The Corner

Fiscal Policy

Congress Is Blowing Its Deadline for COVID Relief

A man who lost his job leaves an Arkansas Workforce Center after filing for unemployment amid the spread of the coronavirus in Fayetteville, Ark., April 6, 2020. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

On Wednesday I had a piece that started this way:

You can give House Democrats credit for one thing: When they realized that another COVID-19 relief bill would be necessary, they got right on it. Their HEROES Act — I won’t bore you with the full name — has been passed and sitting on the shelf for a couple of months now. Senate Republicans, by contrast, just unveiled their HEALS Act proposal this week, as the previous round of unemployment relief approached its end-of-July expiration date.

Thus, we’re in for another one of those confusing bursts of last-minute legislative chaos, in which major provisions change constantly as the House, the Senate, and the White House try to whip up something they can all agree on. More than likely, we’ll find out too late about a bunch of drafting errors and unintended loopholes, but that’s Washington for you.

I was too optimistic. Instead of passing a rush job or even just temporarily extending the status quo while working out the next step, Congress is blowing the deadline. Reports The Hill:

Enhanced unemployment benefits are set to expire as congressional negotiators are deadlocked over a coronavirus relief deal.

The additional $600 a week in unemployment insurance that Congress provided in late March will sunset on Friday at midnight, dealing a significant financial blow to millions of jobless Americans amid a weakening labor market.

Lawmakers had hoped the deadline, which was known for months, would result in the kind of eleventh-hour agreement that was once commonplace in Washington. But in a sign of how far apart negotiators are, the Senate left town for the week on Thursday, ensuring Congress will careen over the looming unemployment cliff.

And while the GOP Senate waited until the last possible second to get moving, the Democrats rejected a lengthy extension of the $600-per-week unemployment boost, per Politico:

[White House chief of staff Mark] Meadows made an offer to extend enhanced unemployment at $600 per week for four months as a stand-alone bill. This is a new offer from the White House, and further than Republicans have gone thus far. It’s an extension of current law — something the GOP has railed against. Pelosi and Schumer rejected the offer, and countered with extending enhanced unemployment insurance at the same rate — $600 per week — through the first quarter of 2021.

Bang-up job, everyone!

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