Whether it's President Donald Trump or Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, U.S. Rep. John Katko thinks there is plenty of blame to go around as a fifth COVID-19 relief bill remains elusive.
As negotiations between House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the Trump administration break down, unemployed Americans are without enhanced benefits and there's no agreement on another round of stimulus checks.
Katko, R-Camillus, told The Citizen this week that past efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic were bipartisan. But beginning with the HEROES Act — the House Democrats' $3 trillion plan that would extend $600 weekly unemployment payments, provide a second batch of $1,200 stimulus checks to millions of Americans, deliver nearly $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments and expand eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses — he thinks the talks surrounding the aid packages became partisan.
While Katko blamed Democrats for pushing the HEROES Act without input from Republicans, he also criticized the Senate GOP for not including Democrats in its proposal and the Trump administration for failing to "try and bridge the gap" between the two parties.
A few of the main sticking points in the talks include the overall price tag. Democrats want a large relief bill — close to the $3 trillion for the HEROES Act. The GOP plan is closer to $1 trillion.
There are also disagreements on enhanced unemployment benefits. A COVID-19 relief bill passed in March and signed by Trump included $600 a week for unemployed Americans. Those payments expired July 31. House Democrats want to extend the payments through early 2021, but Senate Republicans prefer a different approach. They want to provide $200 a week through September, then replace 70% of workers' lost wages.
With unemployment, Katko thinks there should be some sort of enhanced benefit — whether it's a continuation of the $600 payments or a supplemental payment that would be available to workers, especially low-wage earners.
He views that as a potential fix for a problem he's heard from some business owners before the expiration of the $600 payments — that some of their employees aren't returning to work because they can earn more on unemployment.
"There's a real concern about labor shortages at the same time when we have double-digit unemployment. That is incongruous to me," Katko said. "You can get creative. Sit down and figure it out."
Katko also wants to see aid for states and direct help for local governments, especially smaller municipalities like Auburn, Cayuga County, Onondaga County and Syracuse.
Senate Republicans and Trump have been cool to the idea of providing financial assistance to state and local governments.
"That's going to be a tough row to hoe with Republicans, but it's something that I think they're gonna have to give on," Katko said.
There are other provisions Katko would support in a relief bill, including adjustments to the Paycheck Protection Program to provide additional help to small businesses and legislation he cosponsored to expand the employee retention tax credit.
But, without negotiations, millions of Americans, especially the unemployed, will continue to go without much-needed aid.
"There's not a business in this country, there's not a marriage in this country, that you get 100% of what you want," Katko said. "Compromise should not be a dirty word."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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