A forthcoming mammoth stimulus package will include expanding unemployment insurance.
The decision to include the provision is a major concession to Democrats, who had viewed bolstering the program as a top priority in the days-long negotiations.
“The Democrats are getting some of the things that they asked for. They’ve talked all along about addressing the needs of workers. This does that. Small businesses. This does that. They’re getting what they wanted on unemployment insurance. This addresses that,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters after a closed-door lunch.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has overseen the negotiations, confirmed on Saturday evening that they had finalized an agreement to include expanded unemployment insurance.
The agreement is expected to allocate a top-line of $250 billion to bolster the program.
Negotiators are still locked in meetings as they try to clinch an agreement “in principle” on the mammoth spending package, in which the expansion would be included.
Senators had hinted throughout Saturday that they were making progress on what had been one of the stimulus talks biggest sticking points.
“We’re making real progress. You know part of this now is the challenge or complicated negotiations. We’ve made it clear what our priorities are, particularly making sure that unemployed workers are made whole,” Wyden said. “We’ve reached the point where these big issues … are just interrelated.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), when asked about Thune’s comments, quipped, “If we get what we want, that’s a good thing.”
Democrats and some Republicans argue that expanding unemployment insurance is a necessary step amid concerns that the jobless claims are set to spike as businesses curtail their activities or close altogether.
Republicans and the White House signaled on Thursday that they were open to expanding unemployment insurance as part of the stimulus package as long as it was in conjunction with the one-time rebate checks favored by the administration.
Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, declined on Saturday to say the price tag associated with the unemployment benefits, but he noted that his estimate of an overall price tag of $1.3 trillion included the expectation that expanded unemployment insurance was included.
Updated 10:53 p.m.