Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday lambasted Republican senators who had objected to provisions in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that they said would incentivize unemployment, accusing them of fixating on minor perks for workers amid a crisis.
"What happened is Sen. (Lindsey) Graham and some other Republicans, they are just terribly upset that low-income workers might receive a bit more money than they otherwise would have earned," Sanders told CNN's Anderson Cooper, before the chamber voted on the bill.
Sanders' comments came after the package hit a last-minute snag Wednesday afternoon when Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and GOP Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida and Ben Sasse of Nebraska argued that it would incentivize unemployment and could trigger worker shortages and supply disruptions by providing more money to some jobless workers than they would make working.
"Here we are in the midst of the worst economic downturn perhaps since the Great Depression, tens of millions of people are worried to death about how they're going to feed their families, pay their rent, prevent a foreclosure," Sanders added. "And these guys are just staying up nights worrying about low-income workers getting a few bucks more."
Sanders also accused the Republicans of backing corporations over workers, highlighting their support for President Donald Trump's 2017 tax plan.
"You have all kinds of people here who voted, including Sen. Graham and the others, they voted for a trillion dollars in tax breaks for the 1% and large corporations and now they're really worried that a low-income worker might receive extended unemployment plus $600 a week," Sanders said.
"Oh, my goodness," he added sarcastically. "How terrible is that?"
Sanders threatened earlier Wednesday to hold his support for the bill unless there was more oversight over $500 billion for corporate help. But he told Cooper that if the four Republican senators dropped their complaints, "I am certainly not going to persist in what I want" on the bill.
"I just wanted to make it clear that I will not sit back, nor should anybody sit back and allow these guys to attack the needs of low-income workers, especially at a time when in this particular bill there are $500 billion available to the President for all kinds of corporate welfare and chicanery," he added. "They don't object to that, they worry about people getting a few bucks more."
The four Republican senators, however, saw the provision as a key sticking point, with Graham saying at a news conference earlier in the day that "this bill pays you more not to work than if you were working."
"You're literally incentivizing taking people out of the workforce at a time when we need critical infrastructure supplied with workers," he added. "If this is not a drafting error then it's the worst idea I've seen in a long time."
The Republican critics secured a Wednesday evening vote on an amendment to cap unemployment benefits at 100% of the wages workers received while employed, but the amendment did not pass.
CNN's Manu Raju, Clare Foran, Ted Barrett and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.