'This is inhumane': Top Democrats erupt with criticism over the possible inclusion of $600 checks at expense of unemployment insurance in the next stimulus package

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Warner all criticized the apparent trade-off of funding for unemployment insurance to cover the cost of $600 stimulus checks.
  • "The fact that Republicans are forcing Dems to choose between stimulus money OR unemployment benefits, as if we couldn't easily do both, is barbaric," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
  • Many Democrats supported including both $1,200 direct payments and an extension of federal unemployment benefits.
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Several top Democrats on Wednesday assailed the emerging outlines of a $900 billion emergency rescue package that's still being drafted by Congressional leaders in both parties.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fiercely criticized the apparent trade-off to include a round of $600 stimulus checks at the expense of funding for enhanced unemployment insurance, calling it "inhumane."

"The fact that Republicans are forcing Dems to choose between stimulus money OR unemployment benefits, as if we couldn't easily do both, is barbaric," the New York congresswoman tweeted. "Do they know that people in red states are hungry too, or do they just not care?" 

That broadside was echoed by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

 

"The notion that Congress can't give Americans direct checks AND unemployment benefits is a lie. We know that because 10 months ago Congress provided workers with both," he tweeted, referring to passage of the CARES Act. "This is a cruel last-ditch effort by Senate Republicans to scale back real aid for families."

Then Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, part of the bipartisan group that kickstarted relief talks, said he didn't think the step was "progressive at all."

"I don't think there's very much progressive about the idea that if we're going to try to give checks to people — who've had no economic harm — if you're taking it out of the hide of people that, frankly, are unemployed or you're taking it away from food banks, you're taking it away from mental health assistance," he told Yahoo Finance.

The rising criticism on Democratic priorities comes as Congressional leaders are trying to quickly strike a deal on a pandemic aid package and then get both chambers of Congress to approve it by midnight Friday, the new deadline for government funding to expire. They are trying to merge it with a broader federal spending bill to fund agencies into next year.

Negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accelerated on Tuesday — they met twice in Pelosi's office for several hours. They did not set up another meeting on Wednesday.

McConnell told reporters as he departed Capitol Hill: "We're still close, and we're going to get there."

The bipartisan group of centrist senators introduced two separate pieces of legislation on Monday. One contained $748 billion in funding for provisions that most lawmakers support, including $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits for 16 weeks from late December until April 19, 2021.

The other was made up of the liability shield and $160 billion in state and local government funding. The acrimony around those issues forced the senators to split them off into a separate plan.

The Washington Post reported that negotiators had tried to maintain the overall cost of the legislation under $1 trillion to address GOP concerns about excessive federal spending. 

Cutting funding for state and local aid has allowed lawmakers to try and use the extra fiscal space to cover $600 checks for Americans, half the amount distributed in March and April. The first round of $1,200 direct payments cost around $300 billion. Many Democrats supported including the checks in addition to enhanced unemployment insurance.

But The Post reported that unemployment benefits may be reduced by a month from what was unveiled in the bipartisan legislation to cover the cost of the direct payments. It would place the end of federal unemployment benefits sometime in late March, though details remain in flux.

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