Sen. Ron Wyden on Tuesday ripped Republican members of Congress and President Donald Trump for essentially declaring "mission accomplished" in the wake of a single positive jobs report, pointing out that tens of millions of Americans remain unemployed and in dire need of additional financial relief.
"To be clear, this is not 'mission accomplished.' The unemployment rate is still higher than it's been since the Great Depression," the Oregon Democrat said during a conference call with progressive activists and workers. "The jobs report last week told us that nearly 21 million Americans are currently unemployed. That number is even higher if you count workers who are temporarily out of work or who have dropped out of the labor force altogether."
Wyden warned that failing to quickly pass an additional coronavirus stimulus package that extends boosted unemployment benefits beyond July 31 would create "unnecessary financial pain" for millions of people.
"Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Even if millions of Americans go back to work, if millions of Americans lose their supercharged benefits and are abruptly unable to pay their bills, the economy will not rebound."
—Sen. Ron Wyden
"Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas," said Wyden, one of the architects of the enhanced unemployment program in the CARES Act. "Even if millions of Americans go back to work, if millions of Americans lose their supercharged benefits and are abruptly unable to pay their bills, the economy will not rebound.... Congress cannot abandon families in the midst of this ongoing economic crisis."
The jobs report released last Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that the unemployment rate declined slightly between April and May—even after accounting for a significant "misclassification error" that was made during the agency's data-collection process.
Republican members of Congress didn't hesitate to tout the report—which put the U.S. unemployment rate at around 16%—as an argument against passing another major coronavirus stimulus package, despite warnings from economists that refusing to approve additional relief could send the economy into another downward spiral.
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The Hill reported Wednesday that "bolstered by last week's unexpectedly positive jobs report, Senate Republicans are signaling they will not pass another bill before late July."
"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated to GOP colleagues during a closed-door policy lunch on Tuesday that he does not anticipate the chamber will take up another coronavirus relief package before leaving for a two-week July 4 recess," according to The Hill.
McConnell and Trump have both expressed opposition to extending the additional $600-per-week increase in unemployment benefits past July 31 in the next relief bill, if there is one. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia echoed that position in a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, pointing to the BLS jobs report.
"The recovery in the job market has actually happened more quickly than Congress expected in late March," said Scalia.
Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, replied that stripping unemployed Americans of the additional unemployment insurance could force people to return to workplaces that remain unsafe due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"No one ought to be forced to choose between their health and their income," said Wyden. "If you're OK with taking away a lifeline to send people back to unsafe jobs in the middle of a pandemic, I think that's wrong and I think it’s inhumane."