Eight Republican legislators voted against the U.S. Senate’s stimulus bill designed to provide some American workers with paid sick leave.
The Republican senators—Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, James Inhofe and James Lankford of Oklahoma, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ben Sasse of Indiana, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah—rejected the measure, which the House passed last week.
Still, the bill was approved 90-8 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The sliver of GOP opposition feared that the legislation would put undue financial burdens on small businesses and raise the deficit amid economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think that the paid sick leave is an incentive for businesses to actually let go employees will make unemployment worse,” Paul told Newsweek.
The bill now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.
Republicans have expressed concern that because the proposal would provide workers at companies with less than 500 employees certain benefits—up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave—small and midsized company owners could not afford the cost. The tax credits they would be offered by the federal government would be too little, too late, GOP lawmakers have argued, and boosting unemployment insurance would be the more prudent remedy.
“They may not be around later on,” Paul said, who offered an amendment that sought to, among other things, end the war in Afghanistan and repurpose other spending he deemed wasteful to pay for the legislation. “They’ll either get rid of the workers early on so they don’t have to do the paid leave. The other thing is, you’ve got no income, you’ve got no taxes you’re paying and nothing to claw it back from.”
In addition to the paid leave, the bill would provide free coronavirus testing and increases in unemployment insurance benefits, Medicaid, food stamps and nutrition assistance for kids at home who’d otherwise receive school lunches.
Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) was one of several Republicans with disagreements about the measure but who ultimately backed it because of the urgency that Washington has placed on curtailing what many believe is an impending recession. Like Paul, he would have preferred to lessen the burden on businesses by using unemployment insurance rather than forcing companies to seek tax credits at a later date.
“We need to have something, even if it’s not perfect,” Braun told Newsweek. “I think it’s important for all of us to understand the gravity of the situation we’re in.”
After a meeting on Tuesday with Treasury Sectary Steven Mnuchin, who along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped to craft the bill, Senate GOP leadership bluntly told members on the fence to vote in favor of it.
“My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it anyway, even if they think it has shortcomings,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Kentucky Republican urged senators to not “let perfection be the enemy of something that will help even a subset of workers.”
“There’s no chance in hell we’re gonna make this bill better in the Senate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday.
The paid sick leave bill marked the second such stimulus approved by Congress. The first was an $8.3 billion package approved earlier this month that addressed more of the health care needs, like more funding for treatment and vaccine research, facing hospitals and patients around the country.
The consensus among members of both parties on Capitol Hill is that Congress now needs to turn its attention toward another, much broader stimulus package—and fast. The White House is pushing for a third stimulus package worth upwards of $1 trillion, legislation that will seek to further bolster businesses, prop up the travel industry and cut individual checks for Americans.
That proposal is currently being drafted by Senate Republicans in conjunction with the White House. Several GOP lawmakers suggested Wednesday that something concrete could be released as early as Thursday, at which point they will begin to negotiate with Democrats.