“We want it for everybody,” Trump said of the sick leave provisions. The Senate is working to “enhance it and make it better and make it fair for everybody, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also went to Capitol Hill to discuss the package with senators.
“We’re here to update the Senate on the existing legislation,” Mnuchin told reporters. “More importantly, we have a lot of work to do here and we’re going to start working with the Senate on new bills as well.”
The House-passed legislation includes enhanced jobless benefits, increased food aid for children, senior citizens and food banks, and higher funding for Medicaid benefits, as well as a temporary mandate for companies with fewer than 500 workers to give employees paid sick and family leave.
Congressional leaders worked through snags over some language in the bill and objections raised by a few Republicans. It wasn’t clear whether the president had consulted with Republican leaders in Congress before suggesting that they should make changes.
As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell entered the Capitol earlier in the day, he said the chamber would take up the bill “as quickly as we can get consent,” suggesting a push to get Republicans on board for a vote this week.
Weak and Unacceptable
Although Trump had publicly backed the legislation and urged Congress to quickly pass it, the exemptions in the sick leave provision have drawn criticism from some Republicans, as well as labor groups.
GOP Senator Mike Braun of Indiana said he joins Ron Johnson of Wisconsin in thinking unemployment benefits would be a better way to administer paying for the sick leave than through a business tax credit. He also suggested offering the leave incrementally and reassessing every few weeks.
”A few days is not going to hurt to get a better version” of the House relief legislation, said Braun.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said on Fox News Monday that the House-passed bill “doesn’t go far enough and it doesn’t go fast enough,” adding that he’s spoken to a lot of other senators who agree.
On the other end of the political spectrum, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union blasted the bill as “weak” and “unacceptable” because it would exempt big corporations who employ about 80% of the workforce.
The legislation was already held up in the House Monday by delays in some technical corrections to the bill, which was written hastily Friday and passed after midnight following three days of negotiations between Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The fix is designed to help get more support from pro-business Republicans.
Senator Dick Durbin, a member of Democratic leadership said the foot-dragging was delaying the impact the legislation could have and unnecessarily risking exposure of lawmakers to the coronavirus in the Capitol, where several staff members have tested positive.
”We have members of the Senate going in and out of quarantine!” Durbin said Monday on the Senate floor. “We should do our work and do it quickly.”
“You have to ask yourselves, are we being respectful of ourselves, our family or staff, are we being respectful of our responsibility as setting a model for the rest of America?” Durbin asked.
Earlier Monday, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert threatened to object to changes in the House bill, saying the legislation wasn’t released with enough time for lawmakers to study the text. Gohmert could stop the House from approving the technical changes this week because the chamber needs unanimous support to pass legislation when lawmakers aren’t in Washington, and House members left town Saturday.
It’s unclear when the Senate will vote on the virus bill. It would take the permission of all 100 senators to move to the virus bill early in the week without going through a more lengthy procedure.
Mnuchin said Sunday that the administration is trying to allay concerns about the legislation, which is aimed at blunting some of the economic impact for workers and families as the coronavirus outbreak spreads in the U.S. In addition to being on Capitol Hill Monday, Senate Republicans invited Mnuchin to speak at their Tuesday lunch, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“We are hearing feedback that certain small businesses are concerned about the burden of this. We were very focused, we need to get the money to people quickly,” Mnuchin said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “We don’t want them to have to deal with big bureaucracy.”
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, an ally of the president, criticized the paid sick leave provision in a statement Saturday and pushed for an alternative approach that would have states alter unemployment insurance programs to pay workers staying home because of the virus.
The measure is expected to eventually clear both chambers in some form. Congressional leaders in both parties also are in the early stages of weighing other legislation aimed at boosting the broader economy and helping airlines and other industries.
On Monday morning, the House was almost entirely empty and Gohmert was one of the few lawmakers in the chamber, talking with an aide. His mere presence signaled that he would object if anyone tried to bring up the fix.
The Texas Republican spoke for half an hour with an aide, then left briefly and walked to the office of Senate Majority Whip John Thune for what he thought was a meeting. He left after being told the No. 2 GOP leader wasn’t there.
Gohmert said the bill that passed Saturday had a “major problem screwing over both workers and small business owners. It didn’t set out how the workers were going to be compensated.”of
(Updates with Braun comment in 10th paragraph)
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