Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Getty/Tom Brenner)

McConnell won't renew bigger unemployment checks, because they "make it more lucrative not to work"

As unemployment skyrockets, McConnell says he won't consider a new round of coronavirus relief for a "month or so"



Igor Derysh
May 26, 2020 10:38PM (UTC)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday said that he would not take up the next round of coronavirus relief for a "month or so."

"Many of you are asking, 'What next?' I think there's likely to be another bill. It will not be the $3 trillion bill the House passed the other day, but there's still a likelihood that more will be needed," McConnell said during an event in Louisville. "In the next month or so, we'll be talking about possibly another bill."

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The remark was met with swift criticism from Democrats.

"The first of the month is less than a week away," Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nevada, who sits on the House Education and Labor Committee, said. "Americans don't have a 'month or so.'"

Though McConnell floated negotiations for June, The Hill reported that some Senate Republicans believed a bill would "more likely" be considered in August.

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The House earlier this month passed a $3 trillion bill that would, among other things, provide $1 trillion in aid to local and state governments and fund another round of $1,200 direct payments to the public. That bill was pared down from a $4 trillion proposal, according to Politico.

Rather than take up the bill, the Senate went on recess last week. McConnell also said Tuesday that he was planning a proposal that would include significantly less aid than the House bill.

"We may need, as I said, one more plug here at the federal level to help us get through this period, but it will be very carefully crafted. It won't be [a] $3 trillion left-wing wish list," he said. "We're not going to be doing a $3 trillion bill. That won't happen . . . That isn't going to happen."

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McConnell also vowed not to renew the $600 federal unemployment boost allocated by Congress in the last round of coronavirus relief, arguing that they "make it more lucrative not to work than to work."

Amy McGrath, McConnell's leading Democratic challenger, called out McConnell on Twitter for ignoring the needs of his own state with his opposition to the benefits.

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"Nearly a third of Kentucky's workforce is unemployed, but Mitch wants to leave the commonwealth in the dust," she wrote. "Cutting unemployment benefits? Who even does that? An out-of-touch millionaire!"

McConnell, who has argued that states should consider bankruptcy rather than get help from the federal government, said that he no longer supported states seeking bankruptcy and would support targeted aid to local and state governments so long as the money was not spent on "pre-existing" financial problems.

McConnell last month referred to the proposed state aid as "blue state bailouts," adding that he "would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route." The remarks were met with widespread condemnation, including from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., who repeatedly called out Kentucky for taking far more from the federal government than it contributes in taxes.

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McConnell on Tuesday said that he had only made a suggestion — not a recommendation.

Republicans, meanwhile, have pushed for the next relief bill to include tax cuts for the wealthy, Social Security cuts and liability protections from coronavirus lawsuits.

The New York Times editorial board skewered McConnell for delaying negotiations and going on vacation last week "without even pretending to tackle the next round of coronavirus relief."

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"This course of inaction is unsustainable. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, warned this week that the economic damage from the pandemic could stretch through the end of next year," the editorial said. "Over the past nine weeks, new jobless claims have hit nearly 39 million, and the official unemployment rate is expected to approach 20 percent this month. Behind these numbers are real people suffering significant hardship."

The delay has drawn consternation from even members of McConnell's own party.

"I think June doesn't need to come and go without a phase four," Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., told CNN earlier this month.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, both vulnerable senators facing re-election this year, have urged McConnell to act faster as unemployment continues to skyrocket.

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"It's unfathomable that the Senate is set to go on recess without considering any additional #COVID19 assistance for the American people," Gardner said on Twitter. "Anyone who thinks now is the time to go on recess hasn't been listening,"

"Congress has a tremendous responsibility to help mitigate the impact of this crisis on our states and our local communities and on the families they serve," Collins said on the Senate floor last week. "We must not wait. We should act now."


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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