Just hours after finally being unveiled, the Senate Republicans' intended stimulus package, the HEALS Act, was met with sharp criticism from their Democratic counterparts. Revealed Monday, the package includes a second round of stimulus payments and funding for schools while also cutting the $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit. The proposal has prompted Democrats into stating how the proposal does not meet the current need for relief amid the growing economic crisis.
After the package was revealed, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to officially begin negotiations. Lasting for approximately two hours, the talks were fruitless, with a number of Democrats considering the proposal a non-starter. According to The Hill, Schumer called the plan "pathetic," with Pelosi stating that the package "isn't serious."
Much of the criticism lies in what is not included in the package. While the $1,200 stimulus check matches that as proposed under the Democratic-backed HEROES Act, Democrats feel that the new legislation fails to provide enough money for state and local governments, fails to protect renters from eviction and doesn't invest enough in lower-income communities, which have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. They also take issue with the GOP's unemployment benefits proposal, which would cut the current $600 bonus to just $200, something that would only last through October before a new formula would cap benefits at 70 percent of a person's wages. Schumer said the motion was "fraught with all kinds of problems."
"We are somewhat frustrated. We had hoped there would be a bill, and instead, in the Senate they've put little pieces here and there and everywhere. It's pretty clear they don't have 51 votes in the Senate for a proposal," Schumer told reporters Monday night. "We hope they can get their act together. We very much want to get something done for the needs of the people and the needs of the country."
Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, warned that the HEALS Act could actually prove detrimental to the economy. Wyden explained that "a report from the Economic Policy Institute says that cutting the federal boost from $600 to $200 would cost the economy 3.4 million jobs."
According to some Democrats, who spoke privately, they feel as though they have leverage over Republicans and believe that the next package will have to largely be written on Democratic terms. One Democratic senator who spoke under the condition of anonymity said that Republicans "know this can't get passed and they have a president and a country that needs a bill, so eventually they're going to have to negotiate with Democrats in earnest."