House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that Democrats are willing to agree to a new coronavirus stimulus package that doesn’t include an extension of an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, saying the party’s position is not “$600 or bust.”
In four days, the extra benefits are set to expire for millions of Americans who have been receiving them amid the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats and Republicans are currently divided over how to continue supporting Americans economically affected by the crisis, with no clear path to a deal in sight.
“Look, it’s not $600 or bust. … (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi said the other day, which I thought was a great line: ‘We don’t have red lines, we have values.’ We’re going into these negotiations with values,” Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.”
He continued: “To say that $600 or nothing, no, that’s not where we are. We’re prepared to discuss this. But we’re also not prepared, however, to let down the American people, to let down the states, the cities, the local governments who hire people, who are meeting this pandemic’s crisis, including health personnel.”
Democrats have proposed extending the current $600 federal unemployment enhancement through the end of the year, but Republicans proposed dropping it to a flat rate of $200 for two months, then transitioning to a roughly 70% of prior earnings model when combined with state assistance, a plan Hoyer described as “insufficient.”
“Obviously, to have a draconian $400 cut immediately is going to make it very, very difficult for American families to meet their rent, to pay for food, to pay their living expenses,” he said. “It is insufficient. It will let down the American people, and it will damage the economy.”
But the congressman also conceded that the current $600 federal unemployment enhancement could serve as a disincentive to go back to work, a point Republicans have frequently made, pointing to research, including a Congressional Budget Office estimate that found that five out of six recipients would receive more in unemployment benefits than from returning to work should the $600 benefit be extended through January.
“I think that’s an argument that is – has some validity to it. And we ought to deal with that. And there is a way to deal with that, but not this way, not cold turkey,” Hoyer said.
Later Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cited Hoyer’s comments to CNN while speaking about the Republican proposal during a speech on the Senate floor.
“Even the Democratic House majority leader said just this morning that our perspective, quote, ‘has some validity to it and we ought to deal with that… it’s not $600 or bust,’” he said. “So let’s get past the partisan cheap-shots and have an adult conversation.”
In addition to extending the unemployment benefits, Democrats also include $1 trillion in funds for states and localities in their proposal. The funds are a central focus of Democrats in both chambers, though Republicans did not include any new funds in their offering but did include more flexibility for the use of funds already disbursed in the first aid package.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Tami Luhby contributed to this report.