WASHINGTON (Nexstar) — Democrats and Republicans agree: Americans need more help to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic. But negotiations to send another round of stimulus checks and extend unemployment insurance are stalled over the issue of liability protections for business.
Republican senators say their next coronavirus relief package will help struggling Americans with stimulus checks. South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said increased unemployment insurance should also be included – although at less than the current $600 per week.
“The Republican plan has $1200 per individual,” Rounds said, referring to the one-time stimulus check. “The simplest way will be to compromise between the Republican position and the Democrat position, bump the amount up a little bit over $200.”
A deadlocked Senate on Thursday left Washington for the weekend without extending a $600-per-week expanded jobless benefit that has helped keep both families and the economy afloat as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the country.
Friday’s expiration of the $600 jobless benefit sent Republicans controlling the Senate scrambling to respond. Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell made a procedural move to make it easier to reach a potential compromise next week that would extend the bonus unemployment benefit while talks on a broader COVID-19 relief measure grind on. But ahead of late-night talks at the Capitol, the outlook dimmed.
“I’m not very optimistic that we will have any kind of an agreement on a comprehensive bill in the near future,” said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. He said he even doubted a deal could be struck next week.
But Democrats have so far rejected a piecemeal approach, saying the next relief bill needs to move as a complete package. Any short-term jobless benefits extension of less than $600 per week is likely to be a nonstarter with them.
The GOP plan also includes liability protections for schools and businesses to protect them from COVID-19 related lawsuits. Right now, that’s one of the issues holding up a vote on the Republican plan.
“There won’t be a bill that passes the Senate that won’t have this in it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Democrats say they will not approve a stimulus package that includes the liability protections Republicans are currently proposing.
“It says all medical malpractice, COVID-related or not, all state medical malpractice is gone until 2024,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D–N.Y.
Schumer said that’s a radical change of law that Democrats cannot accept.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also took issue with the GOP plan.
“This liability provision he put on there is McConnell liability on steroids,” she said. “He has taken it to a whole other place.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.