WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday dissolved into partisan bickering over a sweeping economic stabilization package, clashing over dueling proposals but failing to reach an agreement to prevent the expiration on Friday of jobless aid that tens of millions of Americans have depended on for months.
Senate Republicans, on largely party lines, ultimately forced the chamber to begin moving forward with a continuation of the unemployment benefits at a much lower rate, but it was mainly a tactic to compel Democrats, who support maintaining the payments at $600 per week, to go on the record opposing an extension. There was no agreement on a way forward.
The bitter impasse over any form of coronavirus relief persisted despite news that the United States economy wiped away nearly five years of growth in the second quarter of 2020, with the tally of new claims for state unemployment benefits exceeding one million for the 19th consecutive week. With several programs that have staved off a wave of evictions, foreclosures and layoffs either expired or set to end in days, economists warn that a lapse could wreak further havoc on an already shuddering economy.
“I’m not very optimistic that we will have any kind of an agreement on a comprehensive bill in the near future,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said before a meeting Thursday evening on Capitol Hill with top Democratic leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “I’m not even optimistic about next week.”
Mr. Meadows indicated that he and Mr. Mnuchin, the lead negotiators for the White House, would continue to press Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, to agree to a narrow measure that would continue the unemployment benefits and revive an expired federal moratorium on evictions. But Democrats have rejected the idea, saying that would sap momentum for other critically needed aid.
Some Republicans have also panned the prospect of leaving other provisions for later.
“There’s certain aspects that I think have to be in there,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, before ticking off a number of provisions, such as school funding, assistance for small businesses and money for testing. “This is what happens when you start going through the bill; there’s so many priorities that simply have to receive funding in order for us to help minimize the impact of the virus.”
But many Republicans are wary of any additional spending to stabilize the economy, saying the nearly $3 trillion in cumulative relief measures enacted in quick succession in the spring had swollen the deficit.
Faced with significant pressure to prevent the expiration of the unemployment insurance benefit, Republicans worked feverishly to coalesce around a stopgap bill that could extend it, though most proposals unveiled this week would slash the aid and present overwhelmed state systems with a difficult switch that experts say is likely to disadvantage lower-wage workers.
One such proposal, which Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Braun of Indiana tried to push across the Senate floor on Thursday, would have continued the extra jobless aid payments through the end of the year, but slashed the payments to $200 a week from $600 or allow the benefit to replace two-thirds of a worker’s prior income.
Mr. Meadows said President Trump would support a flat, one-week extension of the $600 benefit in order to buy lawmakers time to negotiate a longer agreement. But Democrats rejected an attempt by Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, to win approval of such an extension, with Mr. Schumer dismissing the effort as “a stunt” on the Senate floor.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 27, 2020
Should I refinance my mortgage?
- It could be a good idea, because mortgage rates have never been lower. Refinancing requests have pushed mortgage applications to some of the highest levels since 2008, so be prepared to get in line. But defaults are also up, so if you’re thinking about buying a home, be aware that some lenders have tightened their standards.
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
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Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
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“This is disappointing and a political stunt and a game,” Ms. McSally, who is badly trailing her Democratic opponent in Arizona’s Senate race, shot back. “It’s the minority leader who is against this on his path to try to become the majority leader, and that’s unfortunate.”
Mr. Schumer, his flip phone ringing in his pocket, spent a portion of his day on the Senate floor, swatting last-ditch attempts by Republicans to push through short extensions of the jobless aid and to try to pin the blame on Democrats for blocking them. He responded with a futile and politically loaded tactic of his own: an attempt to win approval of the $3 trillion stimulus package House Democrats passed in May. Republicans blocked that as well, with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, deriding it as “a totally unserious proposal.”
“The House speaker moves the goal posts while the Democratic leader hides the football,” said Mr. McConnell, accusing Democrats of blocking discussions among rank-and-file lawmakers. “They won’t engage when the administration tries to discuss our comprehensive plan. They won’t engage when the administration floats a narrower proposal. They basically won’t engage, period.”
Comparing negotiations with Republicans to “trying to nail Jell-O to the wall,” Mr. Schumer noted that Mr. McConnell, whose conference remained divided over another relief package, was notably absent from the daily negotiations with administration officials in Ms. Pelosi’s Capitol Hill suite. The time crunch, he said, came because Republicans had “dithered for months” and still had yet to reach agreement on the $1 trillion proposal they had put forward on Monday.
“Get in the room and negotiate a real deal,” Mr. Schumer said. “And stop doing stunts that simply are political, get-it-off-my-back, that you know cannot pass.”
Luke Broadwater and Aishvarya Kavi contributed reporting.
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