Library of Congress photo

The prospects for a new coronavirus stimulus package being passed by Congress before it breaks for the rest of the year continue to be a giant shruggy emoticon, with various players pushing a whole bunch of different ideas. Politico summed up yesterday's confusion in Washington succinctly:

In the span of an afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested dropping discussions on the two biggest sticking points. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offered a new proposal to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A bipartisan group of senators is still working to finalize language on a $908 billion package. And President Donald Trump endorsed new stimulus checks.

For all that, it's entirely possible nothing at all will be passed, largely due to McConnell's stubborn insistence on near-total immunity for companies from lawsuits, even though, as the Washington Post points out, McConnell's rationale for the liability protection, a supposed wave of lawsuits over COVID-19, hasn't materialized at all. And even though, as that last paragraph just pointed out, he offered to (didn't offer to) "drop it."

Joe Biden is planning to call for a big stimulus package once he's inaugurated, but people are hurting right now. Let's see if we can untangle the Gordian Clusterfuck over a new short-term stimmy package.


The Bipartisan $908 Billion Thing

So far, the plan that seems to have the most momentum remains the $908 billion bipartisan framework that was proposed last week by a group of legislators in both houses. That effort is being led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in the Senate, and members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers We're Helping Yay Us caucus in the House, who Politico informs us are now being called (by someone at least) the "908 coalition." Even if the bill doesn't pass, that's at least a good band name. That proposal has a bit of almost everything: There's aid to state, tribal, and local governments, new help for small businesses, and new emergency unemployment benefits of $300 a week, as well as continuation of other unemployment eligibility that will expire at the end of the year. The plan also includes some kind of temporary lawsuit immunity, which so far hasn't been really defined; we'll get to that in a moment.

The White House $916 Billion (?) Thing

One of the problems with the bipartisan 908 proposal is that while it has the $300 a week emergency unemployment benefits, it doesn't include a new round of direct stimulus checks to Americans. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) says he just plain won't vote for a bill that doesn't include new direct payments (and he also won't vote for any bill with a liability shield giveaway to corporations either, damn right Bernie).

The White House, in talks between Mnuchin and Pelosi, is floating a new round of direct stimmy payments, $600 per adult and $600 per child. (Donald Trump has also said he thinks new stimmy checks should be for as much as $2000 per person, but he says a lot of things.)

Bit of a problem: To keep the package under $1 trillion, the White House would get rid of the $300 emergency unemployment payments, although it would provide some $40 billion to extend eligibility for other unemployment programs that are about to expire (basically federal funds to extend eligibility for regular state unemployment). That's not nothing, because some 12 million people will otherwise lose those extended benefits — extended as in extended in time, not extended with the federal cherry on top — at the end of the year, which oh sweet Jesus. But trading emergency unemployment payments for a new round of direct stimmy checks just so Donald Trump can put his name on 'em is a no-go for Democrats. They have this crazy idea that it would be better for everyone, and for the economy as a whole, if a new round of checks were added to the bipartisan 908 plan, which would have to change its name, and that would be fine.

Oh yeah, and the White House proposal includes McConnell's terrible liability protection gift to corporate America, so fuck that.

The Mitch McConnell Wreck-Everything Plan(s)

As we've said all along, McConnell is almost exclusively wedded to his proposal to make sure almost no one can sue companies and other entities for spreading the virus. Let's briefly remind you exactly how bad the idea is, as Timothy Noah 'splains in the New Republic. Back in April, McConnell

said there would be no more pandemic stimulus unless state governments and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were barred in virtually all cases from penalizing employers for maintaining workplaces that didn't take effective measures to stop the spread of Covid. [...]

The McConnell proposal would also, seemingly just for the hell of it, suspend virtually all enforcement of wage, hour, and employment-related antidiscrimination statutes during the Covid pandemic.

McConnell's dream immunity plan, framed in legislative language by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), would effectively leave the Biden administration unable to enforce any meaningful protections for workers, on top of barring lawsuits against bad actors like those meat-packing plants that told employees to keep working in dangerous conditions.

As for the temporary liability protections in the "908" framework, those are still undetermined, but Noah says it

appears to be a retroactive shield of six months' duration that does not extend to OSHA or state enforcement actions, but rather covers only lawsuits brought by individuals.

Assuming that's the case, the Manchin-Collins language isn't going to block very many lawsuits. Individuals already are mostly barred from suing their employers over workplace safety under state workers compensation laws. (By one reckoning, there have been only about 6500 complaints filed since March.) [...]

The logic against the Manchin-Collins liability language, though, is pretty compelling. In those rare cases in which individuals are permitted under state workers compensation laws to sue their employers, the offenses have to be highly egregious. So the Manchin-Collins provision would protect employers whose behavior by definition is pretty goddamned awful.

Digging down into the source Noah cites above, the Washington Post notes that, once you're talking about neglectful behavior by employers, the crisis that McConnell and Cornyn want to avert simply isn't there at all:

An online complaint tracker from the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth shows that out of an overall pool of about 6,500 lawsuits filed across the country so far, only 116 have been filed by employees over issues such as lack of personal protective equipment, exposure or infections at work, and death. Consumers have filed an additional 29 personal-injury or wrongful-death claims related to virus exposure.

"That's like two to four lawsuits per state," said Hugh Baran, an expert on legal recourse for employees at the worker-focused National Employment Law Project. "That's a trickle. It's not a flood. … This whole immunity bill that's been proposed by McConnell and Cornyn is really a solution in search of a problem."

Golly, imagine that! Just to add a little extra fuckery to the fuck-tussle, and to prove he's utterly unserious about actually passing a stimulus at all, McConnell also suggested a completely garbage "compromise" yesterday. Since Democrats don't like the liability stuff, and rightwing Republicans object to any aid for state, tribal, and local governments (because it might help public employee unions, the horror!), how about dropping both parts until the next round of negotiations sometime next year?

Yeah, no. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that both red and blue states have taken a huge budget hit from the pandemic, while nobody but Mitch McConnell and his best corporate pals see the perennial GOP obsession with "tort reform" as a vital issue right now:

Schumer argued that leaving out state and local assistance would lead to sweeping public sector layoffs and scoffed at the idea McConnell was trying to compromise.

"State and local funding is bipartisan unlike the extreme corporate liability proposal Leader McConnell made which has no Democratic support," Schumer told reporters. "Sen. McConnell is trying to pull the rug out from beneath the Gang of Eight" negotiators.

Joe Manchin went a step further and pointed right at the elephant-turtle in the room, saying, "Mitch doesn't want a deal. You have to have both."

So where do we go next? Maybe there'll be a new stimmy. Maybe McConnell will continue to insist on giving corporate America the freedom from being held responsible it's wanted since the Reagan years. Maybe nothing happens until January, and people will continue to suffer because they aren't nearly as important to McConnell as letting companies get away with murder. The stakes for the runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, which will determine who has control of the Senate, just keep getting higher and higher.

[Politico / WaPo / New Republic / WaPo]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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