Congress has been wrestling with a pandemic relief bill of varying sizes since the summer. Several times, the two sides were close to a deal. But two issues always popped up to scuttle any agreement between House Democrats and Senate Republicans.
Funding for state and local government — “The blue-state bailout” — and limiting liability related to the coronavirus — “greedy corporate bailout” — is forcing members to posture for their bases, seeing the issues as absolutely vital to passage.
The $908 billion bipartisan bill suggested by the Problem Solver’s Caucus actually contains both money for states — $180 billion — and limited liability protections. But it’s not good enough for either side and in familiar fashion, leaders of both parties are beginning to threaten to pull out of any deal unless they get their way.
“State and local money is tied to liability protection,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday. “So there’s either going to be none for both of those or both of those that are going to be provided for. My hope is that we’ll do both.”
The aid package, details of which are set to be released Tuesday, allocates about $300 billion in funding for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, $240 billion in aid for state and local governments, $180 billion to extend boosted unemployment benefits at $300 per week through March and includes liability protections for businesses that remain open during the pandemic.
Speaker Pelosi wants at least a trillion dollars for state and local government while Majority Leader McConnell wants a much more robust liability protection.
At issue for the group is how to retroactively protect businesses with one possibility being federal liability protection for coronavirus-related suits based on injuries that occurred in 2020. The group is weighing pausing potential lawsuits in 2021 to allow states to craft their own laws. An alternative, he said, is scrapping liability protections and state and local aid from the bill altogether.
“I think we may be able to get there,” Romney said.
In other words, live to fight another day. The Democrats will almost certainly be unsatisfied with spending only $908 billion on pandemic relief. They want trillions more. So the issue of state and local government bailouts and liability will almost certainly be revisited after the new Congress convenes.
For some of the radical Democrats, any liability protection for businesses would be a non-starter. The evil companies would deliberately try to kill their employees by not protecting them.
“We cannot agree to release employers who have caused their employers to get sick or die from their responsibilities,” Warren said Monday. “COVID cases continue to climb and that means we need employers to be more vigilant, not less.”
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ adjunct — the Trial Lawyers of America — is applauding.
I think Romney probably has the formula. Nix both state aid and liability and go at it again next year. That may leave room for a scaled-down individual check to taxpayers. That’s something that would be very popular and even most Republicans would back. Donald Trump has promised to sign any bipartisan deal that ends up on his desk.
Flying under the radar is the approaching deadline for an omnibus spending bill to keep the government fully running after December 10. Talk now is of a one-week extension so that the COVID relief and funding bill can be taken up together. Speaker Pelosi has endorsed this idea and it might be a solution for the log jam.