Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders opposes the bipartisan $908 billion relief bill hammered out by a bipartisan group in Congress. The bill, authored by GOP Senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins with Democrat Senator Joe Manchin, aims to provide an immediate stimulus relief for this year before Congress adjourns. Specifically, Sanders opposes the bill because it failed to include a round of $1,200 stimulus checks for American workers.
The $908 billion plan includes $300 billion to fund a renewed Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. Also included is $240 billion for state and local government aid. An additional $180 billion is set for extended unemployment benefits at $300 per week until March. The bill also contains a provision that holds off COVID-19 liability lawsuits for businesses while states work to draft their own laws. In addition, the plan gives $16 billion for vaccine distribution, $82 billion for education, and $45 billion for transportation.
‘I Will Not Support Manchin-Romney’
In a tweet on December 5, Sanders said “The American people need help NOW! We must make sure every working-class American receives at least $1,200 and that we don't give legal immunity to corporations who break the law. I will not support Manchin-Romney in its current form. We must fight together to improve it.”
“While the COVID crisis is the worst it has ever been, Manchin-Romney not only provides no direct payments, it does nothing to address the healthcare crisis and provides totally inadequate assistance for the most vulnerable. That's wrong morally and it's wrong economically,” he added in a follow-up tweet.
Major Players Buying In
Out of the number of relief packages proposed in the second half of 2020, the Mnuchin-Romney bill appears to gather the biggest bipartisan support. From the Democrat side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are on board. Senator Mark Warner, who helped draft the bill, said that “we have got the top-line numbers done. We are working right now on language so that we can have — as early as tomorrow — a piece of legislation.” In addition, Warner said he received “pretty high assurance” the final proposal can get enough votes to make it through the Senate.
For the Republicans, Senator Bill Cassidy said that President Donald Trump indicated he would support the bill. Also, he felt confident that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would come around eventually. However, McConnell reportedly insists on his version of the stimulus package, which contains a much smaller budget. His plan has yet to pass the Senate vote.
Outside of a lack of stimulus checks, Sanders also called out provisions for liability protections for businesses in the pandemic. The provision ensures that businesses remain free from coronavirus-related case lawsuits. Sanders tweeted that “Despite strong Democratic opposition, this proposal provides 100% legal immunity to corporations whose irresponsibility 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 at risk.”
The bill’s one-page summary includes a line on business protections. It read: “Provide short term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits with the purpose of giving states time to develop their own response.” In fact, Republicans have insisted on including guarantees from covid-related lawsuits in every stimulus proposal. Meanwhile, Democrats oppose including that feature.
The proposed $1,200 stimulus checks did not make the final cut of the bipartisan bill. The total cost for the inclusion of the stimulus checks will run up between $300 to $500 billion. This will push the $908 billion budget into trillion territory, between $1.2 to $1.4 trillion. However, any bill that exceeds $1 trillion will likely lose all Republican support.
Instead, the bill includes a $180 billion fund for unemployment benefits to jobless Americans. This means unemployed Americans will receive $300 per week from the federal government on top of their existing state unemployment benefits. In addition, the budget will cover unemployment payments from December through March. But, it remains unclear if the bill will pay lost benefits from previous months. Also expected is an extension of unemployment benefits to self-employed and gig workers.
Racing Against the Clock
With time running out for the 116th Congress, the bipartisan group needs to fast track the stimulus bill. However, a separate spending plan requires Congress’ attention by Friday to avoid a government shutdown. At its present iteration, a stimulus plan, while lacking, is a better alternative to nothing. As Senator Joe Manchin told NBC: “We don't have a choice now. It's one of those things that has to be done.”
Watch the CNN interview with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on why he's against the new Covid-19 relief proposal:
Do you agree with Bernie Sanders that the current $908 billion should contain a stimulus check? Or do you think that this version is the best chance we have for a stimulus package this year? Let us know what you think. Drop your comments in the comment section below.