US Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, speaks at George Washington University on September 24, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders is pushing for direct payments to be a part of ongoing COVID stimulus bill talks after Democratic leadership backed a proposal without them last week.
Sanders, joined by other progressive legislators, also wants his colleagues to rally against liability protections for corporations facing coronavirus-related lawsuits. That kind of legal shield, disliked by both Democrats and labor unions, is nonetheless included in a current bipartisan $908 billion framework for a COVID-19 relief bill.
“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,” a letter written Tuesday by Sanders and Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Edward Markey, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jeff Merkley, and Ron Wyden, reads. “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.”
The letter was first obtained by Politico; Sanders’ office did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
It is the latest play in a congressional negotiation process that’s been rife with disagreement. Coronavirus aid has been held up for months thanks to a deeply partisan stalemate between the White House, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The gridlock showed signs of movement last week when a bipartisan group of senators unveiled their $908 billion framework for a COVID-19 relief bill, winning the support of Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The Democratic leaders had previously insisted on a deal worth around $2.2 trillion.
But the bipartisan framework—which has not been finalized or released as legislative text—lacks direct stimulus checks for Americans, and makes room for provisions certain to incite more partisan arguments, like a short-term liability shield. And that’s led to another wave of resistance not only from progressives like Sanders, but Republicans as well.
“I continue to be flummoxed as to why there aren’t any direct payments on it. Everybody supported this in March,” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, told reporters this week, according to NPR. “It’s the most useful, helpful and, frankly, popular aspect.”
The Trump administration, meanwhile, would be willing to sign off on a deal that sends out $600 direct checks, according to two people who spoke to the Washington Post anonymously on Tuesday. The last round of stimulus payments, part of the CARES Act in the spring, included $1,200 checks to eligible adults.
McConnell didn’t include stimulus checks in his own COVID aid proposal of about $500 billion, but the Washington Post reported Republican leadership is listening to the White House’s request for payments worth $600.
Meanwhile, in negotiations on the $908 billion bipartisan proposal, McConnell has offered to drop liability protections in exchange for cutting aid to state and local governments, since those provisions have been the subject of intense disagreement between both parties.
“We can’t leave without doing a COVID bill—the country needs it,” McConnell said Tuesday, according to NPR.
Schumer quickly rejected that proposal, according to Politico.
Legislators are running out of time to come up with an agreement before an estimated 12 million people are kicked off pandemic unemployment programs on Dec. 26. An eviction moratorium created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to end Dec. 31.