As Stimulus Support Grows, Lawmakers Eye Proposals like Unemployment Expansion and State Aid

Embarking on a 10-day Memorial Day recess that begins Friday, senators have ample time to ponder what they would like to include in another stimulus package, which Republicans say is likely coming at the end of June.

Though no details of the potential scope, lawmakers continue to pitch ideas about what they feel should be part of the legislation that would come in the summer months as the country is more fully reopened and the economic damage assessed.

Unlike previous coronavirus stimulus bills where lawmakers across the board felt they were direly needed, this one will likely feature a more strenuous political battle with tedious negotiations. The hesitance from Republicans to appropriate more funds while Democrats in the House have already passed a $3 trillion measure has teed up a collision course for Washington's leaders that could exacerbate the challenges that lay ahead with anything lawmakers will try to accomplish.

potential stimulus provisions
Motorcoaches representing companies from across the country drive past the U.S. Capitol building as they do laps around the National Mall to protest the economic impact the novel coronavirus pandemic is having on their business May 13 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Top of mind for members on both sides of the aisle is state aid. Bipartisan and bicameral groups are behind an initiative for $500 billion for state and local governments facing steep budget shortfalls. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) has pitched a plan to simply relax the guidelines on $150 billion in state and local aid already allocated, allowing municipalities to use where it's needed most without the federal government doling out more funds.

Unemployment benefits are also on the list of potential items as the $600 per week federal boost to state benefits will expire at the end of July. The number of jobless Americans rose by another 2.4 million last week, bringing the total to a whopping 38.6 million since the pandemic clamped down on the U.S. economy.

But while Democrats want to extend the increased benefits, Republicans want them slashed and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants them gone entirely. GOP lawmakers are dissatisfied that many receiving the benefits can make more than at their prior jobs.

"A government wage should never exceed a market wage. It was a mistake to make it so high to begin with, and it would be a mistake to extend it," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). "Basically, you're favoring institutionalizing unemployment. If you extended it, it would mean that anybody who earns less than $52,000 a year, approximately, would not go back to work."

House Democrats passed an enormous $3 trillion package last week, topping the historic $2.2 trillion stimulus Congress approved in March. But with the GOP-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump in the White House, the proposal is dead in the water. It included items such as unemployment expansions, a second round of $1,200 checks, state and local aid, hazard pay for essential workers and rent, mortgage and utility relief.

Mainly Democrats have offered up paycheck guarantee plans—with the exception of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)—where the federal government would pay the salaries and benefits of companies' employees. Proponents argue it would spur job growth.

"My goal is to get people out of that unemployment compensation land and back on their jobs where they're getting benefits and health insurance," said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.).

Trump and lawmakers have mentioned infrastructure funding as another potential inclusion.

Proposals that could face some of the greatest pushback are more individual checks and liability protections for companies. For the most part, Republicans oppose the former over costs and effectiveness while Democrats are against the latter due to concerns it could erode workers' rights for a safe working environment.