Mitch McConnell has said the US Senate will be in session next week, as lawmakers and the White House delay summer holidays in a scramble to cut a deal on a further round of economic stimulus.
“We’re certainly going to be in next week,” Mr McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, said on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “We’ll see what happens after that.”
The Senate had been scheduled to break up for a summer recess at the end of this week. However, lawmakers have faced growing calls to stay in Washington to hammer out an agreement on extending economic benefits that ran out at the end of last month.
Congress has already appropriated nearly $3tn in economic relief in response to the coronavirus crisis. But as many states struggle with rising numbers of Covid-19 infections, and benefits introduced in earlier funding packages run out, politicians are under pressure to spend more ahead of November’s US elections.
More than 25m Americans have filed for unemployment insurance since the coronavirus outbreak began. A supplementary $600 a week in jobless benefits was introduced in March as part of the $2tn Cares Act. That extra assistance ran out last week.
Democrats want the $600-a-week extra unemployment assistance to continue through at least the end of the year, but some Republicans have argued too many Americans are now earning more from benefits than they were at work.
Republican senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Martha McSally introduced a measure on Wednesday that would gradually phase out the extra benefits between now and the end of the year.
Under the senators’ proposals, individual states, which administer unemployment insurance, could pay out a flat rate of $400 in additional federal benefits per week, or allocate $500 per week in August, $400 per week in September, and then either a flat $300 per week or an amount equating to 80 per cent of wages for the rest of the year.
Ms Collins and Ms McSally are both facing tough re-election battles this November, in Maine and Arizona, respectively.
The US Chamber of Commerce welcomed the senators’ proposals, saying the bill “strikes a sensible balance of maintaining vital income support during the pandemic while avoiding disincentives for returning to work”.
Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, were expected to meet Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, and Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, later on Wednesday to continue talks. Mr McConnell has so far not directly participated in negotiations.
Mr Mnuchin told reporters on Tuesday that negotiators had agreed to work “around the clock” to “try and reach an overall agreement” by the end of this week, but cautioned: “We’re not at the point of being close to a deal.”
Ms Pelosi told MSNBC on Wednesday she was “confident” the two sides would reach a deal, but did not set a deadline.