Bernie Sanders Threatens to Hold Up Coronavirus Stimulus Relief Package

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) threatened to “put a hold” on a historic $2 trillion relief package aimed to cushion the economic blow from a coronavirus pandemic to force stronger restrictions on the $500 billion intended for distressed businesses.

In a statement, the Democratic Socialist Senator said he is “prepared to put a hold on this bill” to lobby for tighter restrictions on companies receiving aid from a taxpayer pool of $500 billion, unless his Republican colleagues drop their objections.

“Unless these Republican Senators drop their objections,” Sanders said in a statement. “I am prepared to put a hold on this bill until stronger conditions are imposed on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund to make sure that any corporation receiving financial assistance under this legislation does not lay off workers, cut wages or benefits, ship jobs overseas, or pay workers poverty wages.”

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“In my view, it would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive the emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation,” Sanders continued.

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Senate leadership announced the deal on the $2 trillion bill shortly after 1 a.m., and wanted it passed by Wednesday evening. Under the revamped Senate proposal known as the ‘CARES Act’ plan, $500 billion would be given in aid for distressed corporations and would be overseen by an inspector general. This provision was added into the revised deal at the request of the Senate Democrats. It also bars issuing loans to business controlled by President Trump family or other officials and as well prohibiting executives from boosting their pay and stock buybacks. 

Unemployment insurance benefits was increased from three months to four months in the current deal. Workers furloughed by the crisis would receive an extra $600 per week. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that measure ensures workers get about 100 percent of their pay for four months if they’re laid off. 

A trio of Republican senators are taking issue related to unemployment benefits of the revised plan, stating the “massive drafting error” language in the bill would mistakenly pay workers more in unemployment benefits than they’re currently making, by sticking a $600 per week payment on top of ordinary benefits that are calculated as a percentage of income. Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska released a statement Wednesday claiming they would vote against the unanimous consent measure, which could delay the fast-tracking of the relief package.

“A massive drafting error in the current version of the coronavirus relief legislation could have devastating consequences: Unless this bill is fixed, there is strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work,” the joint statement reads. “This isn’t an abstract, philosophical point — it’s an immediate, real-world problem. We must sadly oppose the fast-tracking of this bill until the text is addressed.”

Sanders tweeted shortly after releasing his statement to say to a reporter that “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.”

Graham shot back at Sanders’ latest warning in a series of posts on Twitter. 

“Only in Senator @BernieSanders  world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work,” Graham wrote. “I am all for making peoples salaries whole. However, I am not for increasing people’s salary through the unemployment insurance system.”

Stocks had surged by up to 6% earlier Wednesday afternoon, but abruptly cut back gains after news broke that Sanders threatened to hold up the vote planned for Wednesday evening.

If the senators follow through on their threats, it could stall the effort into the weekend or even early next week.