July 23, 2020 / 12:37 PM / 16 days ago

U.S. Senate Republicans to unveil coronavirus proposal next week, McConnell says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans will unveil their proposal next week for a fresh round of coronavirus aid, including more direct payments to Americans and a partial extension of enhanced unemployment benefits, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to a luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

McConnell spoke after four days of fits and starts in talks between Senate Republicans and the White House on the plan. Officials said earlier Thursday they were jettisoning a payroll tax cut that President Donald Trump wanted.

“The administration has requested additional time to review the fine details, but we will be laying down this proposal early next week,” McConnell told the Senate. “We have an agreement in principle on the shape of this package.”

Republicans have been trying for days to agree on a negotiating position, a preliminary step to hashing out details with Democrats who control the House of Representatives, which in May passed a proposed $3 trillion response plan that the Senate declined to take up.

With $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits that were approved earlier in the pandemic expiring on July 31, at one point Thursday Republicans floated the idea of doing just part of the package now and coming back to the rest later. But Democratic leaders shot down the idea.

“We cannot piecemeal this,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. The House-passed version in May would keep the full amount of enhanced unemployment benefits until the end of the year.

The talks continue as U.S. coronavirus cases passed the 4 million mark, a milestone of a pandemic that has killed more than 143,000 Americans and thrown tens of millions out of work.

The Republican proposal, which will be an opening bid for negotiations with the Democrats, will include additional help for small businesses, $105 billion for schools and legal protections for business that are reopening, McConnell said.

A senior Senate aide said the plan was expected to include direct payments to Americans totaling $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples.

McConnell said there would be some adjustment to the enhanced unemployment benefits so that people are not paid more to stay at home than to work — one of the Republican complaints about the current benefits framework.

“We also intend to continue some temporary federal supplement to unemployment insurance, while fixing the obvious craziness of paying people more to remain out of the workforce,” McConnell said.

He did not explain how the plan would do that. Earlier Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Republicans were looking at replacing 70% of wages.

Senator Mike Rounds told reporters that the $600 weekly supplement, which is paid by the federal government in addition to state benefits, might be reduced to around $200.

Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have spent the better part of the week on Capitol Hill working on the package with McConnell and other Republicans. Mnuchin suggested Thursday morning that if officials can’t get everything done at once, some items should be prioritized, including an extension of unemployment insurance, aid to schools and liability protections for businesses reopening.

Mnuchin told reporters the proposal being worked out by Senate Republicans will include $16 billion in new funding for coronavirus testing, for a total of $25 billion. He also said this might not be the last coronavirus aid package.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; Writing by Susan Cornwell Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

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