U.S. Republicans race to finish coronavirus aid plan as jobless benefits set to expire
By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder
WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans on Monday were racing to complete details of a $1 trillion coronavirus aid package hammered out with the White House that they hoped to unveil later in the day as unemployment benefits that have kept millions of Americans afloat are set to expire this week.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Sunday that the plan just needed a few clarifications before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could unveil it on Monday afternoon.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top elected U.S. Democrat, blasted Republicans for preparing a far more narrow bill than one her chamber passed in mid-May.
"Children are hungry, families cannot pay the rent, unemployment is expiring and the Republicans want to pause again and go piecemeal," Pelosi said.
She added that immediately after unveiling their legislation, Republican leaders should come to her office "to negotiate and get the job done."
The Republican plan would temporarily reduce a $600 weekly additional unemployment benefit paid by the federal government to $200, the Washington Post reported. Reuters has not yet confirmed that report. The newspaper said the weekly benefit would eventually be replaced by a plan for states to calculate a benefit that would provide 70% of workers' wages before they lost their jobs.
Democrats have warned they would oppose a Republican proposal to protect businesses and schools from certain liability lawsuits as they reopen with the coronavirus pandemic still raging.
Meadows and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said their agreement in principle with Senate Republicans would include an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits that aims to replace 70% of laid off workers' lost wages.
But a senior Senate Republican aide said work on the proposal was still underway.
On Friday, the extra $600 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits is due to expire, severing a financial lifeline for laid-off workers and a key support for consumer spending.
But the extra funds - in some cases exceeding a workers' former wages - were a sticking point for many Republicans that delayed progress.
Some Republicans had complained about the high price tag; the federal government has already spent $3.7 trillion to cushion the economic blow from pandemic-forced shutdowns.
Mnuchin and Meadows earlier on Sunday floated the idea of a piecemeal approach to coronavirus aid, first addressing unemployment and demands by businesses and schools to be shielded from coronavirus-related lawsuits, while tackling other issues later.
"We are going to be prepared, on Monday, to provide unemployment insurance extension that would be 70% of wages," Meadows said on ABC's "This Week" program on Sunday.
Democrats decried the Republican delay as U.S. coronavirus cases passed the 4 million mark, a milestone for a pandemic that has killed more than 146,000 people in the United States and thrown tens of millions out of work.
Pelosi has said that House Democrats would pursue the $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill that they passed in May, which would extend the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits through the end of 2020.
Republicans have said their plan will include another round of direct payments of $1,200 for individuals.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNN it also would extend a federal moratorium on housing evictions contained in previous relief legislation.
Senate aides said the Republican plan also has more help for small businesses, $105 billion for schools, $16 billion for coronavirus testing, and legal protections for business that are reopening.
EXPLAINER-What's at stake in the battle over U.S. unemployment benefits in Congress?
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Lawder; Editing by Peter Cooney, Gerry Doyle and Jonathan Oatis)