U.S. Republicans offer coronavirus aid plan, face bipartisan opposition

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republicans on Monday announced a $1 trillion coronavirus aid package hammered out with the White House, paving the way for negotiations with Democrats on a plan to help Americans as expanded unemployment benefits for millions expire this week.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced what he called a “tailored and targeted” plan focused on getting children back to school, employees back to work and support for a healthcare system grappling with an illness that has killed 150,000 Americans.

McConnell said the plan would include some additional unemployment benefits, but did not say how much, and direct payments to Americans of $1,200 each, as well as incentives for manufacturing personal protective equipment for healthcare workers in the United States, rather than China.

The Washington Post reported that Republicans wanted to reduce the expanded unemployment benefit from the current $600 per week, which expires on Friday, to $200. The supplemental unemployment benefit has been a financial lifeline for laid-off workers and a key support for consumer spending.

McConnell urged Democrats to compromise with Republicans on the plan, called the “HEALS Act.”

“We have one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery,” McConnell said. “The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive, and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads.”

The proposal will include “strong legal liability protection” for corporations, a top priority of Republicans.

Signaling a tough round of negotiations ahead, the plan faced immediate opposition, not just from Democrats, but from some of McConnell’s fellow Republicans.

“The answer to these challenges will not simply be shoveling cash out of Washington. The answer to these challenges will be getting people back to work,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz told reporters at the Capitol. “And as it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns.”

Some Republicans had complained about the high price tag; the federal government has already spent $3.7 trillion to cushion the economic blow from pandemic-forced shutdowns.

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Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the Republican plan was too narrow, and did too little, too slowly to help Americans facing eviction from their homes because the pandemic has made it impossible for them to go to work.

“The Republican plan is weak tea, when our problems need a much stronger brew,” Schumer said in the Senate, shortly after McConnell announced the plan.

Democrats also had warned they would oppose a Republican proposal to protect businesses and schools from certain liability lawsuits as they reopen with the coronavirus pandemic still raging.

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