Sen. Ron Wyden excoriated his Republican colleagues in a floor speech Thursday as they prepared to skip town for the weekend without finalizing a plan to extend the $600-per-week boost in unemployment benefits set to expire in just two days, leaving 30 million Americans without a key financial lifeline.
"Here's the message that I think the folks who are walking on an economic tightrope this weekend need to hear: On this side of the aisle, we've been ready to go for weeks, essentially months," Wyden said, referring to Senate Democrats. "As of this afternoon, with benefits expiring in two days, the other side of the aisle has no piece of legislation on offer."
"They write lots of bills to help multinational corporations, lots of bills to help the powerful and the special interests," said the Oregon Democrat. "But as of this afternoon, there is not a bill to help those folks who this weekend are going to be saying, 'We're not going to be able to make rent in a few days, we're not going to be able to feed our families, not going to be able to pay for the car insurance.'"
Wyden, one of the architects of the $600-per-week unemployment insurance boost, introduced legislation with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on July 1 to extend the enhanced payments until a state's average unemployment rate falls below 11% over a period of three months. The benefit would then be reduced by $100 for every percentage point the unemployment rate falls until it dips below 6%.
Instead of negotiating with Senate Democrats over the unemployment benefits in the weeks before expiration of the $600 weekly payments, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "actively gave short shrift to the needs of the unemployed," said Wyden.
As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, McConnell laughed off the possibility of passing coronavirus relief legislation by the end of next week. The last unemployment check with the $600 boost is set to go out on Saturday in 49 states and Sunday in New York.
"The pain that working families have this weekend didn't have to happen," the Oregon Democrat said. "The lapse that is being forced on this country right now is because Senate Republicans would not step up... The lapse is going to lead to evictions, it's going to lead to hunger, it's going to lead to desperation for millions of Americans."
Senate Republicans are about to leave town for the weekend and 30 million Americans are just days away from losing… https://t.co/oHzennWn4E— Ron Wyden (@Ron Wyden)1595536935.0
Senate Republicans were expected to release their coronavirus stimulus package Thursday but were forced to delay the bill until Monday amid intraparty disagreements over key issues, including what to do about the enhanced unemployment benefits.
"Mnuchin and President Trump have said publicly that they want to have the new payments replace roughly '70 percent' of a worker's prior income," the Washington Post reported Friday. "Republican lawmakers have discussed extending the flat payment at about $200-per-week instead of $600 to give the states time to adjust to the new formula and system as part of this plan."
Josh Bivens, research director at the Economic Policy Institute, estimated in a blog post Friday that "reducing the enhanced unemployment payments would strip away enough aggregate demand from the economy to slow growth in gross domestic product (GDP) by 3.7% over the next year."
"This slower growth would result in 5.1 million fewer jobs created over the next year," Bivens warned. "The big constraint on economic growth right now is the spread of the coronavirus. If we allow the $600 supplement to lapse, another huge constraint on growth will be imposed—collapsing incomes for the tens of millions of U.S. families that had to rely on these benefits in recent months."