Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin left a meeting with GOP staffers Saturday at the Capitol where they discussed the future of the next round of pandemic relief legislation. The contents of the legislation have been uncertain given the $3-trillion price tag of the proposal favored by Democrats and the lack of a firm Republican proposal to counter it.
According to The Associated Press, “Mnuchin told reporters at the Capitol that extending an expiring unemployment benefit — but reducing it substantially — was a top priority for Trump. The secretary called the $600 weekly aid ‘ridiculous’ and a disincentive for people to go back to work.”
The wording of the unemployment provision, which expires on July 31, has long been a source of concern among Republicans, some of whom have previously noted the outcome as a possibility.
Back in March, three Republican senators attempted to halt the coronavirus package precisely because of the wording of the provision, believing it to be a “massive drafting error” rather than a deliberate policy choice.
“Unless this bill is fixed, there is a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work,” Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) announced in a statement at the time. Graham added in a press conference: “If this is not a drafting error, then it’s the worst idea I’ve seen in a long time, and that’s saying a lot given that we’re in Washington.”
It was not, in fact, a drafting error.
However, it’s not expected to make an appearance in the Republican proposal.
“We’re fundamentally focused on about a 70% wage replacement,” Mnuchin said Saturday, also noting the Trump administration was “prepared to move quickly” to address the benefits gap from the soon-expiring unemployment provision, reports CNN.
The Democratic proposal, on the other hand, would extend the $600 weekly unemployment provision into the new year, on top of sending out another round of stimulus check.
The stimulus checks, however, are expected to re-appear in the Republican proposal as well. AP reports that Mnuchin believes the federal government can “get the majority” of the checks “out in August.”
“Mnuchin also said the $1,200 direct payments would be based on the same formula from the earlier aid bill. Individuals making $75,000 or less, for example, received the full amount and those making more than $75,000 received less than $1,200 depending on their income,” reports the news agency.
When the proposal is finally announced, it is expected to form a starting point for negotiations with Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said early last week it will have “fairly significant support among Republican senators,” although “probably not everyone,” reports The New York Times.
While the ultimate length of the negotiation process remains unclear, McConnell told WKYT on Friday evening that “hopefully in the next two to three weeks, we’ll be able to come together and pass something that we can send over to the House.”