LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Senate Republicans are still working on their latest coronavirus relief bill. But key programs are ending. An eviction ban ends today, and the last batch of $600 checks goes out this weekend. The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, made it clear the GOP bill will continue some aid but he doesn't want to see any more $600 payments.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: We also intend to continue some temporary federal supplement to unemployment insurance while fixing the obvious craziness of paying people more to remain out of the workforce.
FADEL: Democrats want to extend the current benefits through January. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us to bring us up to date on a program millions of Americans are relying on. Good morning, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
FADEL: So why don't Republicans want to extend this?
DAVIS: Well, they say it's a disincentive and that it's keeping workers from going back into the workforce. What the White House and Senate Republicans seem to be coalescing around is a proposal that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlined that would cap at 70% of your prepandemic wages an enhanced unemployment benefit, although they're calling this, in their words, wage replacement.
FADEL: So clearly this will lapse at least temporarily, right?
DAVIS: Yeah, it seems that way. Senate Republicans were supposed to introduce their proposal last week, and they were hoping to move fast on it. But the party's been pretty divided over what to do over this unemployment program and its stalled progress. And McConnell said Friday back in Kentucky that he now doesn't expect a deal until at least another few weeks, which if he's accurate there, it means for certain these benefits are going to be expired for some time, although I do want to note that it is possible - if they're included in eventual legislation - they could also be retroactive.
FADEL: So tell us about what the Republicans plan to include in their bill to help unemployed Americans?
DAVIS: Right. It's not just about these benefits. It's a piece of a larger package that they're negotiating, and not all of it is as controversial. Things that are likely to be included in it is another round of those direct payments to Americans and their families. There's going to be more money for schools, especially to try to get kids back into the classroom this fall, more money for testing and another round of aid to small businesses through a popular loan program that was approved earlier this year. One of the big rifts that we're seeing is how big they think it should go. Democrats have already passed a bill. It is worth about $3 trillion. And it just goes a lot further than many Republicans are willing to. It includes things like aid to renters to make sure that they don't lose their housing, more money for people to get food stamps. And they say it's all the more necessary right now because the virus is surging, and it's not better, which is what Congress has hoped it would be when they last passed a bill about two months ago.
FADEL: So Democrats clearly see this as a political misstep by Republicans. How much of one could it actually be?
DAVIS: You know, it really could be one. You look at the political environment right now. And neither the president nor congressional Republicans are doing well politically. The Senate is in play. The president's down in the polls. They need a win right now. They need positive things to campaign on. And fighting this has opened them up to all kinds of new political attacks from Democrats. That includes allegations of racial insensitivity like this one from Democratic Congressman Danny Davis, who's Black.
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DANNY DAVIS: I'm not going to mince words. A Republican failure to continue the $600-a-week federal unemployment supplement would represent a racially discriminatory action, period.
DAVIS: Davis's argument is basically that the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black people and other people of color, not just in terms of the health implications but also the economic ones.
FADEL: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, thanks.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.