WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans pushing to lower unemployment pay in a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill admitted Wednesday night that they aren’t likely to succeed, clearing the way for the deal to pass the Senate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) admitted to a group of reporters that he didn’t think his amendment to lower unemployment pay would pass. A defeat for his amendment would clear the way for a late-night vote on the larger bill, he said.
Hours earlier, Graham and three other Republicans mutinitied against a $600 per week boost in unemployment, saying it could incentivize people not to work by making their pay greater than 100 percent of what they previously earned.
The push to change the deal threatened a delicate bipartisan arrangement. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic presidential candidate, threatened to block the bill using a procedural “hold” if they prevailed.
“The point we’re trying to make is to identify the problem now because it’s only going to get worse, and create some pressure to fix it,” Graham said, admitting the effort was more about messaging than changing the bill.
Graham’s amendment would cap unemployment insurance payments at 100 percent of the worker’s prior wage. It’s supported by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Rick Scott (R-Fla) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb).
“In this bill a lot of people are going to get a substantial pay raise. If you make $15 an hour in South Carolina, and a lot of people do, this bill would pay $23 not to work,” Graham said.
But the concerns were dismissed at a White House press conference Wednesday night by President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Mnuchin said Republican critics misunderstood the reason for the change — which Democrats led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pushed to give furloughed workers 100 percent of their pay for four months.
“Let me just explain the issue,” Mnuchin said at the press conference.
“Most of these state systems have technology that’s 30 years old or older. So if we had the ability to customize this with much more specifics, we would have. This was the only way we could assure that the states could get money out quickly in a fair way. So we use $600 across the board. And I don’t think it’ll create incentives. Most Americans, what they want is they want to keep their jobs.”
Mnuchin said he still hoped for a Senate vote on the deal Wednesday night.
Trump, expressing his interest in a “great signing” ceremony, encouraged people to see the overpayment as a positive.
“The one good thing when you think about that, people would actually get more money,” Trump said. “But we don’t want to give a disincentive.”
The massive stimulus bill also includes checks of $1,200 for every adult earning up to $75,000, with pay phased out for earners up to $99,000. For each child, taxpayers would get $500 from the bill.