House Majority Leader: Democrats Flexible on $600 Unemployment Benefits

July 28, 2020 Updated: July 28, 2020

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Democrats are not insisting on renewing the $600-per-week unemployment benefits but said the Republican proposal on Monday doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s not $600 or bust,” he told CNN. “Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi said the other day, which I thought was a great line: ‘We don’t have red lines, we have values. And we’re going into these negotiations with values.'”

The GOP measure includes a $200 weekly federal boost, which is a third of the additional payment included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which passed with bipartisan support in March.

Hoyer said Democrats are opposed to the $200 per week figure.

He added in the interview: “To say that $600 or nothing, no, that’s not where we are. We’re prepared to discuss this. But we’re also not prepared, however, to let down the American people, to let down the states, the cities, the local governments who hire people, who are meeting this pandemic’s crisis, including health personnel.”

Democrats, in their HEROES Act that was passed in May, proposed extending the measure until January 2021.

A “$400 cut immediately is going to make it very, very difficult for American families to meet their rent, to pay for food, to pay their living expenses,” Hoyer said. “It is insufficient. It will let down the American people, and it will damage the economy.”

Hoyer, however, conceded that the $600 weekly unemployment benefit could be a disincentive for people to return to work in the midst of the pandemic.

“I think that’s an argument that is … has some validity to it. And we ought to deal with that. And there is a way to deal with that, but not this way, not cold turkey,” Hoyer said.

But cutting it to $200 is problematic, he added.

face masks
Customers wear protective masks as they order food outside a restaurant in New York City, on July 21, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

“There is a way to deal with that. But not this way, not cold turkey. Not: Here you have it, now you don’t,” the majority leader said. “The American people were relying on that.”

The expanded federal benefits are slated to end at the end of July.

“The reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. The payments, however, provided some laid-off workers with higher incomes then they had received when they were working, leading some Republicans and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to say they would abandon the program.

Democrats also want to see additional funds send to city and state governments, while Republicans have included no new funds to states. Both parties appear to have no problems sending $1,200 stimulus payments to Americans.

Of the unemployment benefit proposal, Senate Republicans said they are merely introducing the plan as a starting point for negotiations with Democrats.