Sen. Lindsey Graham threatens to derail coronavirus economic aid bill over boosted unemployment benefits, calling it 'Bernie Sanders on steroids'
- Graham said the $2 trillion stimulus bill was "Bernie Sanders on steroids" in a radio interview with Sean Hannity.
- He was among four GOP senators that blasted the bill for significantly boosting unemployment benefits, terming it a "massive drafting error."
- They said they would oppose quickly approving the bill unless their concerns were addressed.
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Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham assailed the massive $2 trillion economic stimulus bill in a radio interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday afternoon, calling it "Bernie Sanders on steroids."
"This is Bernie Sanders on steroids … This is Bernie Sanders running away," he said on the program, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate. "He could not win at the ballot box, but he's winning in this bill."
The coronavirus rescue package triggered a storm of criticism among four Republican senators, who argue that expanded unemployment benefits in the legislation disincentivizes people from working.
"If this is not a drafting error, then this is the worst idea I've seen," Graham said on Wednesday.
They called it a "massive drafting error" that carried "devastating consequences" for the economy in a joint statement - and said they would oppose fast-tracking the mammoth economic legislation unless their concerns were addressed.
The bill would add $600 per week onto a jobless person's benefits for up to four months. It includes provisions expanding the safety net for gig workers and freelancers, who have taken fierce hits in the economic fallout resulting from the coronavirus.
Most states pay benefits for around 26 weeks, per The New York Times. The legislation, though, sets up a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program that would prolong the benefit window to 39 weeks to include people who usually aren't eligible, like contract workers.
People can also only collect unemployment benefits if they are fired or laid off.
On Wednesday, Sanders said he would not vote for the bill over concerns about a $500 billion fund overseen by the Treasury Department to aid private businesses in dire financial straits - unless the four GOP senators dropped their demands.
That triggered a rebuke from Graham on Twitter: "Only in Senator @BernieSanders world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work," the South Carolina senator said.
In a follow-up tweet, Graham said the federal government should cap unemployment benefits at a worker's full salary.
Sanders fired back.
"I cannot at the last minute allow some right wing senators try to undermine the needs of workers and think they are going to get away with that," Sanders told a New York Times reporter.
The Trump administration defended the provision at a press briefing on Wednesday evening as well. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said many states used antiquated equipment to dispense benefits and lawmakers simply didn't have time to design a customized program given the severity of the crisis.
"This was the only way we could assure that the states could get money out quickly and in a fair way. So we used $600 across the board," Mnuchin said. "I don't think it'll create incentives. Most Americans.... they want to keep their jobs."
Get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.
Only in Senator @BernieSanders world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work.- Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) March 25, 2020
I am all for making peoples salaries whole. However, I am not for increasing people's salary through the unemployment insurance system. https://t.co/Kc3JfB42TX
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