GOP mulls short-term unemployment extension

Senate Republicans and the White House are discussing a short-term extension of enhanced unemployment benefits. 

Two GOP senators confirmed the discussions, though key details like the length of the extension and the price are in flux. 

“There are discussions about it,” said Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators holding behind-the-scenes talks on breaking coronavirus package stalemate Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Pompeo, lawmakers tangle over Germany troop withdrawal MORE (R-Ohio), asked about a short-term extension. 

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Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoLatest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, confirmed to reporters that Republicans were talking about the idea. 

“The discussions come down to the duration, how long, and at what price point,” Barrasso said. 

How to address unemployment has been a perennial sticking point for Republicans as they try to draft their own coronavirus relief proposal. The country’s unemployment rate is currently at 11.1 percent as millions have been out of work because of the pandemic.

As part of a March coronavirus relief package, Congress passed a $600 per week federal increase of unemployment benefits. But that enhancement is set to expire next week — likely before negotiators are able to reach a deal on and pass another coronavirus package.

Top Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNegotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms States begin removing Capitol's Confederate statues on their own Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Ky.), have called the $600 per week increase a mistake.

Some have argued for nixing the enhancement altogether, while others have said it should be tailored so it’s not more than what an individual currently could make working.

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Trump on Tuesday appeared to acknowledge that negotiators were considering reducing the boost to unemployment benefits.

“They’re thinking about doing 70 percent of the amount. The amount would be the same, but doing it in a little bit smaller initial amounts, so that people are going to want to go back to work, as opposed to making so much money that they really don’t have to,” he said.

But talk of a short-term extension is already drawing GOP pushback.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions MORE (R-Iowa), while acknowledging that he wasn’t involved in the talks, questioned the need for the extension.

“If it’s continued in one form or another, nobody’s going to lose out on a week or two. They’re going to get the money,” he said.