And they noted it was far more than approved more than a decade ago as the Democratic-run Congress reacted to the 2008 financial crisis.
“In 2009, when [Congress] passed a federal-plus up for unemployment benefits — this is total [Democratic] control — they passed $25-per-week,” Johnson said. “So $200-per-week is eight times what they passed in 2009. Apparently they felt that was adequate back then.”
But Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the GOP offer as woefully short of what is required during this current slowdown.
Schumer also laid the blame for the failure to act on the issue fully on the Republicans. He noted that the House passed a $3 trillion-plus Covid relief package in May that included an extension of federal unemployment benefits until 2021, only to see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House reject the proposal.
“Now, all of a sudden, the last day or two, they see the cliff … the cliff of unemployment insurance running out,” Schumer said on the floor as he blocked Johnson’s proposal from being approved by unanimous request. “Speaker Pelosi and I asked Leader McConnell to sit down with us almost a month ago, and he would not.”
Schumer than offered a unanimous request proposal to have the Senate approve the House-passed Heroes Act, which Johnson objected to.
The Senate jockeying could not come at a worse time. There is no end in sight to the coronavirus, which so far has claimed 150,000 American lives and sickened more than 4 million.
The Trump administration remains at an impasse with both members of its own party and Democratic leadership over the boosted federal unemployment benefits. The March CARES Act provided an additional $600 weekly benefit that’s on the cusp of expiring, while Democrats are pushing for the full $600 to go into next year.
Meanwhile, Republicans argue the benefits provide a disincentive to work and instead want to see a temporary flat payment of $200 a week until states can adjust their systems to offer 70 percent wage replacement.
The White House on Wednesday floated a temporary extension to the enhanced benefits but Democrats and Republicans both showed little appetite for that idea.
McConnell, for his part, accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer of not wanting to engage on any issue in order to pressure Republicans to cave in on the Heroes Act.
“Both Republicans and Democrats agree that in these extraordinary times it makes sense for the federal government to provide historic additional help on top of normal unemployment,” McConnell said. “But the speaker and the Democratic leader say they won’t agree to anything unless the program pays people more to stay home than to work.”
Schumer retorted that negotiating with White House and Senate Republicans is like “trying to nail JELL-O to the wall.”
“Who is leading the effort on the Republican side,” Schumer asked. “Chief Meadows and Secretary Mnuchin….Leader McConnell has said that Democrats won’t engage. I would remind him if he refuses to go into the room when Speaker Pelosi, Secretary Mnuchin, chief of staff Meadows and I sit in there.”
In addition to the Johnson proposal, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is expected to introduce an alternative bill that would give states two options for three months: either 80 percent wage replacement or a flat payment of $500 a week, that would gradually decrease to $400 in September, and $300 in October.