Senate Republicans unveil ‘HEALS Act’, Democrats say it’s not enough

Daytona Everett

NBC News reports Senate Republicans are moving to cut the expiring $600 weekly federal unemployment bonus to $200 a week in a new coronavirus aid package they released Monday.

The $200 flat benefit would last for about two months as states make the transition to a system that would grant unemployed people 70 percent of the wages they made before they lost their jobs.

“Our Democratic colleagues know this crisis is still urgent. I know they know American families need more help. So I hope this strong proposal will occasion a real response, not partisan cheap shots,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday as he announced some details of the plan.

He said it would include more than $105 billion for schools, liability protections for businesses and other entities that reopen, another round of direct payments for Americans and additional help for businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program.

But if the goal is to pass a bill, the Republican plan appeared to be off to a bad start. It will need the support of at least seven Democrats — and likely more, given that Republican senators expect significant defections.

“I don’t even think it’s going to pass through the senate,” Congressman Raul Ruiz of the 36th District, said in an interview with NBC Palm Springs. “I hear that there’s a lot of conflict even within the Republican caucus in the Senate.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized Republicans for being “content to do almost nothing for three long months” and said they “just ran down the block and tossed an airball.”

“Senate Republicans have presented us with a halfhearted, half-baked legislative proposal,” he said on the floor. “In short, the Republican plan is too little, too late. The Republican plan is weak tea when our problems need a much stronger brew.”

In a stunning moment Monday, McConnell appeared unaware of certain provisions in the proposal, signaling more haggling to come among lawmakers and the White House over what it includes.

When asked on camera by NBC News why money for an FBI headquarters in Washington is in a COVID-19 bill, he looked shocked and said “I’m not sure that it is, is it?” A nearby aide then confirmed to McConnell it was in the proposal.

The bill includes $1.75 billion earmarked for the design and construction of the headquarters facility for the FBI in order to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.” McConnell later said it was a project from the Trump administration and would ask the White House why it needs that provision.

“In regard to that proposal, obviously we had to have an agreement with the administration in order to get started and they’ll have to answer the question on why they insisted on that provision,” McConnell said. “You’ll have to ask them why they insisted that be included.”

The proposal, which comes during an intraparty clash over the next round of relief, is set to be Republicans’ opening salvo in negotiations that have yet to begin with Democrats, who have passed an extension of the $600 payment in the House through January, as part of a $3.4 trillion package.

The Senate GOP plan would also include stimulus payments of up to $1,200 — the same policy as the CARES Act, but one would that allow $500 for dependents 17 years and older, who were previously excluded.

When asked about when Americans could see cash in their pockets, Congressman Ruiz said, “Well, that’s a good question and that’s why for over 60 days now we’ve been really putting a lot of pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell to really take up the Heroes act.”

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