Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

GOP Relief Bill Sets The Stage For A Showdown With Democrats


So here's how the top Senate Republican is describing his party's latest plan to help Americans.


MITCH MCCONNELL: So we have one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery. The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive, and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads.

GREENE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party's new proposal for coronavirus relief adds up to about $1 trillion and includes more direct payments to families, legal protections for businesses, money for schools and much more. Claudia Grisales covers Congress for us in NPR, and she's with us this morning. Hi, Claudia.


GREENE: I want to start with one benefit that so many people in the country have been watching so closely. Many who are out of work have been getting this extra $600 every week from the federal government that's expiring at the end of this week. What does this Republican proposal do with that looming expiration?

GRISALES: Well, they want to lower that amount dramatically. They want to see that supplemental payment fall to $200 a week under the plan and stay at that level through September. Then starting in October, they would install an amount that would replace 70% of lost wages. They would do this through a formula created from states who would implement this. But our understanding is that this would be very difficult to execute, a lot of work to get this done.

GREENE: This comes from the argument from some Republicans that they feel like these $600 payments have been a disincentive for some people to actually returned to work because they've been making more money.

GRISALES: Right, exactly. That's been the concern. So they want to bring that down because they feel that some workers aren't going back because of the $600 weekly payment.

GREENE: OK. Take me through what else is in this GOP plan.

GRISALES: So other items in the plan include new legal protections for businesses impacted by the pandemic, and there's more direct payments of $1,200 to Americans. There's also money for schools, more than $100 billion there. And the administration also had some say in this proposal.

There was a surprise provision in there to fund a new headquarter building for the FBI. They appropriated this at about $1.75 billion. But even McConnell reacted with some surprise when he was asked about this during a press conference yesterday, and later he and other Republicans seem less than enthused about the idea. So it's very possible we won't see this go very far in the bill.

GREENE: How different is this bill from the one the Democrats passed in the House back in May?

GRISALES: Very different. At least $2 trillion different because the Senate proposal clocks in at about $1 trillion, and the Democrats plan is at about $3 trillion. And they say their asks have grown since they passed this proposal in the House more than two months ago. They're focused on continuing these extra unemployment payments at their current level of $600 a week. And then there's a lot more funding for schools and state and local governments in the Democrats' proposal.

GREENE: And what's been the initial response from Democrats to this new plan from the Republicans?

GRISALES: They are very unhappy. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer was on the Senate floor yesterday talking about this. Let's take a listen.


CHUCK SCHUMER: In short, the Republican plan is too little, too late. The Republican plan is weak tea when our problems need a much stronger brew.

GRISALES: Schumer and Pelosi said the two parties remain far apart. And Pelosi said she was against a separate bill only extending some of these extra unemployment benefits.

GREENE: Which is - which leaves a lot of people who are out of work wondering what's going to happen with this expiration. I want to ask you, Claudia, before I let you go, some other news. Attorney General Bill Barr testifying before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee today. I'm sure Democrats have a lot of questions.

GRISALES: A lot of questions, indeed. This is the first time that he appears before this committee and a lot of past issues here. Last time the AG was supposed to testify in front of this panel, it was a no-show situation, and the chairman, Jerry Nadler, was very unhappy with that, so today is kind of a do-over. Democrats say Barr's acted to protect the president and shown preferential treatment for his associates like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, and they question his independence.

Democrats have also said they want a congressional investigation into the use of federal law enforcement agents and the use of force against protesters in cities like Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore., so expect those questions to be directed at Barr today. And lastly, this hearing takes place less than 100 days before the next election. Barr has claimed without evidence that a foreign country could counterfeit mail-in ballots, and that will likely be a focus for Democrats. But in the meantime, you can expect these Republicans to deliver a full-throated defense of Barr and his actions.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks so much, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.