GOP congressman says 'best stimulus' is stripping workers of their rights

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Rep. Ted Budd's bill is a liability shield for businesses whose employees or customers become sick with the coronavirus.

Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) said Friday that he had figured out the best way to help the economy in the COVID-19 pandemic: take away protections for workers who get sick on the job.

"Congress should be doing everything in our power to help small businesses reopen as quickly as possible," he tweeted. "That's the best stimulus we can provide. Check out my latest bill to stop frivolous lawsuits."

His proposal, the "Protecting Reopening Businesses Recovering from COVID-19 Act," is a liability shield for businesses whose employees or customers become sick with the coronavirus. It would only allow victims to sue if they can prove the business was "grossly negligent," an almost impossible standard.

Congressional Republicans tried to do this last year, heeding requests from their corporate benefactors.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas proposed the "Safeguarding America's Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy Act (SAFE TO WORK)", with 22 other Republican senators co-sponsoring, to offer similar liability protections for businesses. Rep. James Comer (R-KY) offered the same proposal in the House, and several of his colleagues endorsed the idea.

McConnell (R-KY) announced last April that he would draw a "red line" and block any COVID-19 relief legislation from passing the Senate if it did not include the proposal. "Let me make it perfectly clear that the Senate is not interested in passing a bill that does not have liability protection."

Democrats strongly opposed the provisions, keeping it out of House-passed relief bills and the compromise legislation enacted in December. McConnell dropped his demand that time, but told Fox News that he would "insist" on the corporate protections in 2021. He soon after lost his majority and, with it, his power to block legislation from coming to the floor.

Experts say the shield proposal would be harmful to workers, especially minority populations. "Black, Latinx, and workers of color will be most directly impacted by the corporate immunity bill," Hugh Baran, staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, told the American Independent Foundation last July.

"Gross negligence is already as a general manner an extremely difficult thing to prove," he explained. "You virtually have to prove intent — that you wanted your workers to get hurt or sick. This [bill] actually raises the bar so high that no worker or consumer will ever be able to" meet the standard.

Budd's push comes as Congress is again considering a bill that aims to actually stimulate the economy. President Joe Biden has proposed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to control the ongoing pandemic and provide billions in emergency relief funds to individuals and to state and local governments.

But congressional Republicans are focused on protecting business interests. The House and Senate Republican minorities unanimously opposed advancing the legislation in early February. On Friday, CNN reported that House GOP leaders are actively whipping their members to oppose the final bill, deriding it as the "Pelosi's Payoff to Progressives Act."

Budd, a third-term lawmaker, has spent much of the current 117th Congress pushing a right-wing social agenda that voters simply do not want.

He filed a bill requiring the reinstatement of Donald Trump's defunct 1776 Commission, which sought to block schools from teaching about America's real history of racism; grumbled about "cancel culture"; and railed against the Dallas Mavericks' short-lived decision not to play the national anthem prior to their basketball games.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.