Republicans are weighing a short-term extension for federal unemployment benefits, which would avoid a lapse in ramped-up payments for over 30 million Americans

  • A $600 weekly boost to unemployment benefits is set to expire at the end of July.
  • GOP leaders are in discussion with the White House over whether to extend it for the short term or whether to lower the payments. They're rolling out an opening bid for the next coronavirus rescue package soon
  • Democrats want the unemployment boost to continue for another six months. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Republicans are in talks over whether to extend a payment boost to unemployment benefits for the short term, rather than allow the expiration of a federal lifeline for millions of Americans at the end of the month.

Senate Republicans and the White House are meeting Wednesday evening to talk about the next stimulus. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, confirmed that what to do about the unemployment benefits was among the issues under discussion.

It's not clear where the White House stands on the idea of a short-term unemployment extension. President Donald Trump didn't shut down the idea during his news conference Wednesday but White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Capitol Hill that the administration preferred addressing unemployment payments in "a longer-term manner." 

"Having some short extension of UI, or unemployment insurance benefits, just to allow for a longer negotiation is certainly not worthy of consideration," Meadows said late Wednesday on Capitol Hill. "Especially since we're not even in negotiations."

Congress boosted unemployment benefits by $600 a week as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act. A House stimulus bill from Democrats would extend the unemployment boost for six months, but Republicans are worried that would keep people out of work for too long.

The package has allowed 30 million Americans to make up for lost wages through a federal supplement to state unemployment payouts.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming — who is part of GOP leadership — confirmed to Business Insider that lawmakers are discussing whether to extend the unemployment benefits for a shorter amount of time and "at a lower number." 

Read more: Top Republicans share details about the next coronavirus rescue package, including more checks for people, loans for small businesses, and $105 billion to reopen schools

According to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, two-thirds of people who are getting the payment boost are making more than they were when they were working. 

"The $600 was too much," Barrasso said. "It paid too many people bonuses to stay home. You want to help people who, for no fault of their own, were put out of work because of the coronavirus." 

Sen. Rob Portman, who has proposed giving people bonuses to return to work, said that he thought the Senate should pass a full stimulus package by next week. He suggested, however, that if lawmakers couldn't agree then then should consider a standalone bill on unemployment benefits. 

"If we can't get it done we have to deal with unemployment insurance," he said. "We don't want to have a cliff. " 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been drafting the next stimulus rescue package with the White House. It wasn't expected to include a boost to unemployment benefits, but Democrats have said they won't vote in favor of a bill that doesn't help people who have become unemployed due to the coronavirus. 

Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who had blasted the unemployment payment boost back in March, signalled he was open to including them in the next stimulus. 

"I'd be willing to make an extension but I'd like to change the model," he said. 

Read more: The $600 weekly coronavirus unemployment boost is about to end. 3 analysts share predictions for how Congress will replace it, including a special bonus for going back to work.

Other Republicans expressed a willingness to support the measure. "It is definitely something we should consider," Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota told Business Insider, though adding that the focus should continue being returning to work.

But Democrats immediately pushed back on the short-term measure, dampening its chances of passage. Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he instead supports tethering beefed-up unemployment benefits to state unemployment rates. 

"We're working for our proposal," Wyden told reporters. And Rep. Don Beyer, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, criticized it as well.

"As Republican politicians argue with each other, families across the country are waiting to find out if they will be able to afford groceries," he said in a tweet. "There's a better way."

This story has been updated with a response from the Trump administration.

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