Republicans Are Worried Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Is Too Generous to the Unemployed


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At some point on Wednesday, the Senate is expected to vote on a desperately needed $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. When that will happen is unclear, though, because a number of leading Republicans are demanding changes to the legislation, worried that it provides perverse incentives that could ultimately hurt the country. Do their concerns have to do with huge multinational corporations using the funds on buybacks? Insufficient aid to hospitals or low-wage workers unsure of how they’ll be able to afford food in a week? Not exactly! Rather, Senators Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, Rick Scott, and Tim Scott are sick with fear that the legislation will make unemployment so enticing that low-wage workers will decide to lay themselves off.

Claiming the relief package will encourage people to stay out of the workforce, Graham told reporters that the bill “pays you more not to work than if you were working,” noting that it would provide the equivalent of $24.07 an hour in South Carolina versus the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. “If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables,” Graham, Sasse, and Scott said in a statement. Yes, it takes a real parody of a Republican to worry—at a time when a deadly pandemic is sweeping the nation and doctors are discussing the prospect of having to pick which patients get to live—about the possibility of being too generous to people making 1/1000000th of their annual salary.

Not surprisingly, Bernie Sanders has said he will delay the vote if the legislation is tweaked to reflect Graham et. al.’s concerns, while Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “Let’s not over-complicate this. Several Republican senators are holding up the bipartisan Coronavirus emergency bill because they think the bill is too good for laid off Americans.” Even fellow Republicans have suggested the lawmaker from South Carolina needs to sit down and STFU. “Nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees, in fact it’s just the opposite,” Taylor Foy, a spokesperson for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, said in an email to Bloomberg News. “The goal all along has been, first and foremost, to help businesses make payroll so employers don’t have to lay off employees, and to ensure that there’s a robust unemployment insurance program to help those who have lost their jobs.” Foy also pointed out that Graham apparently has no idea how layoffs work, noting that people who voluntarily leave jobs are not eligible for unemployment insurance and that one cannot simply choose to be laid off.

Meanwhile, the quartet of Republican senators apparently has no problem with the fact that the bill will provide billions to companies that have spent the past several years pouring cash into share buybacks, while saving a huge amount of money thanks to the 2017 corporate tax cut. Per the Washington Post: