Senate leaders announced a Deal for $2 Trillion Stimulus Package shortly after 1 a.m., and wanted to pass it today under intense pressure to take steps to reassure an American public rattled by the coronavirus.
But this is the U.S. Senate, the most dysfunctional governing body in the world, mostly because the Senate’s legislating skills have atrophied under the leadership of “Moscow Mitch” McConnell, who is only interested in confirming right-wing activist judges to the federal courts.
You guessed it … the stimulus bill is already delayed by bipartisan wrangling.
The Hill reports renegade Republicans threaten to slow walk coronavirus stimulus bill over unemployment provision:
A group of Republican senators are warning they will oppose fast-tracking a mammoth coronavirus stimulus package as they push for changes to a “drafting error” related to the bill’s bolstered unemployment benefits.
Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said there was a “massive drafting error” within the package that would have “devastating consequences.”
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GOP senators say they discovered the “error” during a 92-minute conference call Republicans held on Wednesday morning on the bill when they asked for details on the unemployment benefits.
“When Republicans were on a conference call for 92 minutes this morning, a lot of them learned for the first time that an assurance we had been given in other settings maybe wasn’t so and that assurance was that you wouldn’t actually fail to cap this,” Sasse told reporters.
They warn that the formula could “incentivize” individuals who make less working than they would with the enhanced unemployment to quit their job.
“We cannot encourage people to make more money in unemployment than they do in employment,” Tim Scott told reporters during a press conference.
“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Graham added.
“If this is not a drafting error, then this is the worst idea that I’ve seen in a long time.”
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“Unless this bill is fixed, there is a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work. … We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working,” the three senators said in a statement.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who joined the other three senators at a press conference on the issue Wednesday, added in a tweet that “we shouldn’t have policies in place that disincentivize people from returning to the workforce.”
Senate leadership want to pass the stimulus package on Wednesday, but that requires the cooperation of every senator. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not able to get a deal, opponents could drag out the bills for days.
Pressed on whether they would force McConnell to go through all the procedural hoops, Tim Scott sidestepped, saying: “I am very hopeful we will get this done very quickly.”
They are asking for an amendment vote that would cap unemployment benefits at 100 percent of an individual’s income. The senators indicated if they could get an amendment vote, they would let the bill be sped up even if it failed.
“I think we need to fix this now because it only makes the problem worse,” Graham said. “I want an amendment vote. We’ll see what happens.”
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A GOP aide pushed back against the four senators, underscoring the divisions within the caucus, saying that “nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees, in fact it’s just the opposite.”
“Each state has a different UI program, so the drafters opted for a temporary across-the-board UI boost of $600 dollars, which can deliver needed aid in a timely manner rather than burning time to create a different administrative regime for each state. This increase is designed to make the average worker whole. It’s also important to remember that nobody who voluntarily leaves an available job is eligible for UI. Staff continue to work with the Department of Labor to ensure that it is administered as intended,” the aide added.
Schumer wrote in a letter to his colleagues that the “extended UI program in this agreement increases the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week and ensures that laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months.”
“It ensures that all workers are protected whether they work for businesses small, medium or large, along with self-employed and workers in the gig economy,” Schumer added.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted: “Let’s not over-complicate this. Several Republican Senators are holding up the bipartisan Coronavirus emergency bill because they think the bill is too good for laid off Americans.”
Cue the Democratic outrage from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is trying to remain relevant in a Democratic presidential primary that has been put on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last-minute complaints threaten $2T Senate coronavirus emergency aid:
[A] brewing fight over a deal on unemployment provisions is threatening to open the door to a push for broader changes to the bill, which was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, warned that unless a group of GOP senators back down from their demand for changes to the unemployment insurance benefits, he would slow walk the bill until stronger guardrails were put on hundreds of billions in funding for corporations.
“In my view, it would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive the emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation,” Sanders said in a statement.
“Unless these Republican senators drop their objection, I am prepared to put a hold on this bill until stronger conditions are imposed on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund to make sure that any corporation receiving financial assistance under this legislation does not lay off workers, cut wages or benefits, ship jobs overseas or pay workers poverty wages,” Sanders continued.
Putting a “hold” on a bill would force McConnell to go through days of procedural loopholes that could delay the bill into the weekend or even early next week.
Sanders’s decision comes after Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) raised concerns that the deal on unemployment benefits would “incentivize” individuals not to return to working.
The back-and-forth comes as senators are scrambling to learn the details of the mammoth package.
And then there is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), whose state has become the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, who said New York would get too little help from the mammoth bill. Cuomo: ‘Numbers don’t work’ in ‘terrible’ Senate stimulus package:
“The Senate is considering a $2 trillion bill, which is quote-unquote ‘relief’ for business, individuals and governments,” Gov. Cuomo said during his daily briefing. “It would really be terrible for the state of New York.”
“What does it mean for New York state?” the governor asked. “It means $3.8 billion. $3.8 billion sounds like a lot of money, but we’re looking at a revenue shortfall of [as much as] $15 billion. This response to this virus has probably already cost us $1 billion, and it will probably cost us several billion dollars when we’re done.”
New York City, specifically, Cuomo said, will only receive $1.3 billion in the stimulus deal, which he called “a drop in the bucket, as to need.”
“I spoke to our House congressional delegation this morning, I said to them ‘this doesn’t do it.’ I understand the Senate theory and the Republican theory but we need the House to make adjustments,” Cuomo said, noting that the House’s bill, in contrast, gave the state $17 billion.
“We’re not a big-spending state. I cut taxes every year,” Cuomo added. “I have the lowest growth rate of the state budget in modern political history. We are frugal and we are efficient. I’m telling you these numbers don’t work and I told the House members that we really need their help.”
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Cuomo’s comments were notable because another New Yorker, Sen. Charles Schumer (D), led Senate Democrats in negotiating with Republicans on the bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said earlier Wednesday that her caucus would be reviewing the Senate bill. It’s possible there could be opposition to moving the bill quickly because of Cuomo’s criticisms. It’s also possible additional bills that Congress is already contemplating to respond to the crisis could move forward with more help for New York.
The House is in recess this week, and is awaiting the Senate vote on the measure. Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democratic leaders are pulling out all the stops to get their restive and diverse caucus behind a sweeping $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill and send it to the president’s desk as quickly as possible once they receive it from the Senate.
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But House Democrats have felt cut out of the process, exasperated that despite crafting their own $2.5 trillion emergency legislation, they’ve been denied the opportunity to exert more direct influence on the mammoth bill, the single largest stimulus package in the nation’s history.
With that in mind, Pelosi and her team are racing to bring them on board, which is the only way the House can pass the measure quickly using procedural tools that would preclude the need for lawmakers to return to Washington amid growing fears of traveling and gathering in close quarters.
Democratic leaders have staged a series of conference calls this week, most recently on Wednesday afternoon, to tout the party’s victories in the Senate bill. And Democratic committee heads have been conducting their own round of issue-specific calls on Wednesday, to field concerns — and attempt to alleviate them.
As part of their pitch, they note that Congress is already working on a fourth round of emergency relief, where Democrats can fight to fill the voids they perceive in the third.
“This is a good bill. We’ll need a good fourth bill,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a Financial Services subcommittee chairman, told his Democratic colleagues on Wednesday’s leadership call, according to a source on the call.
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Democratic leaders will soon face a daunting task. On one hand, they want to move the bill rapidly, wary that any delay will leave them open to attacks that they dithered while the economy tanked. On the other, they want to give their 232 members time to digest the enormous package — and record their gripes — as it just comes into view.
Complicating their efforts, the caucus is wildly diverse, with liberal lawmakers slamming the Senate bill as a corporate giveaway and moderate members urging quick passage to alleviate anxieties in their battleground districts.
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Amid the nascent debate, party leaders are leaving themselves some room to bring the package to the House floor.
On the call with rank-and-file members Wednesday, Pelosi made clear that, due to Senate delays, the House would not take up the package until Thursday at the earliest, according to a source on the call. And other leaders are broadcasting the same message publicly.
“Our goal is to get our caucus all of the information that they need and to get to unanimous consent or voice vote by tomorrow, certainly by Friday,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the vice-chair of the caucus, told MSNBC on Wednesday.
In a letter to Democrats Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) vowed that leaders would provide lawmakers with at least 24 hours notice before taking action.
How Democrats intend to vote on the package remains an open question. Pelosi on Wednesday signaled to her caucus that she prefers to pass the legislation quickly by unanimous consent, or UC; another option discussed was a voice vote.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is pressing for the latter, warning Wednesday that some of his members want the opportunity to be on the floor voicing their objections.
“I don’t think this can pass on unanimous consent,” he said.
Both UC and voice vote would require just a handful of lawmakers to be on the House floor, avoiding the need for all 430 members to fly back to Washington at a time when several of them have tested positive for COVID-19 or are showing symptoms.
A voice vote is preferred by some because it would allow critical lawmakers to shout their disapproval on the floor, then tell their constituents they voted against the stimulus. A number of conservative Republicans are urging that route. [Read GOP House Freedom Caucus].
But if a single lawmaker in the chamber — Democrat or Republican — objects to a UC or requests a formal roll-call vote, Pelosi would be forced to call everyone back to Washington.
Oh, you just know someone will.
She and her team were scrambling Wednesday to find a way to allow lawmakers to record their vote on the enormous package without physically returning to D.C. But Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told his colleagues this week that so-called “remote voting” was not feasible, and Pelosi backed that message on Tuesday. Proxy voting, however, where a present lawmaker votes on someone else’s behalf, is still being looked at.
If I have to venture a guess, I would say this bill isn’t going to get done until this weekend or early next week, probably only after Nancy Pelosi is forced to call members of Congress back to the Capitol to vote on this bill.
“Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”