As the Congressional Budget Office projected Monday morning that U.S. employment likely won't recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, a group of Senate Republicans unveiled a $618 billion coronavirus relief proposal that would only extend emergency jobless aid for three months—an offer that Senate Democrats immediately rejected as cruel and unacceptable.
"The package outlined by 10 Senate Republicans is far too small to provide the relief the American people need," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. "In particular, a three-month extension of jobless benefits is a non-starter."
"Many states still have not gotten benefits out the door after Donald Trump's tantrum in December caused them to lapse, and we're facing another cliff in just six weeks."
—Sen. Ron Wyden
With pandemic unemployment programs set to expire next month without congressional action, Wyden said that "we can't keep jumping from cliff to cliff every few months." At present, around 18 million Americans are receiving some form of unemployment assistance.
"Many states still have not gotten benefits out the door after Donald Trump's tantrum in December caused them to lapse, and we're facing another cliff in just six weeks," said the Oregon Democrat. "Workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own shouldn't be constantly worrying that they are going to lose their income overnight."
Led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the GOP group on Monday released a relief proposal that amounts to less than a third of the size of President Joe Biden's opening offer—a scaled-back figure that was reached by trimming or completely lopping off major sections of Biden's $1.9 trillion plan. For example, the Republican measure does not include any money for state and local aid or housing assistance, and it excludes the $15 federal minimum wage provision that Biden proposed.
Additionally, the Republican plan would provide checks of $1,000—$400 less than the direct payments Biden proposed—and further tighten eligibility requirements for the money. Only individuals earning less than $40,000 a year and married couples earning less than $80,000 a year would receive the full direct payment under the GOP proposal.
The 10 Republican senators are expected to meet with Biden at the White House later Monday afternoon to discuss the $618 billion counteroffer.
In a statement ahead of the meeting, Saru Jayaraman, executive director and co-founder of advocacy group One Fair Wage, urged Biden to stick to his promise of a bold relief package.
"Screwing working people over by cutting them out of the recovery deal wouldn't just be bad policy but bad politics for the hundreds of thousands of workers who supported Biden and the Democrats in their pledges to raise the minimum wage and end the subminimum wage for essential restaurant workers," Jayaraman warned.
Here is the topline breakdown of the $618 billion Senate GOP COVID relief proposal.
The 10 GOP senators, led by @SenatorCollins, meet with Pres. Biden at 5pm today at the White House. pic.twitter.com/CXO2OSMHhZ
— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) February 1, 2021
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Economist Claudia Sahm tweeted Monday that "what infuriates me most about the Republican proposal" is that "cuts back on support for the unemployed."
"Saving money on the backs of the unemployed and their families is inhumane," wrote Sahm.
The Republican senators are offering to extend the current federal unemployment boost of $300 per week through the end of June, whereas Biden's plan calls for a six-month extension with a weekly federal supplement of $400. Progressives have urged (pdf) Biden to go further by restoring the $600-per-week unemployment boost that expired at the end of July.
"With a labor market this shaky and the pandemic raging, now is certainly not the time to take our foot off the gas."
—Lindsay Owens, Groundwork Collaborative
"Best of all would be [to] put essential relief on autopilot and tie it to economic conditions," wrote Sahm, referring to so-called automatic stabilizers. "I know that one is a bigger fight. I will stick with it until it's won. Countless, tragic examples in this crisis that we cannot let Republicans hold relief hostage."
The CBO said Monday that while it expects U.S. economic growth to bounce back substantially within the next few months, the nation's total employment levels are likely to remain below what they were before the coronavirus pandemic for several years. According to the independent budget office, the U.S. unemployment rate will likely remain above the 2019 average of 3.7% for the rest of this decade.
"We have an opportunity to do much better than 'pre-pandemic levels,'" Janelle Jones, chief economist at the Labor Department, tweeted in response to the CBO's projections. "For millions of Americans, that was not good enough. It was a state of economic instability and insecurity. Let's do better."
Pushing back against the argument that the CBO's findings on economic growth suggest a large stimulus package is unnecessary, Lindsay Owens of the Groundwork Collaborative told the Washington Post that "with a labor market this shaky and the pandemic raging, now is certainly not the time to take our foot off the gas."
While the group of 10 Republicans portrayed their $618 billion offer as an attempt to move toward bipartisan "compromise" on the next stimulus package, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted Monday that "we're not compromising on whether Americans get real help or not."
"Cutting help for families, eliminating aid for state and local governments—totally unacceptable," Merkley wrote. "We must pass a serious plan to meet the scale of this crisis—with GOP support if possible, without if necessary."