Bernie Sanders Scolds Republicans Opposed to Unemployment Benefit Boost in Stimulus Bill: 'How Absurd and Wrong is That?'

Bernie Sanders hit out at Republican senators on Wednesday over their opposition to an expansion of unemployment insurance in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package passed last night.

The Vermont senator said his GOP colleagues were "very distressed" about jobless Americans receiving an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits for four months under the bailout bill, and mockingly added that the universe was collapsing.

But he also suggested U.S. lawmakers needed to adopt a less "convoluted" approach to keeping households afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and praised the U.K.'s plans to pay 80 percent of all private sector salaries.

The Senate unanimously passed the $2 trillion emergency relief package last night as millions of Americans were facing financial crisis amid COVID-19 shutdowns and market swings.

Bernie Sanders at Coronavirus Roundtable
Bernie Sanders participates in a coronavirus public health roundtable on March 09, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Americans will receive as much as $1,200 in individual checks while small businesses will be able to access loans from a $350 billion pool.

Americans who need to claim unemployment benefits will also benefit from a $250 billion expansion of jobless insurance providing them with an extra $600 a week over four months.

But as CNN reported on Wednesday, Republican senators have attacked the unemployment insurance expansion, with Sen. Lindsey Graham suggesting it was "incentivizing taking people out of the workforce."

"The bill understands that for all kinds of absurd reasons having to do with Republican attacks on workers for many years, fewer than 50 percent of American workers today are eligible for unemployment benefits," Sen. Sanders said yesterday.

"What this bill does is says, rightly so, that in the midst of this terrible economic crisis... whether or not you are eligible for unemployment today, you're going to get unemployment compensation."

He went on to mock GOP senators opposed to the bill's rules on unemployment benefits. The Vermont Independent said, "Now I find that some of my Republican colleagues are very distressed. They're very upset that somebody who's making $10 to 12 an hour might end up with a pay check for four months. More than they received last week.

"Oh my god, the universe is collapsing. Imagine that. Somebody's making $12 an hour, now like the rest of us faces an unprecedented economic crisis with the $600 on top of their regular unemployment check, might be making a few bucks more for four months.

"Oh my word, will the universe survive? How absurd and wrong is that? What kind of value system is that?"

He later hit out at Republican senators for opposing increases to the minimum wage over several years while supporting cuts to programs.

The senator also went on to praise the U.K's stimulus approach. "The approach that they are taking which makes sense to me is to basically say to employers, if you keep your workers on the job, even if they're not working right now, we will pay in the U.K. case 80 percent of their salary.

"I think that is the direction we should have gone. This is a little more convoluted."

The U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the government's plans to pay up to 80 percent of workers' salaries to a cap of £2,500 a month on Friday last week.

He made the announcement to ensure people kept their jobs as the U.K. locked down bars and restaurants to prevent the spread of COVID-19.