In a weekend cram session following months of procrastination, Republican leaders finalized a coronavirus relief package unveiled Monday. While many aspects of the bill remain in flux, according to the Director of the U.S. National Economic Council Larry Kudlow on Sunday, a $1,200 direct payment to most Americans is “going to be part of the new package.”
As it stands, the proposed Republican relief bill will also include reemployment bonuses, retention bonuses, and tax credits for small businesses. Its total cost will reportedly come in at around $1 trillion — roughly half of the CARES Act’s original cost — which is on target for the artificial limit that President Trump set earlier this month. According to Mitch McConnell on Monday, the bill will be called the HEALS Act, standing for “Health, Economic, Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools.”
With coronavirus cases surging in the nation’s three most populous states and unemployment in the double digits, Republican leadership has reluctantly delivered a second stimulus package to prop up the weekly income of 30 million Americans out of work because of the pandemic. Much of the hesitation — including a two-month period of stalling instead of responding to House Democrats’ $3 trillion HEROES proposal — revolved around the $600-per-week federal payment, which McConnell has called “a bonus not to go back to work.” (The Senate Majority Leader’s comment may be missing the point that the popular stimulus benefit is a direct incentive for Americans in dangerous fields not to go back to work, while being in his party’s best electoral interest.)
On Sunday, the work-around for the $600 payment appeared to be a provision for laid-off workers to receive up to 70 percent of their wages. But according to a Bloomberg report on Monday, Senate Republicans “propose cutting supplemental unemployment benefits to $200 weekly from $600 until states are able to create a system that would provide 70% of a laid-off worker’s previous pay up to a state-set cap.” The proposal would include a two-month transition period for states to institute such a system, with another two-month extension if they aren’t able to do so in time.
Democrats weren’t thrilled by the move to drop the flat rate. “Let me just say, the reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Face the Nation, citing the potential difficulty for administrators to deliver the benefits on time — a hurdle that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows even acknowledged. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer added that “we should not give a 30 percent pay cut to those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The unemployment insurance has kept millions out of poverty, prevented the recession from becoming a depression, we need to extend it.”
Another reversal on Monday involved an extension to the eviction moratorium. While Kudlow said on Sunday that the suspension of evictions would apply for any renters living in buildings with federally backed mortgages, he clarified on Monday that the Republican plan would only apply to homeowners, a terrifying proposal for the estimated 23 million Americans at risk of eviction by the end of September.
Many of the details of the plan — including its aid for schools returning to in-person learning next month — are still unknown. But regardless of the measures, Democrats won’t be the only opposition to the slated stimulus plan. “Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any phase-four package, that’s just a fact,” Lindsey Graham said on Fox News on Sunday. On Face the Nation — responding to a poll showing that 74 percent of Republicans are in favor of a second stimulus bill — Ted Cruz proposed that a shutdown to stave off community spread of the coronavirus was a plan designed by Democrats to tank the president in November: “The only objective Democrats have is to defeat Trump, and they cynically decided the best way to [do it] is to shut down every business and school.”