Stimulus is coming, just not this week… or the week after that.
The weather is warmer this week in Washington D.C., as are the Democrats and Republicans toward each other about the next stimulus package.
Two weeks ago, the Democrat-led House passed a massive, $3 trillion stimulus package that would infuse cash into nearly every level of American society: individuals, families, frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19, small businesses, hospitals, local and state governments, and nearly every federal agency.
The Republican-led Senate, however, would have none of it. Last week, it worked on nominees for the Trump administration, and this week it’s conducting no formal business.
While not exactly talking, in the past few days the two sides have inched a little closer to each other. The President and Senate Republicans have communicated that there are a few things they would like to see in the next COVID package. First, the Republicans would like a back-to-work bonus to incentivize workers to return to their jobs, in place of the enhanced unemployment benefits currently in the bill. Second, they want liability protection for businesses.
Some Democrats this week signaled that they were willing to give a little on liability protection. At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he is more open about “one more plug” of stimulus to get the country through this phase.
The issue of liability protection is related to the broader approach the federal government is taking in managing the “reopening of America.” For instance, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is well-known for passing very precise – and, for some, burdensome – rules and requirements on how certain worksites should protect workers. For example, OSHA has pages and pages of rules on ladders, their specifications, and how they should be used, including detailed instructions on how you should climb them.
If a company has met OSHA workplace requirements, then the employer is protecting both its employees and the business itself, because it is harder to bring a lawsuit against a company that follows all the rules.
However, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has, until now, only released general recommendations on how businesses should protect their employees and customers when reopening. Because they are only recommendations, and there are no required OSHA standards for a “safe workplace” in the midst of COVID, employees may find themselves in unsafe workplaces, and employers may be at risk for lawsuits.
Some Democrats are now saying that they’re open to business liability protections if OSHA establishes standards for a safe workplace.
While both Democrats and Republicans are flirting with the idea of compromise, no serious cross-aisle or bicameral discussions have taken place.
Suggestion: the two sides should be stuck in their own “COVID bubble” and not be allowed to give press conferences or intermingle with anyone else until they talk this through with each other.
Programming Note: Matthew Albright is a permanent panelist on Monitor Mondays. Listen to his live “Legislative Updates,” sponsored by Zelis, every Monday, 10 a.m. EST.