News & Politics

Showdown Looms Over Fight to Extend Federal Unemployment Benefits

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks it’s time for the Senate to “go on record” over an extension of the federal unemployment benefit that expires on Friday.

But Democrats aren’t budging. They say they want their entire $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill or nothing. So McConnell is calling their bluff. Or blowing up the whole negotiating process over the relief bill.

The news yesterday that the economy contracted by 9 percent in the second quarter and applications for unemployment rose to 1.4 million for the week might give a vote on an extension of benefits some impetus.

The Hill:

“We’ve had enough rope-a-dope. We’ve had enough empty talk. It’s time to go on the record,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.

Senate Republicans successfully brought up a bill they will use as a vehicle for their competing unemployment proposals, none of which appear to have the votes needed to actually pass next week.

Republicans want to replace the flat $600/week benefit with one that will be scalable. When combined with state benefits, the cash would equal about 70 percent of a worker’s wages and be capped at $500.

But for Democrats, it’s $600 a week or bust.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, said that the Johnson-Braun proposal will be the Senate’s starting point and it will need 60 votes, meaning at least seven Democrats.

“It will need 60, everything probably from here on will need 60, so we’ll see where that goes,” Thune said.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) added that the “first attempt, and maybe the last one, would basically be the Johnson bill.”

It’s a mess and Democrats aren’t helping.

“My fellow Americans, we are in an enormous crisis. We are stepping up to the plate on this side of the aisle. Please let your Senators know on the Republican side of the aisle how deep this crisis is, how painful it is for people, and to step up to the plate,” [Sen. Chuck] Schumer said.

“Get in the room and negotiate a real deal and stop doing stunts that simply are political, get-it-off-my-back, that you know cannot pass,” Schumer added.

There may be a method to McConnell’s madness. He’s hoping to push the onus for failure onto the shoulders of Schumer and Pelosi. He’s hoping that will spur them to make a much bigger comprehensive deal on the relief package.

“We need to get things moving and this gets things moving. Our guys want to vote, they want to be able to prove they’re moving the ball down the field and the Democrats want to keep blocking. This exposes that. And hopefully it will get them to get serious about actually sitting down and working on a solution,” Thune said.

If Republicans can take care of the unemployment benefits problem, they can then take up another pressing priority — the eviction crisis that will sweep the country in the next 90 days. Without relief, there are going to be a lot of new homeless people to take care of.

The wisdom of paying people more than they earn to not work is questionable. Trump’s idea to give people a bonus for returning to work, while not politically viable, should at least have been debated. The fact is, the government is out of options and they must act or millions of people will suffer.

As Expected, Economy Contracted at Record Rate In the Second Quarter