Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled his support this week for a Trump administration proposal to add a provision to the next round of coronavirus relief that would make it impossible for workers to sue their employers if they contract the virus on the job.
In a statement announcing the Senate will return to Washington, D.C., on May 4, the Kentucky Republican called the proposal an "urgent need" to shield businesses from lawsuits, painting it as something that benefits essential workers — even though those workers would be the ones prohibited from suing their employer if they become infected.
"While our nation is asking everyone from front-line healthcare professionals to essential small-business owners to major employers to adapt in new ways and keep serving, a massive tangle of federal and state laws could easily mean their heroic efforts are met with years of endless lawsuits," McConnell wrote in the statement. "We cannot let that happen."
Donald Trump himself pushed for so-called "liability waivers" at an April 20 briefing.
"We have tried to take liability away from these companies. We just don't want that because we want the companies to open and to open strong," Trump said in response to questions about whether companies would be liable if they reopened and their workers started to become sick.
Even if the Senate approved such waivers, it's unlikely that the Democratic House would go along with legislation rolling back workers rights.
Still, protecting businesses from lawsuits, also known as tort reform, has been a conservative goal for years. Republican-leaning business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which in 2018 spent $0 for Democratic candidates but spent $6 million supporting GOP candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — have traditionally backed laws making it harder for companies to get sued.
While McConnell signaled that the next phase of coronavirus relief would include a long-sought protection for businesses, he also attacked Democrats for demanding what he called liberal policy goals in the next round of relief.
"The Senate must focus on concrete steps to strengthen our response to this crisis. The American people do not need tangential left-wing daydreams. They need commonsense steps that move us toward the response, recovery, and future readiness that Americans need," McConnell wrote.
The "daydreams" McConnell is referring to include hazard pay for essential workers, who are risking their lives by going to work each day at places like hospitals and grocery stores.
Democrats are also seeking billions in relief funds to states facing unprecedented budget shortfalls thanks to the coronavirus — which has cost billions in lost tax revenue that threaten the state's ability to pay essential workers.
Republicans have claimed it is unfair that other states should have to bail out places like New York, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus. McConnell specifically argued that states like New York should go bankrupt instead.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo quickly rebuked those arguments on Monday, noting that states like New York in fact contribute more and receive less money back each year than states his Republican opponents hail from.
"If you want to do an analysis of who is a giver and who is a taker, we are the number one giver, the number one giver. Nobody puts more money into the pot than the state of New York," Cuomo said in a press conference. "We're the number one donor state. And if you want to look at who happened to be the donor states — who are the giver states — they are the same states that they are talking about now."
He added, "Who are the taker states? Kentucky, southeast part of the country."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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