Republicans in the Senate adjourned Thursday for a long weekend after a week-long struggle to reach a consensus on a new coronavirus relief package. That all-but-guarantees that the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit included in the first coronavirus relief bill will expire today, with no word on when negotiators might reach a deal.
GOP leaders unveiled their coronavirus relief package, the HEALS Act, on Monday. Among the items included in the Republican plan is $100 billion dedicated to reopening schools this fall, a second round of direct-payments to Americans who make under $75,000 a year and funding for additional testing. However, the bill proposed by the GOP did not extend the $600 federal unemployment benefit being sent to the more than 20 million unemployed Americans across the country.
Republicans say the extra money for the unemployed is providing a disincentive for people to return to work, claiming that many people are now making more on unemployment than they otherwise would be making if they were back at work.
A vote was scheduled Thursday afternoon on a new proposal that would cut the federal unemployment bonus to around $200 a week while states transitioned to a new system that would pay out 70% of a person's wages, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blocked the bill, calling the package "insufficient." When Arizona Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) asked for a vote that would provide a one-week extension, Schumer blocked that request as well, calling it a stunt that couldn't be "implemented in time."
Instead, Schumer called on the Senate to vote for the $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief package, the HEROES Act, that was passed by the Democratic-led House in May. That bill included a full extension of the $600 weekly benefit. During Thursday's session, Schumer attempted to get the Senate to vote on the House-approved act twice, but he was rebuffed by his Republican colleagues.
"Right now, we're at an impasse," Sen. Richard Shelby, (R-AL), the chair of the Appropriations Committee, told NBC News as he left the Capitol on Thursday.
Any bill passed by the Senate would face a difficult time in the House. Bipartisan negotiations held this week between Democratic and GOP leaders yielded little to no progress on the bill.
"Our colleagues on the other side are tied in a knot," Schumer said Thursday. "Our colleagues on the other side can't come to agreement on anything."
However, even as Republicans accuse Democrats of failing to negotiate in good faith, Republicans have had a hard time getting on board with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)'s plan. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump derided McConnell's plan as "semi-irrelevant" and the Kentucky senator was even forced to disavow a piece of his own plan after he learned it included a $1.75 billion earmark to build a new FBI building at Trump's request.
Trump also proposed a short-term extension of the federal jobless benefits, however, that idea was met with indifference from Republican senators. Trump stated he thought the $600 weekly payment proposed by Democrats weren't "high enough" even as Republicans have repeatedly said they were too high.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA), and Schumer about the next coronavirus-relief bill four times over the last week, but, little to no progress was made on a bill, multiple reports state.
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