As the odds of a second COVID-19 relief bill dwindles, indignation has mounted.
Congressman Tom O’Halleran issued a statement saying he’s “outraged” by the Republican Senate’s refusal to respond to House Democrat’s passage of a second, $3.4 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill that would extend unemployment benefits, provide help for schools and local government, provide a second $1,200 check for every taxpayer and support other programs to cope with the pandemic.
Senate Republicans did not pass a bill of their own before the House and Senate went on recess to hit the campaign trail.
Reportedly, the Senate leadership is circulating a new version of its $1 trillion counter-offer. The Senate version would trim the enhanced maximum unemployment benefit to $200 from the current $600, according to media reports. The proposal earmarks most of the new money for businesses impacted by the closures and loss of customers. Reportedly, the new version drops the $1,200 payments to individual taxpayers, with little bailout money for schools or local governments.
O’Halleran, in a prepared statement, said “the Senate has now had 78 days to act. Senate leadership has let the clock tick down to the very last minute in the hope of forcing the hand of Congressional leadership on whatever package they put forth, instead of debating and coming to a compromise on the (Democratic passed) Heroes Act. Now families are being kicked off their extended unemployment, are continuing to lose their jobs and healthcare due to no fault of their own, struggling to put food on the table, and are operating under immense and ever-changing, day-to-day stress, wondering if their kids will be forced to attend in-person schooling before it is safe. We are well past politics. We need a deal for American families now.”
O’Halleran is facing a strong challenge from Pinal County rancher Tiffany Shedd, who won a hard-fought primary in the District 1 seat, which includes all of the White Mountains. O’Halleran was one of the few Democrats in the nation who won a congressional seat also won by President Donald Trump. It’s considered one of the swing seats in determining party control the House of Representatives.
Shedd blasted O’Halleran’s criticism of Senate Republicans. “Tom O’Halleran’s statement is exactly what is wrong with Washington politicians. Arizonians are suffering during the pandemic and we deserve better than Tom O’Halleran standing in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and refusing to back away from a bill that liberal members of Congress have described as a ‘Democratic Wish List’ and ‘dead on arrival’ while blaming others.”
She added, “when Senate Democrats rejected Senator McSally’s effort to extend the $600 unemployment benefit, Tom O’Halleran was nowhere to be heard, but now he’s trying to score political points.”
Democrats passed a second, $3.4 trillion package almost three months ago, which included $1 trillion for local government and schools. Days before the enhanced benefits expired, Sen. McSally and others proposed a short term extension of just the jobless benefits, but Democrats rejected the proposal saying Congress should adopt a comprehensive package.
The talks ultimately broke down with the two sides still far apart. Key disagreements included the extension of the full, enhanced unemployment benefit, which Republicans feared would give people an incentive not to return to work. The enhanced benefit boosted the maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Arizona from about $240 per week to about $840 per week, which meant low income workers could make more money on unemployment than by working.
President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders when the House and Senate negotiations broke down. The orders used federal money for disaster relief funding to offer a short-term, $300 per-week extension of the enhanced jobless benefits. He also said businesses for the next several months don’t need to collect the roughly 15% payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare, although businesses and employees will likely still have to pay the amount owed next year, prompting some legal experts to question the legality and impact of the order.
The latest Republican proposal reportedly provides less money and fewer compromises than were included in the measure House Democrat negotiators have already rejected.