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Congressional Republicans and White House worry that pandemic unemployment benefits are ‘a barrier to getting people back to work’

Republicans and the White House are reaching consensus on the need for redesigning the unemployment benefits so they are not a barrier to getting people back to work,” Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters on a conference call.

Kevin Brady of Texas chaired the House Ways and Means Committee until Republicans lost control of the House to Democrats in the November 2018 elections.

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President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled at the White House to discuss the issues.

The flurry of activity comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ushered a new $3 trillion aid package through the House last week, amid opposition from moderate Democrats. The Senate, under McConnell, says there is no urgency to act, and senators are expected to reconsider more aid only in June.

Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown voiced outrage that McConnell kept the Senate in session for three weeks before Thursday’s recess, requiring legislative staff, Capitol police and cafeteria and custodial workers and others to report for work, contrary to public health guidance, as he and his fellow Republicans pursued their own Senate priorities, notably the confirmation of Trump nominees, and not the ne of American families and communities facing public health and economic crises.

With the nation’s death toll poised to hit 100,000 this weekend and layoffs surpassing 38 million, some lawmakers see a failure by Washington to act as untenable. Yet Congress has moved beyond the political consensus reached at the outset of the crisis and is now splitting along familiar party lines.

The difference in approach and priorities between Democrats and Republicans reflects the partisan split that is defining both parties before the 2020 election.

At least one Republican, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, urged the Senate not to recess unless it considered more aid. “Now is not the time for the Senate to go home,” tweeted Gardner, who is among the most politically endangered GOP senators running for re-election in the fall.

But senators nonetheless left town for a Memorial Day recess slated to last through next week.

Gardner wanted agreement to extend the small business Paycheck Protection Program and pushed for more funds for state and local governments facing layoffs. He told reporters he had called Trump to express his concerns.

As a result, senators were trying to fast-track a proposal to extend the Paycheck Protection Program’s expiration. The proposed fix would double from eight to 16 weeks the window for business owners absorbing losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic to spend their federally backed loans and still qualify to have them forgiven. The program was established in March under an earlier coronavirus response bill.

While the House works remotely, the lights-on Senate has the legislative stage to itself. But the chamber that considers itself the world’s greatest deliberative body spent May debating almost anything but the pandemic. It confirmed several of Trump’s executive and judicial nominees, including John Ratcliffe on Thursday as director of national intelligence.

“You wouldn’t even know there’s a COVID crisis,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York told ABC’s “The View.” “Crazy. It’s just so wrong.”

See:Democrats remain skeptical that Ratcliffe will operate independently as Texas Republican wins confirmation as intelligence chief

McConnell argued that his side of the Capitol led passage of the earlier $2 trillion package. Better to assess how that money is being spent, he said, before approving more. He rejected the new $3 trillion package approved by the Democratic-led House last week as a “liberal wish list,” a phrase that has emerged as a Republican talking point over the past weeks.

On Thursday, McConnell mocked the House for working remotely and voting by proxy while senators in masks show up like other Americans returning to work. The District of Columbia has been under stay-at-home orders, but Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday the numbers are pointing to the start of a gradual reopening process at the end of May.

“The self-described ‘People’s House’ has been suspiciously empty of people,” McConnell said. “Every one of my Senate colleagues should be proud of how we’ve helped our nation win this first battle.”

Pelosi shot back: “We have the Heroes bill,” she said about the House-passed aid measure. “He has the zeroes bill.”

McConnell questioned whether votes the House has recorded remotely are constitutional.

Unemployment insurance, though, was quickly becoming a new priority for Republicans staking out the next aid package.

Brady warned that generous benefits, with a $600 weekly boost during the pandemic approved under the earlier aid bill, would “handcuff” workers and discourage them from returning to work.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said, “It was a mistake to make it so high to begin with. It would be a mistake to extend it.”

Republicans are hopeful that as states reopen, the economy will improve, lessening the need for more federal funds. But if workers refuse to return to work, they worry companies can’t begin to rebound.

Brady has proposed giving workers a one-time $1,200 bonus to get back to work. He said conversations were happening at the highest levels.

But polling shows Americans are concerned about a second wave of the virus as shops and workplaces reopen. A poll by the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found 83% of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional infections, with 54% saying they are very or extremely concerned.

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