By Ken Bredemeier
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed the White House and Senate Republicans to negotiate quickly Monday to renew expiring federal unemployment benefits for more than 16 million Americans who are out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the administration of President Donald Trump and Senate leaders prepared to release a $1 trillion coronavirus aid package, Pelosi called for them to immediately come to her office in the U.S. Capitol to work out a deal with Democrats who want a $3 trillion spending plan to bolster the faltering U.S. economy.
“Time is running out,” Pelosi said. “If Republicans care about working families, this won’t take long.”
But in fractious Washington, Republicans and Democrats are at odds over the continuing amount the federal government should pay unemployed workers, in addition to the less generous amounts they receive from state governments.
The national government has paid millions of jobless workers an extra $600 a week for the last four months, but the stipend expires on Friday. The White House and Republicans want to cut two-thirds of the payments down to $200 a week, while Democrats are pushing to continue the current $600 figure through the end of 2020.
White House aides said Sunday the lower amount, along with state assistance, would give workers about 70% of the wages they once earned before being laid off, a figure Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow called “quite generous.”
The two political parties also disagree on other coronavirus assistance, who should get more money and how much. They also are debating whether to grant legal immunity to businesses and their employees from being sued for possibly infecting customers with the coronavirus, as Republicans are proposing over Democratic opposition.
With the Friday deadline looming, the White House and Republican lawmakers have called for passage of a limited coronavirus aid package, with the rest of the details of the assistance hammered out over the coming weeks. But Pelosi has balked at a piecemeal approach.
“We can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday.
But Pelosi attacked the more limited Republican aid plan.
“Children are hungry, families cannot pay the rent, unemployment is expiring, and the Republicans want to pause again and go piecemeal,” Pelosi said.
“We have stood ready to negotiate for more than two months,” she said. She implored them to come to her office “and get the job done.”
Republicans have objected to continuing the larger unemployment payments because more than half of the U.S. jobless workers collected more in unemployment benefits than they were earning while employed.
A May survey also showed that about a fifth of unemployed workers rejected their employers’ offers to return to work because their unemployment checks were higher than their wages on the job.
Nearly 147,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, while more than 4.2 million have been infected, with both figures the highest national totals across the world.