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May 23, 2020, 10:10 a.m. EDT

Congressional Republicans and White House worry that pandemic unemployment benefits are ‘a barrier to getting people back to work’

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By Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to the media after a March meeting on coronavirus economic aid.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Reconsideration of jobless aid is fast becoming the focus of congressional debate over the next virus aid package

Republicans are staking out plans to phase out coronavirus-related unemployment benefits to encourage Americans to go back to work, although it’s not clear when there will be jobs to return to.

“Republicans and the White House are reaching consensus on the need for redesigning the unemployment benefits so they are not a barrier to getting people back to work,” Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters on a conference call.

Getty Images
Kevin Brady of Texas chaired the House Ways and Means Committee until Republicans lost control of the House to Democrats in the November 2018 elections.

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled at the White House to discuss the issues.

The flurry of activity comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ushered a new $3 trillion aid package through the House last week, amid opposition from moderate Democrats. The Senate, under McConnell, says there is no urgency to act, and senators are expected to reconsider more aid only in June.

Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown voiced outrage that McConnell kept the Senate in session for three weeks before Thursday’s recess, requiring legislative staff, Capitol police and cafeteria and custodial workers and others to report for work, contrary to public health guidance, as he and his fellow Republicans pursued their own Senate priorities, notably the confirmation of Trump nominees, and not the needs of American families and communities facing public health and economic crises.

With the nation’s death toll poised to hit 100,000 this weekend and layoffs surpassing 38 million, some lawmakers see a failure by Washington to act as untenable. Yet Congress has moved beyond the political consensus reached at the outset of the crisis and is now splitting along familiar party lines.

The difference in approach and priorities between Democrats and Republicans reflects the partisan split that is defining both parties before the 2020 election.

At least one Republican, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, urged the Senate not to recess unless it considered more aid. “Now is not the time for the Senate to go home,” tweeted Gardner, who is among the most politically endangered GOP senators running for re-election in the fall.

But senators nonetheless left town for a Memorial Day recess slated to last through next week.

Gardner wanted agreement to extend the small business Paycheck Protection Program and pushed for more funds for state and local governments facing layoffs. He told reporters he had called Trump to express his concerns.

As a result, senators were trying to fast-track a proposal to extend the Paycheck Protection Program’s expiration. The proposed fix would double from eight to 16 weeks the window for business owners absorbing losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic to spend their federally backed loans and still qualify to have them forgiven. The program was established in March under an earlier coronavirus response bill.

While the House works remotely, the lights-on Senate has the legislative stage to itself. But the chamber that considers itself the world’s greatest deliberative body spent May debating almost anything but the pandemic. It confirmed several of Trump’s executive and judicial nominees, including John Ratcliffe on Thursday as director of national intelligence.

“You wouldn’t even know there’s a COVID crisis,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York told ABC’s “The View.” “Crazy. It’s just so wrong.”

See: Democrats remain skeptical that Ratcliffe will operate independently as Texas Republican wins confirmation as intelligence chief

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