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Congress deadlocked as extra $600 a week jobless benefit expires

Democrats rejected a GOP measure to lower the payment to $200

Photo (c) LPETTET - Getty Images
Republicans and Democrats in Congress remain at odds over another round of coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus as the extra unemployment benefit expires at midnight.

The two parties are mostly in agreement on the major bullet points of a new aid package, but the additional unemployment benefit most out-of-work Americans have been receiving since April has emerged as the major sticking point.

The CARES Act, the original stimulus package, paid most unemployed people an extra $600 a week, above and beyond what their state paid them. That provision expires today.

Democrats support extending the bonus payments through January, arguing that the generous payments have kept the economic collapse caused by the pandemic from being even worse. Republicans argue that many benefit recipients are getting more money than when they were working and have no incentive to look for a job.

Standoff in the Senate

A measure offered by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) would have extended the extra unemployment benefit but would have reduced it to $200 a week. Democrats rejected the proposal and instead offered the $3 trillion stimulus the Democratically-controlled House approved in May. That measure failed, and the standoff - and the finger-pointing -- began.

Late Thursday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tweeted: “Tonight, once again, the White House offered a temporary extension of needed unemployment assistance—which expires tomorrow. And again, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said no.”

“Our friends on the other side now are scrambling,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Grim economic data

The news this week lends urgency to lawmakers finding some common ground. The Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy shrank by a record 32.9 percent in the second quarter. At the same time, the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits in the previous week was well over 1 million once again.

The standoff over unemployment benefits isn’t the only area where Democrats and Republicans are at odds. Democrats have pushed for state and local governments to get direct payments from the U.S. government to help meet the extra expense of dealing with the pandemic. Republicans have resisted those efforts.

Republicans have drafted language shielding businesses from liability lawsuits by customers and employees who get sick. Democrats have also rejected that.

What the two sides do appear to agree on is another round of direct payments to Americans to help stimulate the economy. Both sides have voiced general support for another round of $1,200 payments to every American adult that was part of the CARES Act.

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