With joblessness at historic levels, millions of Americans struggling to afford food, states and localities barreling toward fiscal disaster, and the U.S. Postal Service on the verge of collapse, Senate Republicans on Monday unveiled a Covid-19 stimulus proposal that would slash unemployment benefits, do nothing to expand federal nutrition aid, provide $0 in new funding for states, and leave the USPS without any additional emergency relief.
While giving short shrift to workers, the Republican package would ensure that corporations are not held accountable for putting their employees in danger by providing a sweeping five-year liability shield geared toward protecting businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits—a top priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, and all congressional Democrats, must reject this plan outright."
—Ana Maria Archila, Center for Popular Democracy Action
The GOP plan also includes billions of dollars in funds that are completely unrelated to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, such as $686 million for F-35 fighter jets and $1.75 billion for construction of a new FBI headquarters. McConnell apparently had no idea funding for the FBI building was included in the final legislation, which was crafted in his office.
"Um, I'm not sure that it is. Is it?" McConnell said during a press conference when asked why the FBI funds are in the bill.
Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, said late Monday that "McConnell's proposal—negotiated without any input from Democrats in the U.S. House or Senate—is dead on arrival."
"Senate Republicans have wasted months coming up with a proposal that, remarkably, would make the pandemic and economic pain even worse—especially a corporate immunity provision that would be a literal death sentence to countless Americans," Gilbert added. "It's long past time for the real negotiations to begin."
On Twitter, Public Citizen denounced the the GOP plan as "an utter disgrace," noting that it wouldn't extend a federal eviction moratorium that expired last Friday or provide a penny in election assistance funding for states.
Titled the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Act, the $1 trillion opening bid from Republicans was released in bits and pieces Monday as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to surge across the U.S. and the economy remains in deep recession, with the official unemployment rate hovering above 11%.
The Republican plan would temporarily reduce the weekly unemployment insurance boost from $600 to $200 until states can implement a complicated—some say unworkable—new system that would pay laid-off workers 70% of what they earned prior to losing their jobs. Additionally, the GOP proposal would provide another round of $1,200 direct stimulus payments to most Americans, funding for U.S. schools that meet "minimum opening requirements," and $16 billion for coronavirus testing.
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Tucked inside the Republican stimulus package is also a bill led by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) that could result in deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
If Romney really cared about strengthening Social Security he'd support @RepJohnLarson's Social Security 2100 Act.
But that bill would require wealthy people like Romney to pay their fair share. So he wants to use the TRUST Act to cut benefits behind closed doors instead. https://t.co/bmZuzBuuzT
— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) July 27, 2020
In a joint statement late Monday, the American Federation of Teachers, Care in Action, Community Change Action, Greenpeace, and MoveOn warned that if passed, the Republican proposal "would devastate America."
"Americans should be outraged at Senate Republicans and the Trump administration for wasting months and, at the 11th hour, offering a proposal so weak that it would only guarantee our country's backslide into the Covid-19 crisis," the groups said. "The plan put forth by Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans is a non-starter that will do nothing for workers and families, and keep the United States on this devastating path."
Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, slammed the Senate GOP for "coming to the table with a package that prioritizes protecting corporations from lawsuits."
"Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, and all Congressional Democrats, must reject this plan outright and fight for a package that meets the scale of the crisis," said Archila, who urged Democrats to fight to extend the $600-per-week unemployment insurance boost, pass a paycheck guarantee, provide adequate hazard pay and PPE for frontline workers, and ensure that Covid-19 testing and treatment is free for everyone in the U.S.
"Anything less," warned Archila, "will only prolong the health and economic crisis, and exacerbate suffering in every corner of this country."