8 Senate Republicans Vote Against Paid Sick Leave for Coronavirus Over Concerns About Costs to Businesses

Eight Republican lawmakers voted against a stimulus bill in the U.S. Senate designed to provide some American workers with paid sick leave.

The Republican senators who rejected the measure—Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, James Inhofe and James Lankford of Oklahoma, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah—have cited fears that the legislation would put undue financial burdens on small businesses amid economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, the bill was approved 90-8 with overwhelming bipartisan support. Since the House passed it last week, the legislation now heads to President Donald Trump, who supports the measure and is expected to sign it into law.

"I think that the paid sick leave is an incentive for businesses to actually let go employees and will make unemployment worse," Paul, who was also concerned it would further raise the deficit, told Newsweek.

Republicans have expressed concern that because the proposal would provide workers at companies with less than 500 employees certain benefits—up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave—small and midsized company owners could not afford the cost.

The tax credits they would be offered by the federal government would be too little, too late, GOP lawmakers have argued, and boosting unemployment insurance would be a more prudent remedy than sick leave. An amendment by Johnson to expand unemployment and scrap the sick leave failed.

"[Businesses are] hearing the promise of a federal reimbursement coming to them, but they don't know when that's coming and they're literally teetering on the edge right now," Lankford said in a floor speech after the vote. "Their struggle is, 'please don't do something that pushes us over the edge.'"

"My fear is we pushed some of those individuals over the edge into unemployment," he added.

Paul also offered an amendment that sought to, among other things, end the war in Afghanistan and repurpose other spending he deemed wasteful to pay for the legislation. It too was defeated.

"[Businesses] may not be around later on," Paul said. "They'll either get rid of the workers early on so they don't have to do the paid leave. The other thing is, you've got no income, you've got no taxes you're paying and nothing to claw it back from."

Rand Paul votes against paid sick leave
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a vote on March 18 in Washington, DC. Getty

In addition to the paid leave, the bill would provide free coronavirus testing and increases in unemployment insurance benefits, Medicaid, food stamps and nutrition assistance for kids at home who'd otherwise receive school lunches.

The group of Republicans weren't the only ones who don't back the bill.

United Food and Commercial Workers, one of the largest labor unions with 1.3 million private and public sector members in the health care, grocery and retail industries, came out against it as well. They've condemned the legislation for not forcing larger corporations with more than 500 employees to provide their workers with the same benefits, a measure that was carved out after Treasury Sectary Steven Mnuchin and House Republicans negotiated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"It is unacceptable that this bill fails to cover 80 percent of the workforce," UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement. "In the middle of a pandemic, such poor policy making is unacceptable and outrageous. Both parties must put people and public health first."

Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) was one of several Republicans with disagreements about the measure but who ultimately backed it because of the urgency that Washington has placed on curtailing what many believe is an impending recession. Like Paul, he would have preferred to lessen the burden on businesses by using unemployment insurance rather than forcing companies to seek tax credits at a later date.

"We need to have something, even if it's not perfect," Braun told Newsweek. "I think it's important for all of us to understand the gravity of the situation we're in."

Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) expressed similar worries but felt they could make any necessary corrections with more legislation that's soon to follow. "The urgency is more important than the objections because in my view, the bill is a good amount of money aimed at the right people," he told Newsweek.

After a meeting on Tuesday with Mnuchin, Senate GOP leadership bluntly told members on the fence to vote in favor of it.

"My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it anyway, even if they think it has shortcomings," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Kentucky Republican urged senators to not "let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers."

"There's no chance in hell we're gonna make this bill better in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday.

The paid sick leave bill marked the second such stimulus approved by Congress. The first was an $8.3 billion package approved earlier this month that addressed more of the health care needs, like more funding for treatment and vaccine research, facing hospitals and patients around the country.

The consensus among members of both parties on Capitol Hill is that Congress now needs to turn its attention toward another, much broader stimulus package—and fast. The White House is pushing for a third stimulus package worth upwards of $1 trillion, legislation that will seek to further bolster businesses, prop up the travel industry and cut individual checks for Americans.

That proposal is currently being drafted by Senate Republicans in conjunction with the White House. Several GOP lawmakers suggested Wednesday that something concrete could be released as early as Thursday, at which point they will begin to negotiate with Democrats.

"I want to repeat again," McConnell said after the passage of the paid sick leave. "The Senate's going to stay in session until we finish Phase Three—the next bill—and send it over to the House... I would recommend Senators stay around close."