- Senate Republicans on Monday announced the $1 trillion HEALS Act, their version of a coronavirus relief bill.
- Among other things, the bill includes cutting unemployment to $200 a week until October, another stimulus check, school and health funding, and protections for businesses.
- The bill does not include any money to state and local governments or any assistance to renters.
- Democrats have opposed many provisions of the bill, setting everyone up for a battle just days before unemployment insurance expires and two weeks before Congress goes on recess.
Senate Republicans Announce HEALS Act
Following months of anticipation, Senate Republicans on Monday officially rolled out their long-awaited coronavirus relief bill proposal, the $1 trillion HEALS Act.
The proposal comes after weeks of infighting between Senate Republicans, as well as the White House, over what to put in the bill. It also comes nearly five months after the first stimulus bill, the CARES Act, was signed into law in March.
While the Democrat-led House passed its own $3 trillion stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, in early May, Senate Republicans wanted to wait to pass more coronavirus relief legislation, arguing that another was not yet needed and that the reopenings would help the economy.
Now, with widespread coronavirus spikes leading to more closures and many Americans hurting, Senate Republicans are down to the wire to pass a new coronavirus relief bill as key parts of the CARES Act are set to expire—and some already have.
Now that Republicans have hashed out a proposal, they still have to negotiate a bill with the Senate Democrats that could viably be passed by the House, and there are already some major differences between the Republican plan and what the Democrats want.
Here’s what you need to know about the major provisions in this proposal, how they measure up to Democrat proposals, what might happen moving forward, and what all of this means for the American people.
Likely the biggest logjam between the two parties is the question of federal unemployment benefits.
Under the first stimulus bill, all Americans who filed for unemployment got an additional $600 each week from the federal government on top of the money they were receiving from state unemployment. That extra $600 kept many people afloat, especially because normal unemployment in most states covers less than half of what a worker would normally make on the job.
The main reason this has become such a hot-button issue is because those federal benefits are set to expire in less than a week. While Democrats want to extend the $600, Republicans have argued that some people are making more off unemployment than they would at their jobs.
Under the current version of the HEALS Act, the federal government would provide a $200 a week for each unemployed worker until October. In that time, states would be required to switch over to the new system where unemployed workers would get 70% of the wages they made before.
If states cannot implement that totally new system by Oct. 5, they can request a waiver to continue the $200 for another two months.
Numerous experts have warned that states are already overwhelmed with unemployment requests and were already having trouble paying out the flat $600. As a result, they would really struggle with a major overhaul of their current system that also requires them to implement a difficult and very specific program.
Democrats have already rejected the idea of changing the state distribution method, but it’s also not their only issue.
While a state program that gives people 70% of the wages they made before they were unemployed would, in many cases, come out to more than $200 a week, the bill, as is, would cap those payments at $500.
Notably, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist in the Treasury Department under Obama who spoke to The Washington Post, that means that workers in some states with low unemployment benefits who earn just $50,000 a year would hit the cap and not get the full 70% of their previous income.
In other words, no matter which way you cut it, the Senate GOP’s proposal would be a massive cut to the unemployment benefits that 30 million people—or nearly one out of every five American workers—are currently receiving.
Evictions, Funds for State & Local Governments, & Other Points of Contention
There are several other major issues between the two parties over what is in the Senate proposal—and even more significantly, what’s not.
Another one of the biggest problems for Democrats is that Republicans have explicitly said that they will not give any new money to state and local governments. Their plan does give those governments more flexibility in using the $150 billion fund approved under the last stimulus package, but it still differs significantly from the Democrats, who have long pushed for more funding.
The HEROES Act allocated $1 trillion alone to state and local governments.
Another notable item not in the plan is an extension on the federal evictions ban. That ban, known as the eviction moratorium, was signed into law under the first coronavirus relief bill and made it illegal for landlords who own buildings and homes with federal mortgages to evict renters.
That ban, which applied to nearly a third of all American renters, expired at midnight on Friday.
Some states and cities have put their own eviction bans in place, but with the eviction ban ending, millions risk losing their homes during a pandemic.
But Republicans have nothing to address that or any other kind of relief for America’s renters. This will likely be a problem for Democrats, who have proposed not only expanding the moratorium beyond the federal level, but also extending it until next March.
Another major element of the Senate’s plan is a five-year liability shield, which would protect businesses, schools, non-profits, medical facilities, and other organizations from being sued by their employees if they contracted coronavirus on the job.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said multiple times that he will not pass a coronavirus relief bill without this provision, but Democrats have also expressed a strong desire to keep the liability provision out of the bill.
Democrats have argued that in addition to prioritizing corporate interests, the protections it would allow businesses to mistreat their workers and put them in dangerous positions—a point they will likely push given the fact that hazard pay for essential workers was also left out of the Republican bill.
Stimulus Checks, School Funding, & Other Points of Agreement
There are also some places where the Republicans and the Democrats agree, at least in principle.
For example, both have said they want another round of the $1,200 stimulus checks. Under the Republican plan, the checks would go out following the same formula as before—meaning the same people who got them the first time would get them again—though notably, it also has more restrictions on the checks being sent to prisoners and dead people.
The Republican bill also changes the eligibility for the extra $500 per each child dependent, so that families with dependents over 17 years old can get the money, unlike last time, which capped the extra payment at kids 16 and under.
The Democrats plan is basically the same, except that under the package passed by the House, dependents would also receive $1,200.
There is also bipartisan support for another round of support for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Under the Republican plan, there would be another wave of PPP that better targets small businesses, which is something Dems also seem on board with too.
Both sides of the aisle also agree that more there needs to be an expansion of funding for schools and health, though they have each proposed different amounts. In terms of schools, The GOP plan includes $105 billion for K-12 and higher education.
While the House bill allocated a similar amount at $100 billion, Senate Democrats have said they want $430 billion for schools.
Regarding healthcare, Republicans have proposed $16 billion for expanding testing and contact tracing and $26 billion for vaccine development and distribution, but it is unclear how much Dems want, especially because the House bill allocated $75 billion for the same areas.
Despite certain bipartisan measures, Republicans and Democrats are clearly set up for a battle.
While rolling out his proposal Monday, McConnell appeared to hit on that note, calling on his Democratic colleagues to “put aside partisan stonewalling,” and “rediscover the sense of urgency that got the CARES Act across the finish line.”
Democrats, for their part, have slammed the Republicans for waiting so long to give them a bill they knew they would have objections too.
While speaking to reporters Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) criticized Republican bill, calling it a “half-hearted, half-baked legislative proposal,” and “too little, too late.”
“The lack of any urgency, understanding, and empathy for people who need help from Senate Republicans has led us to a very precarious moment,” he said, before specifically taking aim at the unemployment proposal.
“The Republican proposal on unemployment benefits, simply put, is unworkable,” he added. “The idea that we need to drastically reduce these benefits because workers will stay home otherwise is greatly exaggerated.”
Pelosi also made similar remarks after a meeting she had yesterday with top White House officials, where both she and Schumer said that there is still a big gap between Democrats and Republicans.
But that’s not the only gap. There are also divisions among the Senate Republicans, many of whom do not want another coronavirus relief package at all.
Already, some major Republicans have said they will vote against the bill, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).
“There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars,” he said Monday.“As it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns.”
Even before the bill was officially rolled out, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) also made a similar prediction on Sunday.
“Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any phase 4 package, that’s just a fact,” he told Fox News.
Clearly, there is a long road ahead, but notably, there is not much time. In addition to unemployment benefits expiring at the end of this week, Congress is also scheduled to take a recess starting Aug. 7. That gives them just two weeks to figure everything out.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (NPR)
Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants
A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.
A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face
After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.
It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.
According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.
The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.
On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”
“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”
Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”
Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.
Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.
He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla
Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.
She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.
Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.
Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.
The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.
Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.
It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.
“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.
DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”
The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.
Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.
The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.
Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vice) (The Boston Globe)
Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration
Top Republicans took the president’s words as a signal not to approve any more funds for COVID relief.
The Pandemic’s End
“The pandemic is over,” declared President Joe Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.
“We still have a problem with COVID,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
“If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example of it,” he added, gesturing around at last week’s Detroit Auto Show, where the interview took place.
The president’s remarks turned many heads among public health experts, who have pointed out that 400 to 500 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day.
“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.
“COVID-19 continues to be the number four cause of death in the country,” he added.
Others argued that the U.S. president does not have the authority to declare a pandemic over. Only the World Health Organization, which first declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in early 2020, holds that power.
“We are not there yet,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the end is in sight.”
To Care or Not to Care: That is the White House’s Question
Biden’s relatively relaxed attitude toward the virus on “60 Minutes” contradicted his administration’s official policy, which aids have been quick to clarify remains the same. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the government’s declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency, which enables it to waive or modify requirements for health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid, remains in effect. That designation, however, will be up for renewal on October 13.
The White House has also been pushing Congress to allocate another $22 billion toward fighting the pandemic, but top Republicans said Monday that Biden’s comment declaring the pandemic over essentially shuts the door on further aid.
“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) in response Monday.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, added, “I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway.”
The Biden administration continues to encourage Americans to get the newly authorized “bivalent” COVID-19 booster shot, which provides protection against both the original strain and the omicron subvariants.
The booster shot could prevent as many as 10,000 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations in the coming months, according to one estimate by Matthew Daley, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody over the age of 12, and those who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have a chronic illness, in particular, get the booster as soon as possible. But while most Americans have been vaccinated at least once, less than half have gotten their first booster shot, according to CDC data.
New York Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday that vaccine mandates for private employers will end in November, though public employees will still be required to have a vaccine. The day prior, Starbucks also lifted some COVID policies, announcing that its workers will no longer get two weeks of sick pay for coronavirus infections starting on October 2.
In its statement, the company described the pandemic as entering the “endemic” phase.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Trump Plays QAnon Music During Conspiracy-Ridden Speech in Ohio
In recent weeks, the former president has made explicit gestures to QAnon on Truth Social.
The One-Finger Salute Becomes Trump’s Latest Rallying Symbol
In one of his clearest endorsements of the conspiracy theory yet, former president Donald Trump played a QAnon theme song during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday.
Trump was there to support Senate candidate JD Vance ahead of November’s midterm elections. As the night’s rally came to a close, the former president delivered an eight-minute monologue while dramatic string music provided ambiance.
Experts identified the song as “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.”
But Trump aids who spoke to The New York Times claimed it was in fact a song called “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer.
“The fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, told the outlet.
When Trump posted a video to Truth Social containing the same music last month, however, music professor David Dominique told Vice the two songs were indistinguishable.
“I have listened to both [‘Mirrors’ and ‘WWG1WGA’] closely several times now,” he said. “And I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording.”
Media Matters also analyzed the songs using the software Audacity and found their audio profiles to be “virtually identical.”
When the song played on Saturday, dozens of people in the audience saluted with one finger extended in the air, a gesture Trump aids told The Times they have never seen at one of the former president’s rallies before.
The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who has a book about QAnon coming out next year, called the salute “curious” in a Twitter thread.
“Some on Twitter are calling it a QAnon salute, with 1 finger for ‘Where we go 1,’ and Trump is playing a pro-Q song as he talks,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen this happen before, though, so if it’s a Q thing it’s new.”
He added the caveat: “The one finger thing might also be for ‘America First.’ The white nationalist groypers, for example, do a one finger salute for that reason.”
Trump Warms to QAnon
QAnon is a conspiracy theory encompassing a wide range of beliefs, but the most common iteration posits that Trump is locked in a secret struggle against a global cabal of Democratic elites and satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.
The Trump administration generally kept its distance from the movement throughout most of his term, then the former president began to signal his sympathy for it as the 2020 election drew closer.
He congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent politician who has expressed belief in QAnon, for winning Georgia’s GOP primary.
When asked about QAnon a few days later, Trump told the press corps, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
One reporter followed up by asking him specifically about the idea that he was serving as a warrior against a satanic cabal of pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”
Late last month, the former president created and shared a flurry of posts on Truth Social that were explicitly related to QAnon.
In one, he reposted the slogan “Where We Go One We Go All,” and in another, he reposted a 2017 message from “Q,” the anonymous persona at the center of the conspiracy theory, criticizing the intelligence community. The string of posts came one day after he demanded to be reinstated as president, and just weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Last week, Trump posted a meme of himself wearing a Q lapel pin with the words “The storm is coming” superimposed over it. In QAnon lore, “the storm” refers to the imminent return of Trump to the White House and subsequent mass arrest of the deep-state cabal.
In May 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a survey of Americans’ belief in specific QAnon-related conspiracies.
Around 15% of respondents, equivalent to nearly 50 million people if extrapolated to the general population, agreed with the statement: “The government, media and financial world in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”