Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) formally unveiled the GOP coronavirus relief proposal on Monday, after a week of disagreements between the White House and fellow Senate Republicans that will now set the stage for a showdown with Democrats over a fifth package bill.
“Just like in March with the CARES Act, Senate Republicans have authored another bold framework to help our nation,” McConnell said from the Senate floor Monday afternoon. “We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crises facing our country — getting kids back to school, getting workers back to work, and winning the health care against the virus.”
Dubbed the HEALS Act, an acronym for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools, would include another round of $1,200 of direct payment check for individuals with more support for adult dependents, a “sequel” to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) small business loan program that would target firms with 300 or fewer workers, $105 billion to help schools re-open, liability protections for doctors, schools, and businesses, provide more flexibility for state and local government to utilize the $150 billion in funding from the CARES Act, extend federal eviction protections, and provide $16 billion for testing, tracing and vaccine development.
Regarding unemployment benefits, a measure that will surely become a point of contention in negotiations with Democrats, the GOP measure would trim the unemployment insurance benefit from the $600 provided under the CARES Act to $200 per week including into a formula that would ensure those unemployed would receive 70% of a worker’s former wages.
The House bill sought to extend the enhanced benefit of $600 additional payments per week through the end of January 2021. Republicans have argued that the benefit discourages employees from returning to work.
“We have learned what we knew at the time, that when you pay people more not to work than they would get working, what do you expect? People will not work,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said from the Senate Floor.
McConnell, in outlining the GOP plan dismissed the Democratic proposal as a “multi-trillion-dollar socialist manifesto,” and urged Democrats to put aside “partisan stonewalling” to join the GOP in the negotiating table.
“So now we need our Democratic colleagues to put aside the partisan stonewalling we saw in police reform, rediscover the spirit of urgency that got the CARES Act across the finish line, and quickly join us around the negotiating table,” McConnell said. “It will take bipartisan cooperation to put the HEALS Act into law for the American people. The Senate will not waste time with pointless partisanship.”
The bill details will roll out in eight parts, with Senate committee leaders reading out their separate portion of their bill. The total cost of the proposed bill will cost about $1 trillion.
“They will be coming to the floor shortly to introduce their components. Together, their bills make up the HEALS Act,” McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) called the GOP bill “inadequate” and “cruel” saying their “few piecemeal pieces” bill doesn’t go far enough in helping Americans.
“The Republican legislative response to Covid-19 is totally inadequate,” Schumer said from the Senate floor after McConnell unveiled the package. “It won’t include food assistance for hungry kids, kids whose parents can’t feed them. they say, no relief. How hard-hearted, how cruel. The Republican proposal will ignore not one or two or three but scores of major crises in America right now.”
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief bill called the HEROES Act in May. Without any input from Republicans, the Democratic legislation would provide over $1 trillion relief for struggling states and local governments, extend federal unemployment benefits of $600 per week through January 2021, $430 billion for schools and childcare centers, as well as a list of other Democratic priorities.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Schumer are scheduled to meet with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at 6 pm to start negotiations following the release of the GOP Plan.
Congress has already approved three massive stimulus packages totaling nearly $3 trillion this year to combat the health and economic crises triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.