Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight
Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill
The Senate rejected an attempt by four Republican senators to change boosted unemployment benefits included in a mammoth coronavirus stimulus package.
Senators voted 48-48 on an amendment that would cap unemployment benefits at 100 percent of an individual's salary before they were laid off. Sixty votes were required for the amendment to pass.
GOP Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) pushed for the changes to the coronavirus aid bill over concerns that the agreement struck by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would "incentivize" individuals not to return to work.
"I plan to support this legislation tonight, but I do want to fix it first," said Tim Scott. "The goal is simply to keep you whole while you're unemployed because of COVID-19."
Sasse added that Congress should be "generous [but] we don't want this piece of the bill to create an incentive for folks to stop working."
The GOP senators first raised concerns about the provision earlier Wednesday after they reportedly learned about the details of the increased unemployment benefits during a 92-minute conference call about the forthcoming bill.
The unemployment provision includes four months of bolstered unemployment benefits, including increasing the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 for four months.
But the GOP senators argued that the agreement, which they've called a "drafting error," could prompt individuals who earn less while working compared to the unemployment benefits to quit their jobs or not return to work.
"Something hit me like a ton of bricks. ... Under this bill you get $23.15 an hour based on a 40-hour work week not to work," Graham said from the Senate floor on Wednesday night. "We've created Pandora's box for our economy."
They warned that they would slow down the stimulus package unless they got their amendment vote. Under the Senate's rules, McConnell would need cooperation from every senator to speed up the stimulus package and pass it on Wednesday.
But the group's amendment got bipartisan pushback, making it unlikely to get it added to the bill.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) warned that they were told by the Department of Labor that implementing a state-by-state cap that met previous wages was not feasible given the different unemployment systems used across the country.
"The way you want to calculate it, we're told cannot be done," Durbin said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted: "Let's not over-complicate this. Several Republican Senators are holding up the bipartisan Coronavirus emergency bill because they think the bill is too good for laid off Americans."
A Senate GOP aide also pushed back against the four senators, underscoring the divisions within the caucus, saying that "nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees; in fact, it's just the opposite."
"Each state has a different UI program, so the drafters opted for a temporary across-the-board UI boost of $600, which can deliver needed aid in a timely manner rather than burning time to create a different administrative regime for each state," the aide said. "It's also important to remember that nobody who voluntarily leaves an available job is eligible for UI."