White House, senior Republicans pour cold water on short-term unemployment extension

The White House and top Senate Republicans are pouring cold water on the prospect of a short-term unemployment extension.

Republican senators were discussing a short-term extension to provide a patch between the expiration of a $600 per week increase and Congress’s next relief bill.

“We’re really trying to look at trying to make sure that we have a comprehensive bill that deals with the issues. Any short-term extensions would defy the history of Congress, which would indicate that it would just be met with another short-term extension,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters Wednesday.

Pressed on whether he was saying he preferred to address the unemployment benefits as part of a larger coronavirus package, Meadows added, “We’re optimistic that we can continue to find a real solution and hopefully reaching a compromise.”

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP senator, also appeared to question the wisdom of punting the unemployment fight.

“Ideally having that hard deadline next week gives us a reason to try and get this done, puts pressure on the process,” Thune said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to want to punt to a short-term solution.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who added that he wasn’t part of 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.

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.

What a short-term extension would look like was still under discussion by GOP senators Wednesday.

“The discussions come down to the duration, how long and at what price point,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

A House-passed bill would continue the enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of the year. But Republicans have called the $600 per week addition a “mistake.”

They’ve been discussing how to structure unemployment benefits as part of their forthcoming proposal, with options ranging from nixing the $600 per week increase altogether to trying to reduce it so that it’s not more than 100 percent of the wages an individual was making before.

President Trump appeared to acknowledge at the White House this week that they were discussing continuing increased unemployment benefits but significantly below the current level.

“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.

Tags Chuck Grassley Coronavirus relief bill COVID-19 Donald Trump John Barrasso John Thune Mark Meadows Unemployment

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