Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Republicans were unveiling their long-awaited opening gambit for the next round of coronavirus aid, as Democrats remained wary.
“Just like in March with the CARES Act, Senate Republicans have authored another bold framework to help our nation,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor.
McConnell provided few details, though, saying the senators who wrote component of the package — dealing with reopening schools, direct checks to individuals, extending aid for small businesses, boosting testing and vaccine efforts and shifting some supply chains back to the U.S. as well as setting a higher legal liability bar on coronavirus lawsuits — will introduce them today. He called the package of proposals the HEALS Act, saying it dealt with health care, economic assistance, education, liability and schools.
McConnell’s announcement came after Senate Republicans had trouble uniting behind a plan last week, and representatives of the White House were at the Capitol over the weekend to meet with leadership staff.
But Republicans appeared to have settled the most divisive issue, how to extend the federal add-on to state jobless benefits. Through last week, jobless workers qualified for a $600-a-week federal add-on, which Democrats are proposing to extend at the same level through early next year.
According to a Senate GOP aide, the Republican plan would cut the add-on to $200 per week for two months before switching over to a system where the payment would equal 70% of the worker’s old wages. States, many of which have antiquated benefit processing systems, would get a waiver for up to two more months if they could not meet the initial deadline, according to the aide.
McConnell said Democrats should work with Republicans on the package.
“I know our Democratic colleagues know this crisis is still urgent. I know they know American families need more help,” he said.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans had wasted time after House Democrats had put forward their bill in May.
“In short, the Republican plan is too little, too late,” Schumer said.
“It also appears the Republican proposal will not be an actual coherent bill, but rather a series of small, piecemeal ideas,” he said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said she does not want to deal with issues individually but rather on a comprehensive basis.