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The $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid Bill Is In Jeopardy As A Group Of Republican Senators Fight To Cap Unemployment Payments

Sen. Bernie Sanders also said that he would launch his own campaign to hold up the bill unless the Republicans back down.

Posted on March 25, 2020, at 4:42 p.m. ET

Alex Edelman / Getty Images

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks while flanked by Sens. Tim Scott (left), Ben Sasse, and Rick Scott during a press conference at the US Capitol on March 25.

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A group of Republican senators is threatening to stall the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill over unemployment insurance benefits, causing Sen. Bernie Sanders to announce he will launch a counter-crusade against corporate aid.

Congressional leaders reached a deal on a massive coronavirus aid package early Wednesday morning that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in funding to businesses, plus monthly payments to all US residents of up to $1,200.

The final language is still being drafted, but progress could be derailed over unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. The bill would pay $600 per week to unemployed workers, on top of what they would receive at the state level. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, and Ben Sasse argued that this could add up to more than many regular salaries, causing people to quit their jobs.

“You’re literally incentivizing taking people out of the workforce,” said Graham. “If this is not a drafting error then it’s the worst idea I’ve seen in a long time.”

The group does not yet have the numbers to stop the aid bill from passing, but party leaders are hoping for an overwhelming — if not unanimous — vote in support of the bill to pressure the House of Representatives to pass it quickly and without further amendments. There is also the threat of the group winning over President Trump, who could veto the legislation. Trump adviser and Fox personality Sean Hannity also blasted the UI provisions on his radio show Wednesday, calling it a “socialist fantasy” that would “destroy the economy.”

Graham’s proposal was to cap UI benefits at a person’s normal salary, up to $600 per week. But his group got swift pushback from its own party. Finance Committee chair Chuck Grassley said the bill already contains incentives for businesses to keep employees on the payroll, and nobody who leaves a job voluntarily is eligible to receive UI. He rejected the caps as unfeasible, given the urgency of passing the bill.

“Each state has a different UI program, so the drafters opted for a temporary across-the-board UI boost of $600, which can deliver needed aid in a timely manner rather than burning time to create a different administrative regime for each state,” said Grassley spokesperson George Hartmann.

Sanders, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, jumped into the fray Wednesday afternoon by threatening to hold up the bill over corporate aid unless the Republican group left the unemployment provisions alone. Sanders tweeted that he would demand any corporation that receives government aid be required “not to lay off workers, cut wages or benefits, ship jobs overseas, or pay workers poverty wages.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.