McConnell: Beefed up unemployment benefits will not be in next coronavirus bill

Bonnie Cash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that expanded unemployment benefits passed as part of March’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill will not be included in the next package passed by Congress. 

McConnell, during a call with House Republicans, stood by the GOP’s decision to “pause” before passing a “phase four” bill and indicated that the holding pattern would continue for the immediate future as they assess the impact of previous coronavirus bills. 

However, McConnell told House Republicans that if Congress passed another bill, technically the fifth piece of coronavirus legislation, Republicans would “clean up the Democrats’ crazy policy that is paying people more to remain unemployed than they would earn if they went back to work.”

“This will not be in the next bill,” McConnell said, according to a source briefed on the call. 

As part of March’s coronavirus relief bill, Congress beefed up unemployment benefits to provide an additional $600 a week in unemployment compensation for roughly four months.

The provision sparked fierce backlash from Senate Republicans over concerns that it would result in some individuals making more on unemployment than they did at their previous jobs. 

But the Senate rejected an attempt by four GOP senators to change the bill at the time to cap unemployment benefits at 100 percent of an individual’s salary before they were laid off. Every present GOP senator besides Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Cory Gardner (Colo.) voted for the amendment, but it fell short of the 60 votes needed.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the sponsors of the amendment, asked President Trump during a closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday to agree not to extend the beefed up unemployment benefits. 

“I asked him not to agree to that. That we can’t. You can extend some assistance, but you don’t want to pay people more unemployed than they made working,” Graham said.

Graham specified that Trump did not explicitly say he would not support extending the benefits but that president “agrees that that is hurting the economic recovery.”

“He didn’t say he wasn’t going to sign a bill with it in, but he agreed that that was a problem we need to look at,” Graham added.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) added that he would like to “fix” the unemployment provision “because we’re now paying people, in some cases, more money to stay home.” 

The pushback to extending the unemployment benefits in Congress’s next piece of coronavirus-related legislation comes after a nearly $3 trillion bill passed by House Democrats last week would extend the extra $600 per week through Jan. 31, 2021.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) fired back at McConnell on Wednesday, warning that scaling back unemployment assistance could result in a “full-blown human catastrophe.”  

“There is broad agreement among economists that Congress needs to pass much more stimulus to help the economy recover,” he said. “Cutting back federal assistance at the height of the crisis would mean self-inflicted disaster, devastation and additional deaths. That must not happen. 

Republicans have panned the House-passed bill, declaring it “dead on arrival” in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

McConnell, during the Wednesday call with his House counterparts, said Congress might need to pass additional legislation but that it would not be like the House bill. 

“If we do another bill, it won’t look anything like the House Democrats’ bill,” he said.

Tags CARES Act Coronavirus coronavirus stimulus bill Cory Gardner COVID-19 Donald Trump Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Susan Collins Unemployment
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