Schumer demands action on coronavirus relief as GOP mulls temporary unemployment benefit extension

Key Points
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republican dysfunction jeopardizes efforts to pass more coronavirus relief. 
  • His comments come as the $600 per week federal unemployment benefit and a federal rent moratorium are set to expire at the end of next week. 
  • Republicans are considering a separate short-term extension of the enhanced unemployment insurance, but some Democrats oppose a temporary fix. 
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters during a news conference on Democrats' demand for an extension of eviction protections in the next coronavirus disease (Covid-19) aid bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 22, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer chided Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a lack of urgency Wednesday as Republicans try to craft a coronavirus relief bill with only days until financial lifelines expire.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have discussed a short-term extension of enhanced unemployment benefits.

In Senate floor remarks, the New York Democrat said the GOP's delays in releasing a plan meant to kickstart negotiations with Democrats would inflict financial pain on Americans struggling to cover costs during the outbreak. He contended that earlier McConnell remarks that touched on the National Defense Authorization Act and "cancel culture" — but not coronavirus aid — showed disorganization within the Republican Party. 

"When Leader McConnell at this crucial moment can't even mention [Covid-19], it shows what a knot the Republicans are tied in," Schumer said. 

On Tuesday, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he planned to "introduce a bill in the next few days that is a starting place" for talks on a final plan that could pass the GOP-controlled Senate and Democratic-held House. But congressional leaders indicated that legislation likely would not pass until August — after a federal moratorium on evictions and the $600 per week enhanced federal unemployment benefit expire at the end of next week. 

McConnell acknowledged Tuesday that his developing proposal "enjoys fairly significant support among Republican senators," but "probably not everyone." GOP lawmakers have to resolve differences with the White House, which wants a payroll tax holiday that's unpopular on Capitol Hill and to stop additional funding for coronavirus testing. Leaders of both parties in Congress want more federal money for testing. 

Congress' failure to come to a relief agreement nearly three months since it last passed a coronavirus aid bill threatens to upend stabilizing measures including the extra jobless benefit and eviction moratorium as the U.S. jobless rate stands above 11%. The talks come as U.S. Covid-19 cases approach 4 million and deaths top 142,000, a crisis so deadly that even President Donald Trump admitted it is getting worse after weeks of denying its severity.

On Wednesday, Schumer stressed the need to act on legislation "as we're on the edge of so many cliffs." 

A spokesman for McConnell did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Schumer's remarks. 

Republicans and Democrats have to resolve several major issues before they can approve a rescue bill. Democrats want to either extend the unemployment benefit outright or phase it out as state unemployment rates fall, while the GOP aims to reduce the sum. 

Senate Republicans are discussing the possibility of passing a separate short-term extension of the benefit, which expires at the end of the month, as lawmakers struggle to reach a consensus on broader legislation, NBC News reported, citing three senators. It is unclear how they would structure the assistance or for how long, and lawmakers have made no final decisions. 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he is "open" to a temporary extension of enhanced unemployment insurance, according to NBC. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., added that "discussions come down to both the duration and at what price point." 

But Democrats, who have pushed to extend the assistance at least into next year, are unlikely to embrace a temporary fix. In a statement, Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, "Republicans have had months to propose a plan for extending supercharged unemployment benefits, and they still have nothing to offer." He pushed to tie an ongoing unemployment insurance boost to economic conditions, which a bill he introduced with Schumer earlier this year would do.

Democrats also want to approve new relief for states and municipalities, along with rent and mortgage assistance. GOP leaders have indicated they instead want to give state and local governments more flexibility in how they spend existing federal aid dollars, and have not mentioned the possibility of more housing relief in recent days. 

While both parties back another round of direct payments to individuals, it is unclear if Congress will send money as widely as it did when it approved checks of up to $1,200 in March. 

The GOP has also insisted on liability protections for businesses, doctors and universities, which McConnell has described as a red line in negotiations. 

He also said the Republican proposal would include $105 billion to help reopen schools in the fall.

CORRECTION: A photo caption in this story has been updated to show that Chuck Schumer is Senate Minority Leader.

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