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Senate rejects dueling coronavirus bills as unemployment cliff looms

The Senate on Thursday rejected two competing proposals for coronavirus relief as the deadline for extending enhanced unemployment benefits looms and Congress struggles to break an impasse over a fifth stimulus bill.

The floor drama comes as the $600 federal boost to unemployment benefits passed as part of the March bill is set to expire on Friday with no consensus in Congress about how to replace it.  

Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Democrats gear up for PR battle on COVID-19 relief Johnson says leaving office after 2022 'probably my preference now' MORE (R-Wis.) and Mike BraunMichael BraunSenate braces for 'God-awful,' 'stupid' session ahead of COVID-19 relief vote Murthy vows to focus on mental health effects of pandemic if confirmed as surgeon general GOP senators question Amazon on removal of book about 'transgender moment' MORE (R-Ind.) tried to pass a bill that would tie overall unemployment benefits to a two-thirds match to an individual's previous wages, with the per week federal payment capped at $500. 

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If states cannot implement that formula — several have warned that because of archaic systems it could take months to put in place — then they could pick a $200 per week federal unemployment benefit instead.  

"We want to help workers, but we want to avoid a situation where we prolong unemployment," Johnson said. 

He added that the previous $600 per week was "too generous" and argued that it was hurting the ability to hire workers back.  

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor MORE (D-N.Y.) blocked the GOP proposal and instead tried to pass a roughly $3 trillion Democratic House bill that, among other provisions, would extend the $600 per week federal unemployment benefit through the end of the year. 

"People will be stuck with that big cut," Schumer said, adding that "many states will not be able to implement this new plan for weeks or even months."  

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Schumer added that in addition to being "fundamentally unworkable" and "pushing more people into poverty," the unemployment insurance proposal would take money out of the economy. 

In addition to extending the unemployment benefit, the House bill, which was passed largely along party lines, would also provide roughly $1 trillion in additional aid for state and local governments, another round of stimulus checks and additional food assistance. 

Johnson blocked that bill. Braun added that the House bill was a "monstrosity." 

Under the Senate's rules, any one senator can try to set up or pass a bill, but any one senator can also block it. 

The dueling proposals are the latest sign of the lack of progress toward a bipartisan deal after days of negotiations between Schumer, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump White House associate tied to Proud Boys before riot via cell phone data Greene sounds off on GOP after Hill story 'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis MORE (D-Caif.), Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsTrump attacks Karl Rove: 'A pompous fool with bad advice' How scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses MORE.  

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"We can't do a deal because I don't believe our friends on the other side of the aisle are serious about doing a deal," Johnson said, explaining why he was trying to move his own standalone unemployment measure. 

Schumer fired back that they had been asking Republicans to negotiate on a fifth coronavirus relief bill "for a very long time."  

"We've had nothing," Schumer said. "We got here because our Republican colleagues couldn't get their act together. ... Instead of being serious in negotiating, they have created a stunt."