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.

Go deeper

Senate passes $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill

White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland leaves Chuck Schumer's office on March 25. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Senate passed the largest rescue package in modern history on Wednesday to alleviate economic pressure caused by the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and over 21,000 people globally.

Why it matters: The roughly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package includes thousands of dollars in direct payments to most Americans — millions of whom face unemployment related to the spread of COVID-19 — as well as a $500 billion loan fund for large corporations and a $367 billion loan program for small businesses.

Senate passes House coronavirus relief package with no changes

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Senate passed the House coronavirus relief bill 90-8 without changes Wednesday, freeing up Congress to focus more energy on passing subsequent legislation that will likely amount to one of the largest emergency spending packages in modern history.

The big picture: The deal, negotiated between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, includes free coronavirus testing — even for the uninsured; two weeks of paid sick and family leave; increased federal funds for Medicaid and food security programs, like food stamps; and increased unemployment insurance benefits.

Coronavirus rescue bill extends unemployment benefits to gig economy

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As part of the bipartisan deal Senate leaders and the White House struck early Wednesday, unemployment benefits will be extended to groups including gig economy workers, per a statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Why it matters: This is an unprecedented expansion of benefits to gig economy workers, who have been classified as independent contractors instead of employees by ride-hailing and food delivery companies, among others.