McConnell COVID-19 aid plan: More checks, fewer unemployment benefits

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McConnell’s $1 trillion COVID-19 plan: More $1,200 checks, fewer unemployment benefits

Morgan Watkins
Louisville Courier Journal
Published 7:23 PM EDT Jul 27, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled the Senate Republicans’ plan Monday for a fresh round of federal coronavirus relief, which would send Americans another set of stimulus checks.

It would also reduce a recent federal boost to unemployment insurance benefits and shield businesses, hospitals and other groups from pandemic-related lawsuits.

“The American people need more help,” McConnell said Monday afternoon. “We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crises facing our country: getting kids back in school, getting workers back to work and winning the health care fight against the virus.”

McConnell spearheaded the development of the $1 trillion proposal, which is called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools, or HEALS, Act. 

The legislation, which he has cautioned is only a starting point since Republicans need congressional Democrats’ support to pass it, would (among other things):

Read more: McConnell’s aid package receives criticisms from Republicans, Dems

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., listens to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 27, 2020, to highlight the new Republican coronavirus aid package. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh, AP

The HEALS Act is McConnell and his GOP colleagues’ follow-up to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, a $2 trillion bill Kentucky’s longtime senator helped shepherd through Congress in March.

The sweeping CARES Act sent $1,200 stimulus checks straight to Americans, among other significant provisions. And McConnell, who’s running for reelection, spent time traveling Kentucky this month to promote the roughly $12 billion in federal funds that flowed into his home state thanks to that legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the HEALS Act on Monday as a “half-hearted, half-baked” proposal. 

He and other congressional Democrats want to keep providing the weekly, $600 boost to unemployment benefits, but McConnell and other conservatives have said it will prevent some people from returning to work because they’re getting more in benefits than they would on the job.

Schumer pushed back against that argument on Monday. “The vast majority of these people don’t have a job to go to,” he said.

Retired Marine Amy McGrath, who is McConnell’s Democratic opponent in the November election, called the HEALS Act “woefully inadequate in almost every way.”

She was especially critical of the liability protection aspect.

“Mitch has made his number one priority changing corporate liability laws to allow big corporations and special interests off the hook if they endanger their workers, while at the same time working to ensure the unemployment insurance that is keeping families afloat right now is as small as possible,” she said in a statement.

Earlier: McConnell, Rand Paul at odds over new coronavirus relief package

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 27, 2020, to highlight the new Republican coronavirus aid package. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh, AP

McGrath, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also have criticized McConnell for waiting too long to pass another relief package.

McConnell has maintained that he waited until July to see how things with the pandemic were going and to give the federal government time to roll out the wide-ranging provisions of the CARES Act before advancing new legislation.

In the meantime, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion relief package in May.

But that plan, known as the HEROES Act, was dead on arrival in the GOP-led Senate, where McConnell controls what bills come up for debate. The majority leader quickly put the Democrats’ plan — which he decried as a “liberal wish list” — on ice.

There has been dissension among Senate Republicans over the past week as they hashed out the details of the HEALS Act. Sen. Rand Paul criticized the plan and its $1 trillion price tag before it was even released, as did U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

It’s going to be tough sell with congressional Democrats, too, albeit for different reasons.

Now that he has unveiled the HEALS Act, McConnell indicated he’s willing to negotiate with the opposing party. But he stressed that Democrats should approach the talks constructively. 

In Kentucky: Beshear orders bars to close, restaurants to reduce capacity

“I know our Democratic colleagues know this crisis is still urgent. I know they know American families need more help,” he said Monday. “So I hope this strong proposal will occasion a real response. Not partisan cheap shots.”

One issue McConnell has indicated he isn’t willing to budge on is liability protection.

“It will not ban coronavirus lawsuits and it won’t give anyone a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who explained that part of the GOP’s plan Monday. “What it will do, though, is put safeguards in place that will prevent opportunistic lawsuits from harming the workers and institutions we are depending on to see us through this crisis.”

Reach reporter Morgan Watkins: 502-582-4502; [email protected]; Twitter: @morganwatkins26. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe.

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