A march in Miami Springs, Florida on behalf of those losing jobs because of Coronavirus (Joe Raedle/Getty)
Senate Republicans propose a 67% cut in unemployment benefits for Americans thrown out of work by Coronavirus.
After days of discussion and differences with the White House over a new $1 trillion stimulus package, the Senators defied both Democrats — who are seeking a $3 trillion package with no reduction in benefits through the end of 2020 — and economists who say the support has been critical in providing a cushion for the 51 million Americans who have filed unemployment applications since mid-March.
The proposal was unveiled as the US death toll reached 148,011, an increase of 1,076 in 24 hours. It was the fifth straight weekday with more than 1,000 fatalities after a break of more than seven weeks.
Confirmed cases are now 4,290,259, a rise of 56,239. The two-week rate of new infections is still rising in 41 of 50 states.
Money for FBI Building, None for Expanded Test and Trace
Some Senate Republicans oppose any stimulus package. Others contend that the $600 per week was far too much and discouraged people from returning to work.
On Sunday the White House neared consensus with the latter group, with top economic advsior Larry Kudlow insisting that a lower benefit was “quite generous by any standard”.
Kudlow and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin floated the idea of each newly-unemployed person receiving 70% percent of their wage level before layoffs. In the end, the Senate Republicans passed the buck to the States to work out and implement the formula.
In a minor offset of the slashed benefits, the GOP bill included another $1,200 direct payment to Americans earning $75,000 or less per year — a one-off check equal to the loss of three weeks in support.
Meanwhile, backing up Donald Trump’s demand for full reopening of schools despite the threat from the virus, the package reserves tens of billions of dollars in federal funding for schools that provide only in-class instruction.
The Administration objected to any new money for testing and tracing of a resurgent Coronavirus, mirroring Trump’s complaint that more tests means more cases.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin visited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Monday night, seeking Democrat agreement to the final proposal.
That appeared a distant prospect. Pelosi did not set a number for the ongoing benefit in a Sunday interview, saying, “You don’t go into a negotiation with a red line.” However, she indicated that Democrats will fight for their $3 trillion bill: “You do go in with your values.”
She also objected to the White House’s insistence on business protection from lawsuits, saying it will remove the obligation from companies to protect employees from Coronavirus.
And there was even confusion among Senate Republicans about what their proposal contained. Majority Leader Mitch Connell appeared to be surprised that it included a new FBI building, a Trump obsession, despite senators’ objections.
“I don’t think there is funding, is there?” he said to reporters. Told there was, he said the Administration would “have to answer the question on why they insisted on that provision”.
Senator Ted Cruz held out against any support package, maintaining, “There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars.”