Senate GOP makes last ditch effort on unemployment extension

Senate GOP makes last ditch effort on unemployment extension

The Senate is set to leave for the weekend without reaching an agreement on extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, leaving tens of millions of Americans without aid.

The impasse could not come at a worse time. Unemployment claims are starting to rise again and the U.S. economy just experienced the worst quarterly contraction on record. And there is no end in sight to the coronavirus, which so far has claimed 150,000 American lives.

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 set to expire Friday. 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 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 are both showing little appetite for that idea.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) of not wanting to engage on anything.

“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.” He’ll attempt to pass the Democrats’ $3 trillion HEROES Act by unanimous consent around noon Thursday.

“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.”

When asked whether the Senate would leave for the weekend without a deal on unemployment insurance, McConnell said “we’re all still talking, we hope we can get an outcome soon.”

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 August.

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