Senate Republicans claim that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) new $3 trillion coronavirus relief package is dead on arrival in the upper chamber. Still, they are amassing concepts for a package that could pass this summer.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for a “pause” previous week on new coronavirus legislation, rank-and-file Senate Republicans acknowledge there is increasing pressure to react to the House Democrats.
One Republican senator who demanded anonymity to remark on internal discussions said the “pause” posture would be politically tenable for only so long.
“I think it’s viable for now. How long it remains viable is determined by what is going on in the country, what the ‘getting back out, going back to work, getting out of our homes’ begins to look like,” the senator stated.
But the lawmaker stated waves of new unemployment claims would put a strain on Senate Republicans to act before too long.
“Unemployment figures being what they are, I think there’s going to be an insistence that something additional happens,” the GOP senator stated.
The Labor Department reported Friday the national unemployment rate peaked 14.7 percent in April, the highest since the Great Depression.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pounced on McConnell’s wait-and-see strategy to allege Senate Republicans of “dithering.”
He now regularly contrasts Senate Republicans to President Hoover, who resisted expansive government intervention at the beginning of the Great Depression and anticipated the economy would recuperate on its own.
“When Republican leaders look at unemployment figures and claim we don’t need to respond promptly, that government’s done enough already, they are the latter-day Herbert Hoovers, and I fear it could lead to similar results,” Schumer stated on the floor Tuesday.
McConnell on Tuesday subtly shifted from previous week’s call for a pause by instead highlighting the need for additional coronavirus legislation to be “narrowly focused.”
“We’re going to insist on doing narrowly focused legislation if and when we do legislate again, and we may well,” he said to the reporters.
Senate Republicans have publicly questioned the need to approve additional legislation soon, arguing that only a small portion of the $484 billion of the interim coronavirus relief bill and $2.2trillion CARES Act passed in April has gone out the door.
But privately, they admit it’s only a matter of time before another enormous package passes.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) stated that “we’ve got a lot of members with great ideas.”
“If and when there is another round, and there’s a need to act, we’ve solicited ideas — our office has — and there’s a lot of good great coming, much of which is being thought about and vetted and discussed in terms of how it might be implemented to the next CARES Act or phase four,” he stated.
But Thune highlighted that Republicans want to wait “until we see how some of these programs that are already funded and authorized are working.”
Two core endorsements have surfaced from Republican senators so far: a reform of beefed-up unemployment benefits that Congress approved in March that critics say are making it tougher to hire lower- and middle-income workers and a litigation shield for businesses that re-open while the pandemic is still going strong.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has been designated with supervising the litigation reform endeavor, stated the GOP plan could be revealed in the coming weeks along with a proposal to give unemployed workers more incentive to rejoin the labor force.
Republican lawmakers say they don’t see any legislation moving until June — at the earliest. But they say it’s important to start putting together a list of priorities.
“We’re in the process regarding discussing and drafting some thoughts,” Cornyn stated of the litigation protection piece. “We’re not in a hurry. I think we’ve got ample time here, but obviously, this is not the end. There will be additional legislation.”
The White House has been pressing for a payroll tax cut, which has sparked criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is spearheading informal discussion on reforming beefed-up unemployment benefits so that generous payments approved in the CARES Act don’t become an obstacle to hiring workers.
Portman is floating an endorsement under which workers would be permitted to keep a part of their unemployment insurance if they return to work.
“We’re finding from employers back home that as they re-open, they’re struggling to get workers, and part of it is because of the unemployment insurance problem,” he stated. “The concept is to permit them to take some of their $600 back to work with them.”
The CARES Act, which Congress passed in March, provides a $600 weekly addition to regular state-provided unemployment benefits.
Some Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), have criticized the benefit as being too generous because it exceeds typical wages for many jobs in South Carolina, thereby creating a “perverse incentive” not to work.
On Tuesday afternoon, McConnell identified “this liability issue” as “essential in moving us safely into phase one and, hopefully, phase two of re-opening the economy.”
Senate Republicans recognize that neither unemployment benefits nor liability protection reform is going to move on its own without concessions to the Democrats and Pelosi. They claim Democrats will likely demand a high price for including liability protection in a future coronavirus bill.
Some senators on the Senate Republican Steering Committee met Monday night to discuss whether it would be worth giving in to Democratic demands to enact liability reform, even though it’s a high GOP priority.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who attended the meeting, stated, “That will be a gruesome trade-off for some relying on what price it comes at.
A few of us discussed that Monday night. How much is it worth to get [iability reform when you’re then getting into the tricky dynamic of numerous states that have run their state governments where this is close to a bailout for them.”
Some Republican senators are pressing for hundreds of billions of dollars to be included in the next round of coronavirus relief.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who has endorsed a $500 billion “SMART Fund” to assist local governments and state, predicts more Republicans will back his plan when they recognize the severe financial predicament they face.
“Once legislators begin to hear from their governors, state legislatures, mayors — that’s when you have to do your whip count,” he said.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), meanwhile, is pressing an enthusiastic endorsement for the federal government to cover 80 percent of wages — up to the national median salary — for workers at any U.S. business. He also wants to give enterprises a bonus for rehiring laid-off workers.