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Democrats balk at $1,200 rebate checks in stimulus plan
Senate Republican and Democratic negotiators are battling over a central component of President Trump's stimulus plan: sending out hundreds of billions of dollars in rebate checks to middle-income Americans.
Senate GOP negotiators argue that $1,200 direct payments to individuals are the best way to get money flowing through the economy quickly, while Democrats say disbursing cash benefits so broadly doesn't do enough for low-income Americans and people who lose their jobs.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) on Friday said Congress should pass a massive expansion of unemployment benefits instead of simply doling out checks to individuals and families, regardless of whether they miss work because of health quarantines.
"There are many, many who have lost their jobs and one check when they may be out of their jobs for three, four, five months isn't going to be enough. Unemployment insurance gives money the whole period of time the crisis exists at your present salary level and covers just about everyone," Schumer said.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who participated in an initial round of talks with Senate Republican chairmen on Friday morning, argued that direct payments will not be as effective as expanded unemployment benefits.
"In the Republican package there was nothing on unemployment insurance," Stabenow said. "We are not in any way seeing yet the focus enough on workers, on the workforce, on people getting hit the hardest."
She also faulted the GOP plan for not providing a "robust" expansion of health care resources and instead characterized many of the 43 health-related provisions in the Republican bill as "stop-gap."
Stabenow characterized the negotiations on expanding unemployment benefits as robust and said the question is "how to most effectively do this."
"I couldn't believe that they were talking about lowest income people getting $600 and somebody making $75,000 getting twice as much as that, $1,200," she said. "Those numbers don't make any sense.
"One-time payments are not what people need. What people need is a paycheck. They need ongoing income until this is done. That's what they need," she said.
The rebate checks would begin phasing out for individuals who earned more than $75,000 in 2018 and married couples who made more than $150,000.
People who pay little to nothing in income taxes but earned at least $2,500 would get a minimum rebate of $600.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Friday afternoon hit the GOP rebate plan for "skipping over" people who need the most help.
"The current proposal would exclude exactly the people and households who actually need it most," he said. "By creating an income requirement and phase-in, this plan currently proposed would be skipping over the most vulnerable people."
Republicans, however, say that rebate checks will get money out to people faster than unemployment benefits.
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia told Democratic senators Friday morning there are a variety of technical challenges to ramping up unemployment benefits as sharply as Democrats are advocating.
White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland said after a first round of meetings that the system is not designed "to take such a sharp, short, significant shock of incredible increase in unemployment that's going occur here so swiftly."
He said "there are some technical challenges with the unemployment insurance system" and said GOP negotiators are "working very hard" to make sure "the assistance we deliver goes out as quickly as possible."
Stabenow, however, argued that the administration could speed up unemployment benefits if Trump decides to make it a priority.
"There are disagreements on that. This is one where there's a will there's a way," she said.
Several Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Rand Paul (Ky.), have voiced a preference for delivering aid in the form of unemployment benefits instead of checks to individuals and families regardless of whether they are forced to miss work.
"I'd rather take that $250 billion and put it in a system that will give people sustainable income," Graham said Thursday. "Direct payments make sense when the economy is beginning to restart, makes no sense now because it's just money."
"What I want is income, not one check. I want you to get a check you can count on every week, not one week," he added. "Here's what I'm focused on: You have unemployment insurance that is totally inadequate, let's beef it up."