What McConnell's Corporate Immunity Really Means

As the deadline on another relief package looms, the threat of giving corporations a liability shield comes at a hefty price - one that would spell bankruptcy for many state and local governments.

For the last several months, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has stalled a much needed second Covid-relief plan, while millions of Americans struggle during the holiday season and worry about the uncertainty of what is to come. Sensing the desperation of Democrats to make sure that people have food and are not evicted from their homes, McConnell has seized upon yet another opportunity to hold federal assistance, which has become a lifeline for many American families, for ransom.

Republicans and Democrats continue to struggle this week to come to a final agreement on the second round of Covid-19 federal relief aid. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speak at the service for Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) on July 29, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski /via Getty Images)

At the center of the McConnell induced stalemate is the concept of granting corporations total immunity from civil and criminal liability, even if they recklessly endanger consumers and workers during the pandemic. This would mean that no employee or consumer could sue a business for any intentional or negligent harm caused, even in the most egregious of cases. This is a protective shield, being pushed in Congress by corporate lobbyists, who are committed to ensuring the cash flow for corporate business at any cost, including ensuring that Mitch McConnell is richly rewarded in exchange for selling out America.

McConnell knows exactly what is on the line and is using the desperation of Americans and the Democratic Party to leverage his corporate-funded deal. Without a substantial compromise, the last remaining coronavirus relief benefits created to protect tens of millions of Americans from hungerevictions and financial ruin will end. Moreover, if the bargain is not struck this week, before Congress leaves for the break, a majority of Americans will be left desperate, as they tread through the entire holiday season fearing the worst. This is the antithesis of what a government, established by the people and for the people, is meant to represent.

Without a deal this week, federal programs set up to subsidize American incomes and payments through the pandemic, such as the $300 bonus provision for unemployment checks, will start to expire on December 26. The CARES Act, created to distribute aid to workers, families and small businesses is set to end on December 31. This relief, ultimately meant to preserve jobs and keep the economy afloat, includes tax benefits, enhanced unemployment benefits, a ban on evictions, mortgage relief and student loan forbearances. Clearly there is a lot on the line and a looming deadline of only a few weeks.

The latest attempt to work around Mitch McConnell’s relief roadblock came yesterday, when a bipartisan group of lawmakers released two proposed bills — one with the two provisions that are in contention from either side and one without. The first bill includes both provisions that are currently in contention: a demand to include corporate liability protections from Republicans, and an insistence that relief money go to local and state governments from Democrats. The second bill omits both of these requests from each side. With this configuration, it appears as if the first proposed bill, the one that includes critical aid to state and local government, will move forward only if Democrats acquiesce to corporate liability protections.

While state and local aid might not seem like much of a sticking point at first glance, this proposed funding would keep many states from going bankrupt and would add back funding for schools and local programs that have borne the brunt of the shutdowns. It is necessary funding to ensure the entire system continues to operate, which is essential in making sure that those who are hit hardest by the pandemic have state and local options, as well as federal. Without a deal, and the added $160 billion for state and local funding, states will be left to fend for themselves entirely, which will no doubt yield the catastrophic result of bankruptcy.

Providing corporations and businesses with legal immunity now, reduces all of their incentive to provide the necessary and appropriate protective equipment and safe environments to workers and customers for the next year — a year that will still have a record number of deaths from the coronavirus — before the full effects of the vaccine will kick in. Freedom from this liability will mean that companies can now cut costs by providing less to everyone, which will only serve to increase the risk and number of fatalities as we round the corner on this pandemic.

Republicans have also intentionally left out the direct stimulus check payments to taxpayers in both of these deals to leverage it against funding state and local aid. If the plan that leaves out aid for municipalities is left out, many argue that there will be funding left to add in the checks, which is something many Americans want. Keep in mind that the ceiling of roughly one trillion dollars for the relief bill (two trillion for both relief packages combined) was established by Republicans, who have been notoriously wasteful with taxpayer money as we have watched millions of dollars flow to Donald Trump to support his properties and golfing habit.

Ultimately it appears as if McConnell has leveraged his corporate immunity against keeping states from going bankrupt, with a stimulus check sweetener for the deal. The idea of making that concession in order to keep food on the table and many in their homes, is nothing short of a punch to the gut. McConnell knows this, which is why the stimulus checks have been added as a teaser to keep Americans compliant and willing to overlook what they will potentially lose — their rights in court.

McConnell’s sudden reversal in the Conservative philosophy of de-regulation just proves that the concept of regulatory freedoms was never about the need to keep the Capitalist market healthy — it was always about insulating the rich. To allow the money makers of this country to continue to feed off of the hardships of the working man is also ironically inching us closer to the harsh realities of Communism.

Setting the standard of corporate immunity during a mass pandemic is a policy that, if set now, will prove disastrous for generations to come. It would then be easier to give in to corporate liability waivers, and take the forged path that McConnell has created with this concession. McConnell will be taking corporate lobbyist money in exchange for opening a Pandora’s Box of de-regulation that even Elizabeth Warren, backed by an entirely Democratic Congress, would not be able to easily close.

Dying people and those they leave behind have typically had the remedy of pursuing some form of justice within the legal system for wrongdoing — this is an inherently American concept. Corporate immunity could also create unforeseeable issues with sick people and beneficiaries obtaining government benefits, such as disability or social security. In addition, the burden of paying these costs would fall to the taxpayer, rather than to the corporate entity that caused the injury.

To end this practice during a pandemic, is to say that the life of the American worker is as expendable as any inanimate tool or piece of machinery. It is a border, that, once crossed, yields a point of no return for our collective consciences, and scrapes another layer of humanity off of our proverbial skins. We will not be able to go back as a country, to a time when a workers’ basic rights remained intact, if we chose this way forward.

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Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.

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