Sen. John Barrasso gave a glimpse into a potential second wave of COVID-19 stimulus funds in a pair of Monday TV appearances as Republican leadership in the Senate continues deliberations on a deal ahead of the expiration of expanded federal unemployment benefits this week.
Discussions on the Republicans’ $1 trillion spending plan, which are anticipated to continue into Tuesday and beyond, are likely to hammer out a number of differences between a much-larger $3 trillion spending plan favored by House Democrats.
There’s still a long way to go: The Democratic plan includes measures like expanded unemployment insurance payouts and larger stimulus checks for families, additional aid to states and extra funding for expanded vote by mail capacities, a 15% increase for food stamps and $10 billion in additional grants for the nation’s small businesses.
While the Republican plan is still taking shape, early indications show that the differences between the House and Senate relief packages will be substantial. These include the GOP’s support of controversial measures like a payroll tax cut and measures tying school funding to classrooms reopening, according to The Washington Post, while the White House and the Senate GOP remain at odds over additional funding for COVID-19 testing and aid to states.
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“What we want is to get people back to work, young people back to school, and we are focused on legislation that will do that in a safe and sensible way,” Barrasso said Monday afternoon. “We also need to save lives, and that means in terms of testing, in terms of treatment, in terms of a vaccine.”
Barrasso also said Monday that House Republicans could be pursuing other measures, including a federal bill intended to limit the legal liability for medical professionals, schools and small businesses should an attendee contract COVID-19, which comes as states like Wyoming pursue their own versions of that legislation.
The sheer size of the Democrats’ proposal, Barrasso stated Monday, could present another concern, particularly as he and other members of the Republican conference have stressed a rapid return to normalcy for the nation’s economy.
“This cannot be the economy,” Barrasso said Monday morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “There isn’t enough money in the world to do the types of things Nancy Pelosi is promising from handout heaven. We need to be responsible about this.”
Of particular concern for Republicans is the continuation of $600 payments added to workers’ already occurring unemployment benefits, which Barrasso described Monday as “bonus checks.” Without congressional action, those benefits are set to expire in 10 days, something Barrasso is likely to support as some economists warn the extension of expanded unemployment benefits could slow job growth.
The number of additional unemployment claims in Wyoming has continued to fall in recent weeks as businesses begin to return to some semblance of normalcy, according to figures released last week by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
But Wyoming’s overall unemployment rate still sits at around 7.6 percent as of the end of June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, as parts of the country continue to see surges in case counts unmatched anywhere else in the world, it remains to be seen whether those increases will mean additional problems for businesses as the country faces what some describe as an “unemployment cliff” once those benefits expire July 31.
Barrasso, however, says a situation in which the country continues under lockdown conditions is untenable and is pushing for a plan to increase testing and some relief while seeking as close of a return to normal as possible.
“Right now in Wyoming, when you add $600 on top of our already generous unemployment benefits, many, many people are getting paid a lot more to sit at home than they would get paid to go to work,” Barrasso said. “That is a dramatic, heavy, wet blanket on our economy. We want to get people back to work and kids back to school.”