After a deal on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package was finally struck, three Republican senators are slamming on the brakes.
Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Wednesday that they will oppose fast-tracking the emergency bill until a “massive drafting error” pertaining to unemployment benefits is fixed.
The senators say that the legislation as it stands now would create “a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work.”
Senate leaders were hoping to pass the bipartisan stimulus package on Wednesday.
According to Fox News, the current version could pay workers more in unemployment benefits than they’re currently making, and the three Republicans fear it could further disrupt the labor market.
“We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working,” Scott, Graham, and Sasse said in a statement.
“A massive drafting error in the current version of the coronavirus relief legislation could have devastating consequences: Unless this bill is fixed, there is a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work. This isn’t an abstract, philosophical point — it’s an immediate, real-world problem,” the statement continued.
“This isn’t who we are as Americans; this isn’t what we do in a crisis. We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working,” the senators said.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) joined the other three senators at a press conference addressing the issue Wednesday, and added in a tweet that “we shouldn’t have policies in place that disincentivize people from returning to the workforce.”
Once we get this crisis behind us, we shouldn’t have policies in place that disincentivize people from returning to the workforce. https://t.co/ae4AZ5zFB9
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) March 25, 2020
“Unfortunately, there’s a massive drafting problem when where you look at the interaction between some of the different components of the bills, it looks like other parts of this bill would actually incentivize the severing of the employee-employer relationship,” Sasse explained during the press conference.
“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Graham said.
Sasse said that the senators were working with Finance Committee staff to draft an amendment to solve the problem.
Sasse spokesman James Wegmann told Fox News that the amendment will stipulate that “the maximum unemployment benefit is 100 percent of someone’s salary, therefore ensuring they get the benefits they need, and supply chains are kept intact.”
The bill would reportedly pay workers an additional “$600 per week payment on top of ordinary benefits that are calculated as a percentage of income.”
However, a GOP aide pushed back on the senators’ concerns, telling the Hill that “nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees, in fact it’s just the opposite.”
“Each state has a different UI program, so the drafters opted for a temporary across-the-board UI boost of $600 dollars, which can deliver needed aid in a timely manner rather than burning time to create a different administrative regime for each state. This increase is designed to make the average worker whole. It’s also important to remember that nobody who voluntarily leaves an available job is eligible for UI. Staff continue to work with the Department of Labor to ensure that it is administered as intended,” the aide added.
Schumer wrote in a letter to his colleagues that the “extended UI program in this agreement increases the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week and ensures that laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months.”
“It ensures that all workers are protected whether they work for businesses small, medium or large, along with self-employed and workers in the gig economy,” Schumer added.
In a couple of tweets after the press conference, Sen. Graham insisted that the legislation as written does more harm to the workforce than good.
“Only in Senator Bernie Sanders’ world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work,” he tweeted.
This proposal will make it hard for our employers to maintain their workforce, particularly in the area of healthcare, thus, significantly delaying the economic recovery and impairing our health and safety.
Simple Fix: Cap unemployment benefits at full salary before the crisis.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) March 25, 2020
According to the Washington Post, the language was added to the bill “to win Democratic support,” so it’s unclear whether Senate leaders will allow it to be changed.