Republicans split on Americans getting $1K coronavirus checks
WASHINGTON — Republicans are divided on President Trump’s push to send large checks to all Americans as soon as April 6 to keep the coronavirus from crushing the economy — putting the universal payday in doubt.
“I think it makes sense later, not now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters after a meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday afternoon.
GOP leaders have three groups of senators crafting a $1 trillion stimulus package that could pass as early as this weekend. But with Republicans holding just 53 seats, even a small number of defections could block the idea of direct checks.
Democrats and Graham are pushing for increased unemployment benefits as a way of targeting the workers most vulnerable after widespread business closures and layoffs in response to COVID-19.
The idea of cutting $1,000 checks was pitched this week by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). The White House ran with the idea, and the Treasury Department told senators it would like one $250 billion wave of checks in just two weeks on April 6 and a second wave of $250 billion in checks on May 18.
“I’ve had different points of view on the $1000 checks going to everybody, but we do come together on this idea: which is to substantially increase the unemployment insurance amount,” Romney told reporters after a GOP caucus meeting.
Romney said he wants to ensure that temporarily unemployed people earn as nearly as much as they would have if they hadn’t lost their jobs.
“Now, I would also add to that the $1000 payment but however we work this out, we are all talking about ideas to get money into the hands of people who need it,” Romney said.
Sen Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said it’s possible a bill will include both direct checks to all Americans and a boost in unemployment pay.
“Both are in discussion right now,” Rounds said. “In my opinion, I think there’s a strong possibility for both.”
Dropping the idea of checks would embarrass Trump. And Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told The Post he might vote against the bill if checks were not included.
“I don’t know where my colleagues are on particular things, I just know the White House has asked for it and I think that’s the right approach and I’d have a hard time supporting it if it’s not in there,” Hawley said.
Republican leaders want to pass the $1 trillion stimulus quickly. The bill would be the third massive piece of legislation responding to the crisis. This month, a bipartisan $8.3 billion initial response sailed through the House and Senate, followed by a second larger package that was brokered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The second package passed the Senate Wednesday, expanding worker sick leave and financing state governments and food assistance programs, among other measures.
Democrats are unhappy at being cut out of the drafting phase for the stimulus. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that unemployment pay should be prioritized and if there are direct checks, $1,000 would not be enough and the amounts would have to be “bigger, more frequent and more targeted.”
Republicans are wary of unemployment expansion in part because they fear businesses would have an incentive to lay off workers as markets crash and local governments order closures.
“What you don’t want to do is create perverse incentives for people to lose their jobs and you could inadvertently do exactly that,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
Rounds of South Dakota said Republicans are considering how to incentivize businesses not dumping their workforce onto the dole.
A GOP measure under consideration “allows small businesses to basically have access to capital, to continue to pay individuals, and if they honor their commitment to keep people employed, then it will be forgiven at a later date,” Rounds said.
Though details aren’t agreed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) channeled confidence.
“We are working along and hoping to be together shortly,” McConnell told reporters after meeting with Republican colleagues. “We’ll let you know.”
The number of confirmed US cases passed 7,000 on Wednesday. New York has the highest number of confirmed cases with nearly 2,400.
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