As Congress debates the GOP’s new stimulus proposal — which includes what will happen to the extra $600 in unemployment benefits that expire Friday — one Republican senator is urging immediate action so jobless Americans don’t see a drop in benefits.
“We cannot allow us to go through a period where there is no employment insurance going out to people. $600 to zero is not a good option,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told CNBC on Wednesday. “There’s a cliff, and we can’t let that happen so we need to do something before Friday.”
While the additional benefits from CARES Act expire on July 31, the last payment with the extra $600 went out this past weekend due to how the payment calendar works, meaning unemployed Americans will receive vastly smaller benefits checks this weekend.
The GOP introduced its stimulus package on Monday, which included a two-step reduction in the extra $600 in unemployment benefits, but negotiations with Democrats have just begun. In the meantime, Portman and other senators support a short-term extension of the benefits if a deal isn’t reached by the end of the week.
“During the interim period, we can have a compromise,” Portman said.
‘We can agree on in the next few weeks’
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was reportedly skeptical that a deal could be reached by the end of July, said on Friday that it may take weeks for the legislation to pass.
“Hopefully we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks,” McConnell said at an event in Kentucky, the Washington Post reported.
The Republican proposal released Monday suggests cutting the extra unemployment benefits to $200 a week through September and then ultimately transitioning to unemployment benefits that replace only 70% of wages. But until a deal is reached with Democrats, the future of the unemployment benefits is yet uncertain.
For instance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) disagreed with McConnell’s (R-KY) insistence for liability protections to be included in the bill.
“It seems to me that Senator McConnell really doesn’t want to get an agreement made,” Pelosi told reporters on Tuesday. “He doesn’t sound like anybody who wants to have an agreement or anybody who can pass a bill on the floor of the Senate.”
‘We’re going to take care of the people’
In the meantime, until a bill is passed, President Donald Trump is also hinting at a short-term extension, even though his chief of staff previously said the White House doesn’t support the short-term extension.
When asked about the temporary extension by reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday, Trump said:
“We’ll do something. We’re going to take care of the people.”
Last week, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff said the Trump administration doesn’t favor the extension and that they’re looking to address unemployment “in a longer term manner.”
“Having some short term extension of UI, or unemployment insurance benefits, just to allow for a longer negotiation is certainly not worthy of consideration,” Meadows told Politico’s Jake Sherman.
Democrats, including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schume, also don’t support the short-term extension. Pelosi said Congress “cannot piecemeal” a deal on stimulus, while Schumer said you can’t “take care of one portion of suffering people and leave everyone else hanging.”