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Senate stalemate means millions on the verge of losing $600 weekly federal benefit

As the Senate prepared to leave Washington Thursday afternoon, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took a procedural step to force debate on the issue on the floor next week. In a floor speech, he accused Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) of resisting any kind of agreement.

“If that is their position, they’ll have to vote on it for the entire country to see,” McConnell said.

Schumer, however, dismissed the move as nothing but a stunt and blamed Republican divide for the stalemate over the federal benefits.

“They’ve woken up to the fact that we’re at a cliff, but it’s too late,” Schumer said. “It’s too late because even if we were to pass this measure, almost every state says people would not get their unemployment for weeks and months. All because of the disunity, dysfunction of the Republican caucus.”

The leading GOP proposal, offered by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), would renew federal unemployment payments at 66 percent of lost wages, or $ 200 per week. The strategy had the general backing from the White House, which is eager to extend the bulked up unemployment insurance.

Republicans viewed the Johnson proposal as a way to put pressure on Senate Democrats the day before the benefit lapsed. And they noted, it was far more than what was approved more than a decade ago as the Democratic-run Congress reacted to the 2008 financial crisis.

But Schumer retorted that Johnson’s bill was a step in the wrong direction. Schumer instead offered a unanimous request proposal to have the Senate approve the House-passed Heroes Act, which Johnson objected to.

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) later attempted to pass a one-week extension to the $ 600 in boosted benefits. But Schumer objected, deriding the effort as another stunt. The New York Democrat then proceeded to try again to pass the Heroes Act, which Republicans blocked.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer will meet at 8 p.m. Thursday evening with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for the fourth day in a row.

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The Senate jockeying could not come at a worse time. There is no end in sight to the coronavirus, which so far has claimed 150,000 American lives and sickened more than 4 million.

The Trump administration remains at an impasse with both members of its own party and Democratic leadership over the boosted federal unemployment benefits. The March CARES Act provided an additional $ 600 weekly benefit that’s on the cusp of expiring, while Democrats are pushing for the full $ 600 to go into next year.

Meanwhile, Republicans argue the benefits provide a disincentive to work and instead want to see a temporary flat payment of $ 200 a week until states can adjust their systems to offer 70 percent wage replacement.

The White House on Wednesday floated a temporary extension to the enhanced benefits but Democrats and Republicans both showed little appetite for that idea.

McConnell, for his part, accused Pelosi and Schumer of not wanting to engage on any issue in order to pressure Republicans to cave in on the Heroes Act.

“Both Republicans and Democrats agree that in these extraordinary times it makes sense for the federal government to provide historic additional help on top of normal unemployment,” McConnell said. “But the speaker and the Democratic leader say they won’t agree to anything unless the program pays people more to stay home than to work.”

Schumer retorted that negotiating with White House and Senate Republicans is like “trying to nail JELL-O to the wall.”

“Who is leading the effort on the Republican side,” Schumer asked. “Chief Meadows and Secretary Mnuchin….Leader McConnell has said that Democrats won’t engage. I would remind him if he refuses to go into the room when Speaker Pelosi, Secretary Mnuchin, chief of staff Meadows and I sit in there.”

In addition to the Johnson proposal, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is expected to introduce an alternative bill that would give states two options for three months: either 80 percent wage replacement or a flat payment of $ 500 a week, that would gradually decrease to $ 400 in September, and $ 300 in October.

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