Updated Mar 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Senators threaten to delay coronavirus relief bill with last-minute objections

Sens. Tim Scott, Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham and Rick Scott. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The prospect of the Senate quickly passing the $2 trillion coronavirus relief deal that congressional leaders struck with the White House hit a speed bump Wednesday after a group of Republican senators demanded an amendment related to unemployment insurance.

The state of play: Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) said Wednesday that they would object to fast-tracking the bill over a provision that would grant an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits to low-wage workers who lose their jobs.

  • The Republican senators argue that because the unemployment benefits would be larger than what low-wage workers usually make, it would incentivize them to get laid off and not return to the workforce.
  • The amendment they want to introduce would limit unemployment benefits to 100% of a worker's salary.

The other side: Sen. Bernie Sanders later released a statement saying that unless the senators drop their "anti-worker objections," he is prepared to block the legislation in order to impose "strong conditions on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund."

  • “I am prepared to put a hold on this bill … 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 said.
  • Sanders told the New York Times that he will vote for the bill as written, but only if the Republicans drop their demands: "I cannot at the last minute allow some right-wing senators try to undermine the needs of workers and think they are going to get away with that.”

The big picture: The stock market lost a ton of steam after news broke of a potential holdup of the aid package.

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a press briefing Wednesday that he does not believe the provision will create incentives and that most Americans "want to keep their jobs.
  • He declined to comment on the Republican senators' specific complaints, but said it's his expectation that the bill will be passed by the Senate tonight and by the House tomorrow.

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