Hoyer says Democrats are flexible on unemployment benefits: 'It's not $600 or bust'

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse will be out of session for additional week in September The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS MORE (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Democrats are not insisting $600 federal unemployment payments be included in the massive coronavirus relief package under negotiation between the two parties.

In a CNN interview, Hoyer hammered the $1 trillion emergency relief package, unveiled Monday by Senate Republicans, as grossly inadequate for meeting the health and economic needs of a country that's been ravaged on both fronts.

The GOP measure includes a $200 weekly bump above state unemployment insurance benefits — a third of the additional federal payment included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in late March.


Yet Hoyer also indicated that Democrats, while opposed to the $200 figure, aren't married to the initial $600, either.

"It's not $600 or bust," he said on CNN's "New Day" program. "Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] said the other day, which I thought was a great line, 'We don't have red lines. We have values. And we're going into these negotiations with values.'"

House Democrats in May passed an enormous $3.4 trillion emergency relief package, which largely extended funding for the programs established under the CARES Act, including hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, medical supplies, coronavirus testing, and direct payments to individuals and families.

It also extended the $600 federal weekly jobless payments through January. The subsidy is designed to ensure that workers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic received 100 percent of lost wages, not just the fraction of their paychecks as established — with varying generosity — by the 50 states.

"The reason we had $600 was its simplicity," Pelosi said Sunday in an interview with CBS News's "Face the Nation."


Yet the $600 payment has, in some cases, provided laid-off workers with higher incomes than they received in the jobs they lost. Republicans have warned that those dynamics create a disincentive for workers to return to their jobs, thereby slowing the national economic recovery on the whole.

Hoyer on Tuesday said that concern "has some validity to it."

"And we ought to deal with that," he said.

But cutting the $600 payment down to $200, Hoyer added, is not the way to go about it.

"There is a way to deal with that. But not this way, not cold turkey, not 'Here you have it. Now you don't,'" he said. "The American people were relying on that."


In recent weeks, Pelosi has said Democrats will be flexible when it comes to the $600 payment. If the figure is reduced, she's said, Congress would have to compensate the difference through other programs, such as direct payments to families and individuals.

"That pillar is about putting money into the pockets of the American people. One piece of it is unemployment insurance and the benefit you are talking about, and another part of it is how we put direct payments into the families," she said. "So we'll see what that entire package looks like."

The Republicans' $1 trillion package includes a $1,200 direct payment for individuals up to a certain income threshold, designed in similar fashion to the benefit established under the CARES Act.

To iron out the differences between the House and Senate packages, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTo save the Postal Service, bring it online White House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' MORE (D-N.Y.) are in discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill What Trump's orders will and won't do for payroll taxes, unemployment benefits No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks On The Money: Administration defends Trump executive orders | CBO reports skyrocketing deficit | Government pauses Kodak loan pending review MORE.

The group met Monday evening for nearly two hours in Pelosi's office and is expected to huddle again Tuesday at 4 p.m.