Pelosi says House won't cave to Senate on worker COVID-19 protections

Pelosi says House won't cave to Senate on worker COVID-19 protections
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Trump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday rejected the notion that Democrats would cave to Republican demands to scale back legal protections for workers who face the threat of COVID-19 on the job site.

As Congress is eyeing a fifth round of coronavirus relief before the end of July, GOP leaders have pressed for a speedy reopening of the economy while insisting that businesses be protected from lawsuits by workers who get sick on the job.

Pelosi suggested Thursday that that's a non-starter.

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"Don't say, 'You all have to go back to work, even if it isn't safe. And by the way, we're removing all responsibility from the employer,'" Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "I mean that's — no."

In May, House Democrats passed a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that included an expansion of worker protections under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Senate Republicans, who had rejected similar language in earlier rounds of pandemic aid, are pressing instead for liability protections for businesses reopening amid the surge in COVID-19 cases. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) has deemed that provision a "red line" to bring Republicans on board the next package.

Yet the environment has deteriorated rapidly since the last round of coronavirus relief was adopted in April, as dozens of states have experienced a spike in cases in recent weeks, leading hospitals to become overwhelmed and governors to close some of the same businesses they'd only recently reopened.

Given the changing dynamics, Pelosi said Republicans will be forced to accept an emergency aid package much larger than the $1 trillion figure GOP leaders had floated just a few weeks ago.

"Every day you see them opening up more," Pelosi said. "We get overtures about, 'Can this be in the bill? Can that be in the bill?' — because they know there has to be a bill."

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Indeed, McConnell has recently expressed a new interest in another round of direct payments, though he suggested that eligibility should be limited to those earning less than $40,000 a year, down from $99,000 in the CARES Act.

Pelosi welcomed the change of heart, but questioned the $40,000 cap.

"I think families making over $40,000 probably need assistance ... depending on their family situation," she said.

Democrats are pressing for $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments, another $1 trillion for unemployment benefits and direct payments, and somewhere in the vicinity of $1 trillion — "but probably not as much" — for testing, tracing and treatment of COVID-19 as it spreads quickly around the country.

The GOP's $1 trillion proposal "doesn't come anywhere near" what's needed to address the current crisis, Pelosi said.

"The Fed is spending trillions of dollars to shore up the stock market. That may be a good thing to do," she said. "We think we should spend trillions of dollars to shore up America's workers."