On December 9, 2020

Leahy: ‘I don’t know if I’ve ever been so frustrated’

$908 billion Covid relief bill stalls over protecting companies from lawsuits

By Kit Norton/VTDigger

Unless Congress acts, the government will shut down Friday, Dec. 11, and Covid relief funding will expire Dec. 31. Both of Vermont’s senators are up in arms about the lack of action by Senate Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has delayed a vote on the $908 billion federal government spending package. Republicans are negotiating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., over the Covid-19 relief legislation.

“He keeps stalling,” Leahy said.

“I don’t want to sound off, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been so frustrated,” said Leahy. “We do have a bipartisan package that could go. Mitch McConnell won’t let it come to a vote, and it is frustrating as heck.”

Leahy has been in the Senate since 1975 and is its most senior member.

In early November, Leahy, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and committee Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., released drafts of 12 government funding bills, hoping to find a compromise with the House of Representatives before government funding runs out Dec. 11.

Now it’s crunch time, and McConnell and Pelosi are still haggling over a compromise.

The sticking point is a provision in the bill that protects companies from Covid lawsuits brought by workers.

Shelby told Bloomberg News that Congress may need to consider a stopgap spending bill to stave off a government shutdown while negotiations over relief proposals continue.

That would be a mistake, Leahy said. The nation needs Congress to pass Covid-19 relief and the government spending bills immediately, he insisted.

On Friday, Pelosi signaled that she and McConnell will have agreements soon on a Covid-19 package and the federal budget bill.

Until recently, Pelosi was pushing for a much more expansive $2 trillion coronavirus proposal, which was already $1.5 trillion less than the HEROES Act that was passed in May.

Pelosi told reporters Friday that the $908 billion Republican compromise package is a “good product” despite lacking many key Democratic provisions, including stimulus checks and expansive unemployment benefits.

The major elements of the proposal include a $300-per-week unemployment benefit, $160 billion to aid state and local governments, and $288 billion to assist businesses, which will likely be funneled into the successful Paycheck Protection Program.

The package would deliver $82 billion to schools, $45 billion to the transportation sector, $26 billion to agriculture, $25 billion in housing and rental assistance, and $16 billion for vaccine distribution.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who favors a compromise that will direct money to states as soon as possible, said Friday that, although the bill is not perfect, he supports it.

“With promising vaccines just around the corner, I welcome and support any compromise that brings immediate relief to help businesses and families make it through the remaining months of this brutal pandemic,” Welch said.

However, Vermont’s U.S. senators are considerably less pleased with McConnell’s $908 billion coronavirus package.

“It’s not so much the dollars,” Leahy said. “It’s the things they try to tuck in there.”

For instance, Leahy strongly opposes language that waives legal liability for companies that put employees at risk of contracting Covid-19.

“You take away any responsibility on the owners, you know and I know what’s going to happen,” Leahy said. Under the provision, businesses could put workers in risky situations with no fear of penalties.

“We should be talking about how you get a vaccine in rural Wyoming or Essex County, Vermont. How do you get them there and what do you do for schools, food banks and child care?” Leahy said. “Those things have to be done, not some blanket immunity for companies that break the employment safety rules.”

However, Senate Republicans maintain the liability waiver is not negotiable.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has also criticized the Republican proposal and opposes the liability waiver. On CNN Wednesday, Dec. 2,  Sanders said McConnell’s package falls well short of what’s needed: “He doesn’t have a nickel for unemployment supplements,” Sanders said. “All over this country, people are worried about being evicted. There’s no $1,200 check for those people. So I think his proposal is literally laughable.”

On Friday, The Washington Post reported that Sanders would vote against the current proposal unless it is changed significantly. “Given the enormous economic desperation facing working families in this country today, I will not be able to support the recently announced Manchin-Romney Covid proposal unless it is significantly improved,” Sanders told The Post.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Gov. Scott vetoes bill that would’ve restricted bee-killing pesticide

May 22, 2024
Staff report On Monday, May 20, World Bee Day, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation meant to protect bees and other pollinators from a widely-used neuorotoxic pesticide. The bill (H.706) would  eliminate most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) in Vermont, which have been associated with alarming losses of managed and wild bee populations. Neonic insecticides are used on…

Health premium increases of 16%-19% projected for 2025

May 22, 2024
Vermonters are again facing steep upward premium growth for 2025 due to the cumulative impact of hospital costs, drug prices and state health care policy choices. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont projects that these trends will continue and will require rate increases of 16.3% for individual health plans and 19.1% for the small group…

Sanders: weight loss drugs could bankrupt U.S. health care

May 22, 2024
As part of his investigation into the outrageously high price of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S., U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a stunning new report May 15 exposing the potential of weight loss drugs to bankrupt American health care. In the report, HELP…

The future of fertilizer? Pee, says this Brattleboro institute

May 22, 2024
By Kate Kampner, Community News Service Editor’s note: The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost. When Peter Stickney walks along his cow paddocks in the morning, he notes the scattered patches of greener grass across the…