Senator Lindsey Graham led a group of Republican Senators warning that they would oppose a swift passage of the economic rescue package unless changes are made to its unemployment benefits section.
That prompted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to say he too would hold up the bill over his objections to the aid to U.S. businesses.
“Unless Republican Senators drop their objections to the coronavirus legislation, I am prepared to put a hold on this bill until stronger conditions are imposed on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund,” Senator Sanders tweeted.
Graham’s last-minute objections to the deal agreed to by the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Democrat leader Chuck Schumer sent shudders through financial markets. Stocks lost about half their gains for the day as it became apparent that the deal was not as sure to pass as it had seemed.
Graham said in a statement issued with Senator Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican, and Senator Ben Sasse, the Nebraska Republican, that there was a “massive drafting error” in the economic stimulus bill.
“Unless this bill is fixed, there is a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work,” the senators said. “We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working.”
In ordinary circumstances, unemployment benefits are designed to pay workers less than they would earn by working, creating an incentive to seek and accept work. The economic rescue package under consideration by Senate provides for bolstered benefits that could, in some circumstances, pay some workers more than they had earned while employed.
“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Graham said during a press conference Wednesday. “If this is not a drafting error, then this is the worst idea that I’ve seen in a long time.”
Proponents of the more generous benefits say that in the current situation, where many businesses have been closed by anti-pandemic efforts and workers are being urged to stay home, this objection is meritless. When people are told not to work for the sake of public health, disincentivizing work is not a serious problem.
Senator Rick Scott, the Florida Republican, joined the other three senators at a press conference on the issue Wednesday.
“Once we get this crisis behind us, we shouldn’t have policies in place that disincentivize people from returning to the workforce, ” the Florida Senator tweeted.
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 25, 2020
Graham’s comments suggest he did not understand that millions of American workers are being shut out of their workplaces by government policy, minimizing the cost created by alleged incentives not to work. What’s more, workers who voluntarily quit their jobs do not receive unemployment benefits.
Sanders’ responded by raising his own objections to the bill. It’s likely that if Graham and his fellow Republicans open up parts of the bill to renegotiation, Democrats will also demand changes.
Unless Republican Senators drop their objections to the coronavirus legislation, I am prepared to put a hold on this bill until stronger conditions are imposed on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund. pic.twitter.com/7X0o9C4BoO
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 25, 2020
That could result in delays to the rescue package that could make the economic damage from the pandemic much more severe.