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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a protest at the U.S. Capitol on October 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a protest at the U.S. Capitol on October 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Care In Action)

Sanders Leads Senate Demand for $1,200 Stimulus Checks Over 'Get-Out-of-Jail Free Card' for Corporations

"The American people need help and they need help now."

Jake Johnson

Rejecting the bipartisan coronavirus relief plan currently under negotiation on Capitol Hill as "totally inadequate," Sen. Bernie Sanders and five Democratic senators circulated a letter Tuesday calling on their fellow lawmakers to join them in demanding the inclusion of another round of direct stimulus payments and the removal of all corporate-friendly poison pills.

"Simply stated, given the horrific extent of the current crisis and the desperation that working families all over this country are experiencing, this proposal does not go anywhere near far enough," reads the letter (pdf), which was coordinated by Sanders and backed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

"Please join us in demanding that any new Covid relief proposal includes a $1,200 direct payment to adults and $500 to their children."
—Letter

Noting that the bipartisan plan only calls for $348 billion in new funding—a far cry from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act Congress approved in March—and includes a "get-out-of-jail free card to companies that put the lives of their workers and customers at risk," the senators warn it "would be unacceptable to take a major step backwards" as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths surge nationwide and economic conditions continue to deteriorate.

"Unlike the CARES Act... this proposal only provides a $300 supplement for unemployed workers rather than $600 a week," the lawmakers note. "Further, unlike the $1,200 direct payment for every working class individual and $500 for each child, it provides absolutely no direct payment."

The White House is urging Senate Republicans to push for the inclusion of $600 stimulus checks in the relief bill, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

"The American people need help and they need help now," the senators' letter continues. "We agree with President-elect Biden that a $1,200 direct payment should be included in this proposal. We also feel strongly that we should not provide immunity to corporations who endanger the health and lives of their employees. Please join us in demanding that any new Covid relief proposal includes a $1,200 direct payment to adults and $500 to their children. Further, please work with us to make certain that there is no language in this bill to give a liability shield to corporations."

Growing progressive criticism of the bipartisan stimulus proposal first unveiled last week comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand for a five-year liability shield for corporations—a top priority of many congressional Republicans—is threatening to completely derail ongoing relief talks.

If lawmakers don't pass a legislative fix before the end of the year, dozens of key federal programs—including unemployment insurance, paid sick and family leave, and an eviction moratorium—will expire, leaving millions of Americans in the lurch.

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement Tuesday that "unemployment insurance, aid for hospitals, and state and local assistance should not be held hostage to McConnell and the Senate Republicans' quest for corporate immunity."

"We are down to the wire as the opportunity to attach the stimulus to the end of year spending deal winds down," Gilbert added. "Lawmakers should continue to reject any package that includes this deadly corporate giveaway and move with haste to finish the negotiations."

Read the senators' full letter:

Dear Colleague:

As you know, the Covid-19 pandemic is surging throughout the country and is now causing more pain and havoc than at any time since it began. Last week, an average of almost 200,000 Americans a day were diagnosed with Covid-19 and, tragically, over 2,000 people are now dying every single day.

Further, as a result of the pandemic, we are now experiencing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Over half of our workers are living paycheck to paycheck and one out of four workers are either unemployed or make less than $20,000 a year. In addition, 92 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured, tens of millions of people face eviction and hunger in America is exploding.

We very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into the current $908 billion proposal being drafted by a number of Democratic and Republican senators. But, simply stated, given the horrific extent of the current crisis and the desperation that working families all over this country are experiencing, this proposal does not go anywhere near far enough. In truth, rather than the $3.4 trillion which we Democrats called for in the HEROES Act, this bill only allocates $348 billion in new money according to one of the lead Republican negotiators. The remaining $560 billion are funds transferred from the CARES Act that have not yet been obligated.

Unlike the CARES Act, which we passed in March, this proposal only provides a $300 supplement for unemployed workers rather than $600 a week. Further, unlike the $1,200 direct payment for every working class individual and $500 for each child, it provides absolutely no direct payment.

Moreover, this proposal does nothing to address the healthcare crisis impacting tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford medical care and has totally inadequate financial assistance for the most vulnerable.

Further, despite long-time Democratic opposition, it is our understanding that this proposal may provide 100 percent legal immunity to corporations whose irresponsibility has led to the deaths of hundreds of workers. It would continue to provide a get-out-of-jail free card to companies that put the lives of their workers and customers at risk. In fact, the result of this proposal is that, through this liability provision, corporations will be encouraged to avoid implementing the common sense safety standards needed to protect workers and consumers—and make a bad situation worse.

We agree with the AFL-CIO and the 141 organizations who oppose providing this kind of immunity to corporations. According to a letter these groups sent to Senators on December 4th: "Granting immunity would make the country less safe at the exact moment when the Covid-19 pandemic is entering a new, dangerous phase."

Last March, with unanimous support in Congress, President Trump signed the $2 trillion CARES Act into law that provided a $600 a week supplement in unemployment benefits and a $1,200 direct payment to every working class adult, $500 per child and significant help for small businesses, states and cities. In October, as part of the negotiating process, the Trump administration and a bipartisan coalition in the House supported over $1.8 trillion in Covid relief that also included another $1,200 direct payment.

Given the enormity of the crisis today, it would be unacceptable to take a major step backwards from those previous efforts by passing legislation that only included $348 billion in new money.

The American people need help and they need help now. We agree with President-elect Biden that a $1,200 direct payment should be included in this proposal. We also feel strongly that we should not provide immunity to corporations who endanger the health and lives of their employees.

Please join us in demanding that any new Covid-relief proposal includes a $1,200 direct payment to adults and $500 to their children. Further, please work with us to make certain that there is no language in this bill to give a liability shield to corporations who threaten the health and safety of workers and customers.


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