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Senate Republicans Unveil Stimulus Proposal. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • 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.

Unemployment Benefits

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.

What Now?

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)

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House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination

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  • The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
  • Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
  • The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.

House Approves Equality Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places. 

The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers. 

Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.

But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.

A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.

Support and Opposition

Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.

“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”

However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.

Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.

Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.

Shift in Public Opinion

Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.

“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”

Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.

A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Former Aide Accuses New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of Sexual Harassment

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  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was accused of sexual harassment by his former aide Lindsey Boylan in an essay she published on Medium Wednesday.
  • Boylan claimed she was subjected to inappropriate remarks and behavior from the governor for years, including an instance in 2018 where he allegedly kissed her without her consent after a meeting.
  • Boylan said Cuomo created an administration, “where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
  • Cuomo denied the allegations, but Boylan’s essay comes as numerous current and former top officials have recently accused the governor of engaging in intimidation and creating a hostile work environment.

Lindsey Boylan Details Allegations Against Cuomo

A former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) published an essay Wednesday accusing him of sexual harassment, expanding on allegations she made in December. The aide, Lindsey Boylan, first made the accusations in a Twitter thread about women being harassed in the workplace.

“Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years,” she wrote. “Many saw it, and watched.” 

At the time, Boylan did not provide any more details to the media, and Cuomo denied the allegations.

“I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has,” he said at a press conference after the accusations surfaced. “But it’s just not true.”

In her essay, published on Medium, Boylan accused Cuomo of subjecting her to several years of deeply uncomfortable situations, including an instance after a meeting in 2018 when he kissed her on the lips without her consent.

She claimed that Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs” and that over the years, “His inappropriate gestures became more frequent.”

These alleged actions also included one time in October 2017, where she said he sat across from her on a jet and said “Let’s play strip poker.” Boylan outlined a number of other inappropriate actions and comments she claimed the governor made. She even embedded screenshots from emails and text messages that she said supported her story. However, she said her fears got worse after the kiss in 2018, and that she “came to work nauseous every day” until she eventually resigned in September of that year.

Notably, Boyland additionally stated that Cuomo’s “pervasive harassment” extended to other women as well, and that he would make “unflattering comments about the weight of female colleagues” and “ridiculed” them about their romantic relationships.

This kind of behavior, she said, was part of the culture Cuomo created in his administration, “where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”

He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences,” she said, stating that after she first tweeted the accusation in December, two other women reached out to her but were too afraid to speak.

One allegedly told Boylan she lived in fear of what would happen if she rejected Cuomo’s advances, and the other said he had instructed her to warn people who upset him that they risk losing their jobs.

Cuomo’s Response

Cuomo’s press secretary Caitlin Girouard responded to the allegations in a statement Wednesday by reiterating the governor’s past remarks.

“As we said before, Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false,” she told reporters.

Girouard also disputed Boylan’s story about the jet ride, sharing a statement from four current and former administration officials who were on one or more of the four flights in October 2017 that Boylan had taken with Cuomo.

“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” the four officials said.

Other Allegations

Boylan is by no means alone in some of her specific accusations. Cuomo’s last few weeks have been mired in scandal after a top aide revealed his administration had withheld nursing home data on COVID-related deaths. In the aftermath of the revelations and Cuomo’s handling of it, numerous top officials have accused the governor of intimidation, bullying, and fostering a toxic workplace.

Many of those accusations surfaced after New York Assemblyman Ron Kim (D), who has been an outspoken critic of Cuomo, claimed that the governor threatened to “destroy” him on a call last week.

Cuomo said Kim was lying about the conversation, but shortly after, many current and former aides and other insiders gave The New York Times similar accounts of aggressive behavior and intimidation.

Also on Wednesday, Karen Hinton, another ex-Cuomo staffer, published an op-ed in the New York Daily News that echoed many of Boylan’s claims about a toxic work environment for women.

That claim also appeared to be supported up by three people who worked in the governor’s office at the same time as Boylan. They told The Times it was true that Cuomo would make inappropriate remarks and comment on people’s appearances. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)

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Former Capitol Security Officials Blame Intelligence Failures for Insurrection

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  • During the Senate’s first hearing into security failures that lead to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, top officials provided new insights but shirked responsibility.
  • Many blamed the FBI for not gathering more information or properly communicating what they did know, arguing that the breakdown was a result of the intelligence community not taking domestic extremism seriously.
  • Police leaders noted that a bulletin from an FBI field office warning of a “war” at the Capitol, issued a day before the insurrection, was not properly flagged or delivered.
  • However, others noted that the Capitol Police had in fact issued an internal alert three days before warning of similar threats.

Security Officials Shirk Responsibility

Former top officials responsible for security at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection testified before the Senate for the first time Tuesday.

While the testimonies represented the most detailed accounts of the security failures leading up to and during attacks, they also raised questions about how those failures came out.

The top officials did acknowledge some of their own mistakes and admitted they were unprepared for such an event. Still, they largely deflected responsibility for the breakdown in communication and instead blamed intelligence officials, their subordinates, and even each other at times.

All of the officials testified that the FBI and the intelligence community had failed to detect information about the intentions of the pro-Trump insurrectionists and properly relay what they did know before the attack.

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee depicted the collapse in communication as a broader failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to take domestic extremism as seriously as foreign threats.

Specifically, both officials mentioned this in the context of a bulletin issued a day before the insurrection by the FBI’s office in Norfolk, Virginia. That bulletin warned of a “war” at the Capitol on Jan.  6.

In his testimony, Sund — who resigned the day after the insurrection — disclosed for the first time that the alter had in fact been sent to the Capitol Police through the Joint Terrorism Task Force but said it was never forwarded to him or either of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.

Contee also said the D.C. police department received the warning, but it was a nondescript email and not labeled as a priority alert that would demand immediate attention.

“I would certainly think that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something,” he told the Senators.

Contradictory Information

However, lawmakers pointed out that the Capitol Police did have warnings about the attack in the form of their own internal intelligence report issued three days before the planned pro-Trump rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol.

In that 12-page memo, some of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the Capitol Police intelligence unit warned that “Congress itself” could be targeted by Trump supporters who believed the electoral college certification was “the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election.”

The memo also noted the large expected crowds, the fact that organizers had urged Trump supporters to bring guns and combat gear, and that “President Trump himself” had been promoting the chaos.

Two people familiar with the memo told The Post that the report had been relayed to all Capitol Police command staff, though in their testimonies Tuesday, the former security officials said the intel they had did not have enough specifics about the potential for an attack.

Some, however, appear to doubt the series of events detailed by Sund. On Tuesday, Buzzfeed filed a lawsuit against the Capitol Police for records related to the insurrection. The agency has been criticized for not providing enough information to the media, and contradictory testimonies delivered to Senators likely raised more red flags.

Lawmakers Emphasize Need for Better Precautions 

The argument that there was so much vague, threatening online chatter making it hard to distinguish what was legitimate is something that many law enforcement officials have used to explain their failure to prepare for the attacks.

In fact, that was the exact same response the FBI gave reporters Tuesday after Sund and Contee blamed them for not giving an explicit or strong enough warning. Lawmakers hope that the many hearings and ongoing investigations into the matter will result in tangible policy changes to prevent similar attacks from happening again.

While it is currently unclear what that will look like, many leaders have emphasized the need for a broad rethinking of how the U.S. addresses domestic extremist threats at every level.

“There’s no question in my mind that there was a failure to take this threat more seriously, despite widespread social media content and public reporting that indicated violence was extremely likely,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mi.) told reporters Tuesday. 

“The federal government must start taking these online threats seriously to ensure they don’t cross into the real-world violence.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)

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