By Adam Shaw
Published March 25, 2020
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Four Republican senators are warning that they will oppose fast-tracking the $2 trillion coronavirus response package unless a “massive drafting error” in the legislation, which they say would create an incentive for employers to lay off employees, is fixed.
"You want to destroy what's left of the economy? Pass it the way it’s written," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a press conference. "If you want to help people, pay them their wages, but don’t pay them more not to work."
The concern from Sens. Graham, Tim Scott, R-S.C., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., is that the current version could pay workers more in unemployment benefits than they're currently making, by sticking a $600 per week payment on top of ordinary benefits that are calculated as a percentage of income. This could disrupt the labor market further, the lawmakers warn.
"A massive drafting error in the current version of the coronavirus relief legislation could have devastating consequences: Unless this bill is fixed, there is a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work. This isn’t an abstract, philosophical point -- it’s an immediate, real-world problem,” Tim Scott, Sasse and Graham said in a statement.
The White House and Senate leaders had come to an agreement on the $2 trillion package that is designed to boost the economy and provide aid to workers and businesses affected by the closing down of much of daily life in response to the coronavirus crisis. Leaders have emphasized the urgency of getting the package passed as quickly as possible in order to get assistance to Americans in need.
But with the legislation nearing approval by the chamber, the Republican critics are warning that the text as written could incentivize layoffs, which they say could in turn lead to “life-threatening shortages” in health care and the food supply chain.
In the press conference, Sen. Tim Scott gave the example of someone in South Carolina making $20 an hour, or $800 a week, who could get up to $326 of unemployment benefits in the state, followed by another $600 a week in the federal benefit, meaning they would be earning more than their normal salary.
"This legislation would not stop at 100 percent of your income, this legislation would allow you in unemployment to make more than you do in employment," Scott said. "We know that that is a drafting error and we are simply providing an amendment to fix that so you do not make more in unemployment than you do when you're working."
"Under this proposal ... under unemployment you’d be making $24.07 an hour in South Carolina," Graham said. "There are a lot of jobs that in South Carolina don't pay $24.07 an hour."
Graham also opened the door to the possibility that this was not a drafting error but said he was "concerned" that it was the explicit intention of Democrats.
"If this is not a drafting error then it's the worst idea I've seen in a long time and that's saying a lot given the fact that we’re in Washington," he said.
The lawmakers instead are working on an amendment to fix the problem by making the unemployment benefit 100 percent of someone's salary. Graham said they would soon know whether or not it was a drafting error by whether or not their amendment is opposed by Democrats in the chamber.
The lawmakers had indicated that they would oppose the fast-tracking of the bill if the error was not fixed.
"We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until this text is addressed, or the Department of Labor issues regulatory guidance that no American would earn more by not working than by working," they said in the statement before the press conference.
Fox News' Caroline McKee contributed to this report.