Senate GOP won't roll out expected stimulus bill this week

Millions of Americans are poised to get their last expanded unemployment checks.

July 23, 2020, 5:07 PM

After days of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell projecting a possible Republican COVID-19 relief plan this week, members of the Senate are beginning to depart the Capitol for the weekend with no plan in sight.

Republican leadership will not put forward a plan Thursday, and several members have said they are now looking to early next week for a possible proposal.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., pointed to Monday as a possibility while Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told ABC News he was told not to expect the plan Thursday and that the conference is far from in agreement.This came after Thursday morning when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows emerged from McConnell's office with some details on the GOP stimulus bill, with Mnuchin saying "we do have a fundamental agreement between the White House and Republicans in the Senate."

Mnuchin said they have agreed to an unemployment benefit that -- when added to state benefits -- would amount to 70% of what a person made before they lost their job.

But with Republicans and the Trump administration failing to reach a fuller agreement on the next coronavirus relief bill, which would trigger negotiations with Democrats, some 25 million Americans will, this weekend, qualify for their last $600 expanded unemployment checks.

Two GOP aides told ABC News that the average increase from the federal benefit would drop from $600 a week to about $200 a week in some cases. The numbers would vary, though, because it would be based on a percentage of income.

"We aren't going to extend it on the base wage replacement, it's approximately 70% of wage replacement. We're dealing with the mechanical issues associated with that," Mnuchin said Thursday morning.

But many worry that antiquated state systems -- which have struggled to get the added $600 check out each week -- would not be able to handle an additional burden. Sen Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the reduction and new calculation would lead to a weeks-long to a two-month delay in distributing benefits.

Sen. Ron Wyden -- top Democrat on the committee that handles unemployment -- came out with a scathing statement blasting Republicans for letting the benefit lapse.

"Due to ancient technology, states need between one and four weeks to adjust the $600 boost. At this late hour, the only option to guarantee benefits do not lapse is the Democratic plan to extend the $600 weekly benefit," it read.

The other main focus for this bill is reopening schools, and Mnuchin said Republicans have agreed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's proposed $100 billion for that effort. In fact, Mnuchin said they threw another $5 billion for schools to sweeten the deal, with some schools getting funding on a pro-rata basis and some getting more to equip facilities to reopen in person.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who chairs an education subcommittee, told reporters that $70 billion of that would go to elementary and secondary schools with the remainder to higher education institutions.Of the $70 billion for K-12 schools, Blunt said, "Half of that will go to every school on a per capita basis. The other half will go to schools that will have more expenses, because they're going back to a traditional school setting, as opposed to only using the distance learning option. And we'll come up with language that allows the governors to determine what that means and language that also is clear to school districts and school boards -- what they'd have to do to be considered in a back to school environment."

One GOP senator who requested anonymity to discuss details of the deal said there is concern among some in the conference that this will be seen as penalizing schools that do not choose to -- or are unable to -- reopen.Schools and unemployment are the priority issues since they are up against deadlines, with Mnuchin and Meadows saying if other issues can't be agreed to quickly, they're willing to focus on just these two and proceed with a series of bills later to address other matters.

"It's our understanding that there will be multiple bills introduced," Mnuchin said. "Some of the other appropriation issues, while they're equally as important may not have the same pressing deadlines so that allows us to look at that in a tiered manner," Meadows added on.

"We'd like to do everything, but if we can't do everything the priority is, we need to address UI, and schools and liability quickly," Mnuchin summarized.

Mnuchin tried to save face for the White house capitulating on the demand for a payroll tax cut, saying President Donald Trump understands that direct stimulus payments will get money into Americans' hands faster."The reason why the President is willing to cut off payroll tax cut is because he understands that if we get money in people's hands in August, that is going to help them and help the economy, and we've proven, we can deliver those 50 million payments, quickly, whereas the payroll tax cut would come in over four or five months and also has some sample issues," he said. Mnuchin said they are looking at the same income levels for a second round of stimulus checks as the first set.

However, Trump tweeted early Thursday afternoon that "The Democrats have stated strongly that they won’t approve a Payroll Tax Cut (too bad!). It would be great for workers. The Republicans, therefore, didn’t want to ask for it. Dems, as usual, are hurting the working men and women of our Country!"

But numerous Republicans have said they do not support a payroll tax cut now.Sen. John Thune, number two in leadership, told ABC, "There are a lot of Republicans who don't like it for a lot of different reasons, but one of which is we don't think it changes behavior. I mean, if you get a $60 increase in your check in the fourth quarter of this year, when you already got all kinds of holiday stuff going on, the difference between that and getting a check in the mail that you actually can spend right away."Thune added of the payroll tax cut, "I’m not a fan," a sentiment echoed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, an ally of McConnell, who is known to oppose the cut.

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