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GOP Senate Trio Threatens to Delay Stimulus Bill Because Unemployment Benefits Amid Pandemic Are Too Generous

"Senate Republicans are just so inhumane they can't imagine policymakers intentionally providing working people with enough money to temporarily live on in the event they're laid off."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks while flanked by Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) during a press conference at the US Capitol March 25, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images)

This is a developing news story... Check back for possible updates...

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, and Ben Sasse on Wednesday threatened to delay the Senate's multi-trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus bill because they believe the legislation's unemployment provisions are too generous.

In a joint statement, the GOP senators claimed there is "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."

As Vox's Matt Yglesias noted on Twitter, "That's not how layoffs work. You can quit your job, but then you're not eligible for [unemployment insurance]. You can't lay yourself off."

The trio of Republicans went on to say that they "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."

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While the full text of the Senate bill is not yet publicly available, reporters said the unemployment provision in question is not an error. The bill would provide an extra $600 a week on top of state-provided unemployment benefits for a period of four months, which progressives celebrated as a historic expansion of unemployment insurance as they criticized the totality of the measure. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the package as "unemployment insurance on steroids."

As Slate's Jordan Weissmann explained, under the stimulus bill "a lot of low-wage workers will end up getting more money through unemployment than they previously were earning on the job"—precisely the scenario that so concerns Graham, Scott, and Sasse.

"Perhaps not coincidentally, $600 a week is what you would earn working 40 hours a week at $15 per hour (pretax)," Weissmann wrote. "And again, that's in addition to normal unemployment insurance. For a lot of restaurant and retail workers who've been furloughed or laid off as a result of the crisis, it's a pretty excellent deal."

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Graham—joined by Sasse, Scott, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.)—said if the unemployment language is not a mistake, "it's the worst idea I've seen in a long time."

"It's not a drafting error," tweeted Dan Riffle, a former policy adviser to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). "Senate Republicans are just so inhumane they can't imagine policymakers intentionally providing working people with enough money to temporarily live on in the event they're laid off."

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