Thursday, February 22, 2024

US virus negotiations reduce liability as Congress prepares interim aid | United States and Canada

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U.S. politicians are giving themselves more time to sort out their end-of-session business on government spending and COVID-19 relief, preparing a week-long interim spending bill that would prevent a shutdown this weekend.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, No. 2 Democrat in the US House of Representatives, said on Twitter that the government’s temporary funding bill is expected to be passed on December 9, when he is sure he will be voted on. pass easily.

The development comes as Congress struggles to figure out how to provide long-delayed pandemic relief, including additional help for businesses hard hit by the pandemic, new unemployment benefits, funding to distribute COVID vaccines. 19 and the funding requested by the Democrats for the State and the communities Governments.

Disagreements have erupted over a key provision – a proposed liability shield against COVID-19-related lawsuits for reopening businesses, schools and organizations.

Hoyer previously told lawmakers this week would likely be the last of the session, but talks are proceeding slower than expected on a $ 1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill being assembled by senior members. level of powerful credit committees.

The interim measure would prevent the government shutting down until December 18.

“I am disappointed that we have not yet reached an agreement on government funding,” Hoyer said.

Three main points of legislation are at issue in the end-of-session agenda: a defense policy bill that President Donald Trump is threatening to veto; the $ 1.4 trillion government-wide spending bill; and possibly $ 900 billion in much-needed COVID-19 relief.

There are two rounds of COVID-19 relief talks – at the leadership level and among a panel of Senate moderates – happening at the same time and it’s unclear how the negotiators might fare, lending an air of confusion to the process.

The bipartisan Senate group was due to meet again later Monday. But a long weekend of talks separated senators over a difficult issue, the proposed liability protection that has been a priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We have seen encouraging signs of commitment from our fellow Democrats, but we have no reason to believe that the underlying disagreements over policy will evaporate overnight,” McConnell said.

Republicans initially proposed a broad five-year liability shield, retroactive to December 2019, to protect businesses and organizations from COVID-19 lawsuits. Democrats, along with their allies in labor and civil rights groups, have categorically dismissed this approach as a danger to workers.

“Granting immunity would make the country less secure at the exact moment when the COVID-19 pandemic enters a dangerous new phase,” a coalition of 142 labor and civil rights groups wrote in Congress.

They said, “Any kind of immunity would directly hurt black, Latino and other colored workers who are overrepresented in ‘essential’ and in-person jobs being reopened.”

Negotiators have suggested a reduced liability shield, but a six-month proposal has been tabled and there is no agreement yet. The powerful union federation AFL-CIO even opposes a short-term liability provision.

Meanwhile, McConnell’s Republican majority is demanding accountability protection in return for pressure from Democrats to secure additional funds for states and cities struggling with the COVID-19 crisis.

“The leader made it clear that state and local money was tied to liability protection, so there won’t be for both or both,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, to journalists.

“Hopefully we’ll do both,” Cornyn said.

If agreement is not possible on the omnibus bill, lawmakers may have no choice but to pass another continuing resolution that would allow the government to continue operating on autopilot and allow deferral of unfinished spending to next year.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump was comfortable with a deal like the one put in place by a group of Senate moderates and pragmatists. This $ 900 billion plan does not include the direct payments Trump sought before the election.


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