Senate GOP Virus Proposal Rejects Calls for More Paid Leave (1)

March 20, 2020, 7:09 PMUpdated: March 20, 2020, 8:32 PM

Senate Republicans’ $1.3 trillion coronavirus-response package rejects Democratic calls to expand paid leave provisions for workers, creating a partisan fault line that could complicate efforts to wrap up negotiations by early next week.

“We need to get this done Monday. The American public needs us to move forward,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said as he left a meeting with senior Senate Republicans at the Capitol on Thursday. “Our objective is to have Congress pass legislation on Monday and have the president sign it.”

The Senate Republican opening bid (S. 3548) is a far broader bill than the House-originated measure (H.R. 6201) President Donald Trump signed into law March 18. It seeks to solidify the reeling U.S. economy by sending direct payments to many Americans and extending hefty loans to multiple industries, but it maintains the paid and family medical leave provisions from H.R. 6201—and that’s a problem for Democrats.

Democrats approved changes Senate Republicans requested to the paid leave provisions of H.R. 6201 under the notion that subsequent legislation would fill remaining gaps for workers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after passage of H.R. 6201 that the House would push to advance additional provisions expanding the emergency leave mandate.

Trump has said in recent days he would support building on the paid leave provisions in H.R. 6201 in a subsequent coronavirus-response bill, but Republicans and Democrats were far apart on that point as negotiators set to work on Friday.

“Democrats support a plan that puts ‘Workers First,’” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Thursday after Senate Republicans unveiled their plan for what would amount to Congress’ third coronavirus-relief package. “That means taking bold action to help workers and small businesses first by greatly increasing unemployment insurance and Medicaid, making massive investments to help small businesses survive, expanding paid sick and family leave and putting money directly into the hands of those who need it most.”

Workers still would receive just 10 days of paid sick leave, as under H.R. 6201. The bill also maintains a provision that exempts employers with 500 or more workers from expanded paid leave and partially paid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the proposal, paid sick leave requirements for employers would expire after a worker has been paid for 80 hours of leave or returned to work after taking leave, whichever is earlier.

The proposal adds a new provision giving the Office of Management and Budget the ability to exclude certain “executive branch” employees from emergency paid sick leave coverage. It also includes a new provision stating that workers who were laid off after March 1 can still be eligible for paid leave once they’re reinstated by their employer.

The bill would limit a “qualifying need” for FMLA leave to instances where an employee can’t work or telework because his or her child’s school, day care, or child care is unavailable, as under H.R. 6201. The measure also would expand the Labor Department’s authority to issue regulations to exempt businesses with fewer than 50 workers from paid sick leave requirements related to an employee caring for a quarantined individual or for a child whose school or day care has closed.

BGOV Bill Summary: S. 3548, Senate GOP Coronavirus Response Bill

The crux of the legislation provides $208 billion worth of loans for companies buffeted by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, including $58 billion for the airline sector and $150 billion for other distressed areas of the economy. Another $300 billion is aimed at helping smaller businesses.

Several Republican ranking members of House committees, including Reps. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Kevin Brady (Texas), Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Kay Granger (Texas), and Sam Graves (Missouri), applauded the Senate bill as evidence of a “collaborative approach.” Their statement urged Democrats to come to the negotiating table.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the proposal a “bold” response to continue combating the health and economic crisis caused by Covid-19, as the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is known. McConnell noted the opening bid would give “shape and structure” to ongoing discussions with Democrats.

A number of Democrats, including Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), warned during a call with reporters Tuesday that broader sick leave provisions were a “must” in a third stimulus package. They said they were willing to reject a proposal that leaves out expanded leave protections, adding that other Democrats held the same view.

“The absence of direct funding for programs that millions of people rely on is a mistake that must be fixed,” DeLauro said Friday.

(Updated to include additional reporting and a link to an analysis of the bill.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jdiaz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com

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