GOP Senate Looking for Broad Liability Protections in New Aid Bill

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Republicans are approaching the latest coronavirus aid bill with an eye on protecting businesses and the government from suits related to the pandemic. Senators are looking to vastly limit liability for public and private concerns when they reopen and people begin to get sick.

It’s not an idle concern as many public interest groups are already warming up to the idea of using class-action suits to exact millions or billions from large corporations when people inevitably get sick. Without protection, some of those businesses will never open or never survive.

Reuters got a hold of a draft of a plan that will be presented by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

A draft of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan, which was reviewed by Reuters, would provide protections from lawsuits for at least four years for government agencies, “schools, colleges, charities, and businesses that follow public-health guidelines, and for frontline medical workers.”

The plan would also limit liability for new products, such as types of personal protective equipment, if they meet certain Food and Drug Administration requirements, according to the draft.

McConnell wants to keep this latest bill under $1 trillion, but Democrats are not likely to agree. They say they haven’t been consulted on the liability protection plan and totally reject other aspects of the GOP aid package.

Leading Democrats, however, have pledged to fight for much more – in the range of the $3 trillion bill approved in mid-May by the House of Representatives – during negotiations over the next couple weeks.

The liability protections, according to the draft document, would sunset at the end of a federal COVID-19 emergency declaration or 2024, whichever comes later, if it became law.

While it would seem both sides are far apart — $3 trillion for Democrats versus $1 trillion for the GOP — there is a recognition on both sides of the aisle that something needs to be done before the end of the summer. In addition to liability protection, there is a proposed bailout of state and local governments that are bleeding red ink as a result of lost or reduced tax revenues. And there’s the matter of another round of stimulus checks for individuals. McConnell wants to cap the benefit and only give out the $1200 to taxpayers making less than $40,000 a year. Democrats have already said that’s a non-starter, as they have already passed a near-universal stimulus in the House and refuse to backtrack on that.

There is also the expiration of the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits that will expire on July 31. A few weeks ago, that measure didn’t have much of a chance in the Senate, but with the renewed outbreaks across the country and the prospect of at least localized shutdowns in several states looming, the benefit may well be extended for a couple of months.

It’s true that the Federal Reserve has shown that the extra unemployment benefit was keeping people from returning to work. But circumstances may have changed enough that the GOP will go along with an extension.

They may exact a price for their support, however, and the outline of a deal on the aid package starts coming into focus. But Democrats do not appear content with their $3 trillion pandemic package. They feel the need to pander to minority communities as well.

On Thursday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer unveiled a $350 billion investment plan. It includes money for minority communities to bolster childcare, healthcare, housing and training for coronavirus-related jobs such as contact tracing and administering tests.

Schumer’s initiative comes partly in response to nationwide protests across the United States this summer over police violence against Black Americans and economic disparity.

There’s nothing complicated about it at all. It’s a simple transfer of wealth from those who have to those who have not. But you’re not going to train a couple of million people to become contact tracers or coronavirus test administers — especially when those jobs are likely to be drastically cut once a vaccine is found.

But as a campaign pander, it’s wonderful.

More money will be shoveled out the door by both parties with no thought given to how we will pay for it or even whether we can. No one seems to care in Congress — just a bunch of us old fuddy-duddies who actually think there is a limit to federal power and federal spending.

The bell is tolling for the American republic and hardly anyone is noticing.

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