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Senate GOP Floats $1,000 Checks, Blocks Vote on Democratic Aid Bill

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Republican senators floated a plan Thursday to make $1,000 payments to adults and children with Social Security numbers, regardless of age or dependent status.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., failed to get the full Senate to pass by unanimous consent Democrats’ economic relief bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (Heroes) Act, which passed the House in May.

The Coronavirus Assistance for American Families Act was introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Mitt Romney, R-Utah; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Adult dependents, including those with disabilities or college students, along with U.S. citizens married to foreign nationals, would be eligible for the payments. These groups were excluded from the CARES Act, which paid $1,200 per eligible adult and $500 per child 16 and under.

The senators hope to make this bill a part of the Republicans’ Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) package, a spokesman for Cassidy said.

The current HEALS Act package would include $1,200 direct payment checks. The main difference between Cassidy’s bill and HEALS, the spokesman said, “is we double the dependent amount to treat every American the same.”

The $1,000 payments would include single workers earning $75,000 or less, as well as households with annual incomes of $150,000 and under.

“As Congress continues to negotiate another economic response to the pandemic, we should prioritize direct assistance to those who need it most,” Rubio said in a statement.

No Vote on Heroes Act

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., blocked the Democrats’ UC request. The $3 trillion Heroes Act is “not a serious offer,” Johnson said. Democrats “want to pass a bill by unanimous consent for $3 trillion … we don’t need to authorize more money; we need to help people who are unemployed.”

The Heroes Act “has already passed the House and does a far better job at dealing with the unemployment situation,” Schumer argued on the Senate floor just before the Thursday afternoon vote. The current $600 unemployment benefit ends Friday.

The GOP’s HEALS Act, Schumer argued, “moves backward, is stingy … We have to do something; the Heroes Act is the right thing to do.”

The $3 trillion Heroes Act extends $600 weekly unemployment benefits through January 2021, whereas Republicans’ HEALS Act cuts supplemental unemployment benefits to $200 a week through September, when the payment will be combined with state benefits to replace 70% of wages.

“This [GOP] bill, skinny or stingy, not up to the moment,” Schumer said. “It is amazing that we have such a crisis in America,” and Republicans “cannot face up to the problem.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer indicated Wednesday during a briefing that discussions had stalled.

The “GOP comes with a skinny bill … we’re not accepting that,” Pelosi said. “We have to have a full bill that honors our heroes and puts money in peoples’ pockets and support our state and local governments.”

Unemployment Benefits ‘Likely to Shrink’

Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist for AGF Investments, predicted in his Thursday morning email briefing that unemployment benefits “are likely to shrink — still another body blow for an economy that’s weakening as Covid-19 ravages the Sunbelt.”

Negotiators, Valliere said, “seem utterly incapable of making even minimal progress; perhaps they’ll get a wake-up call from weak economic data.”

GDP contracted an annualized 33% in the second quarter, the biggest fall on record since the 1940s, the Commerce Department announced Thursday. Analysts had expected a 35% drop. The July jobs report — expected to be soft, according to Valliere — will be released Aug. 7.

A “very unlikely” scenario, he continued, is that lawmakers will “work overtime and produce a deal by this weekend” to avert voter backlash.

The “best bet” appears to be that the talks drag “well into August, with Congress delaying its Aug. 7 recess and producing a $1.5 trillion bill that puts unemployment benefits on a downward sliding scale, gives some liability protection, aid to state and local governments, $1,200 checks to individuals, more money for small business, and aid for schools.”

Another possibility that can’t be ruled out, Valliere added, is that “the talks break down, with no deal in August amid growing market concerns.”

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