Mitch McConnell and the GOP rage against expanded unemployment benefits as COVID-19 surges

Mitch McConnell and the GOP rage against expanded unemployment benefits as COVID-19 surges
Gage Skidmore

While Senate Republican are happy to double-down on their coronavirus relief small business loan program—the Paycheck Protection Program, which was ostensibly created to help keep people employed—they are scoffing at the idea that the people who haven't been able to keep their jobs or find new ones deserve expanded unemployment benefits. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.)

The extra $600/week payments, which are expiring at the end of this month, are encouraging lazy people to stay home, Republicans—with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell out front—say. It apparently hasn't occurred to them that people don't relish the idea of reentering workplaces that might be teeming with the coronavirus. Or that a lot of business have closed and there aren't jobs available for potentially millions of people. Or that the extra $600 a week is helping people make sure they meeting their rent and mortgages and have some money to spend and are keeping the economy afloat right now. In fact, the Congressional Budget office says: "An extension of the additional benefits would boost the overall demand for goods and services, which would tend to increase output and employment."

McConnell says the expansion is paying the unemployed a "bonus not to go back to work. He also says "we're hearing it all over the country, that it's made it harder actually to get people back to work." Meanwhile, he's doing absolutely nothing to ensure that it's safe for people to reenter the workforce or spend the money necessary to get businesses to the point where they can effectively reopen. He's not even talking about a national mask mandate so that we have a minimum level of protection out there.

He does allow that there are a lot of unemployed people out there and that they still need assistance, just not one penny that they don't "deserve." Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Ron Wyden have introduced a proposal to extend the $600 weekly benefit and tie it to unemployment rates in the states, having it incrementally reduce as states’ unemployment rates are reduced. Once they drop below 6%, the extra payment would be cut off. "If we fail to renew the $600 per week increase in UI, millions of American families will have their legs cut out from underneath them at the worst possible time—in the middle of a pandemic when unemployment is higher than it's been since the Great Depression,” Schumer said in a statement. He said the Democrats' plan would "tie the extension of enhanced UI benefits to economic data—not politics."

That’s the economic and public health data, because unemployment is not going to drop below 6% in any state until the virus is under control in it. "Democrats knew the extra $600 in weekly unemployment assistance was only a temporary salve for struggling Americans," Schumer said on the floor Wednesday. "We had hoped the economy would be able to bounce back and unemployment would quickly go down. Clearly that is not the case today." Wyden added in an emailed statement: “Donald Trump has simply given up on fighting the virus and cases are surging in state after state, with many businesses closing their doors for a second time,” said Ranking Member Wyden. "In the face of exploding outbreaks and unprecedented economic pain, it would be unconscionable to allow supercharged unemployment benefits to expire in a month. Supercharged unemployment benefits need to be extended and tied to economic conditions on the ground. Workers who have been laid off twice in four months should not have to worry about whether they'll be able to pay rent come August."

The end of the coronavirus is simply not in sight in the U.S. In fact, it's getting worse. The nation can afford right now to pay everyone a living income until we come out on the other end—it's possibly the only thing that will save the economy when we come out of it. Not to mention saving lives and making it possible for people to do what they need to do to fight the pandemic: Stay home.


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