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McConnell proposes keeping liability protection and state, local funding out of coronavirus relief bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week Masks shed at White House; McConnell: 'Free at last' MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday proposed keeping two thorny issues — coronavirus-related liability protection and funding for state and local governments — out of the next COVID-19 relief bill.

Instead, the GOP leader says Congress should limit the bill to items that have broad agreement, such as new funding for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program small-business loans, money for vaccine distribution and additional resources for health care workers.  

“My view, and I think it’s the view shared by literally everybody on both sides of the aisle: We can’t leave without doing a COVID bill. The country needs it,” he said. “We need to do this.” 

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“It remains my view that we ought to pass what we can agree on,” he said.

McConnell noted that the two sides are at an impasse over language that would provide coronavirus-related liability protection to businesses, schools, churches, nonprofit groups and other organizations. 

He also pointed out that many GOP senators are strongly opposed to providing more money to cash-strapped state and local governments.

“With regard to state and local, a lot of members on our side look at the various states that receive the $150 billion we did in the CARES Act and wonder if this is a demonstrable need,” he said.

“We know the new administration is going to be asking for another package. What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local and pass those things we can agree on knowing full well we’ll be back at this at the first of the year,” he said. 

McConnell reiterated that he is willing to put coronavirus relief legislation on the floor without liability protection if new funding for state and local governments, a top priority of Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill MORE (D-N.Y.), is also set aside.

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“We all know, with all due respect to our colleagues on the other side, they are almost like a wholly owned subsidiary of the plaintiffs’ bar, so any kind of liability relief, they instinctively like a Pavlovian response object to,” he said.

On the Republican side, he pointed out, there are “some very serious questions about the actual need of additional state and local assistance.”

McConnell he has suggested to Democrats “internally” that “we set aside the two obviously most contentious issues.”

“We know we’re going to be confronted with another request after the first of the year,” he added.

The question of how far to go in granting liability protection to businesses and other organizations has emerged as one of the biggest sticking points of the year-end talks.

A group of Republican and Democratic senators met in the Mansfield Room off the Senate floor Monday evening to discuss liability protection.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (R-Texas), who is leading the liability protection talks for Republicans, said there was a “robust exchange of ideas” but “no consensus” reached.

He said the idea of dropping the liability protections along with new state and local funding went over like a “lead balloon” at the meeting. 

Schumer on Tuesday balked at McConnell’s proposal.

“Sen. McConnell has put the jobs of firefighters, ambulance workers, sanitation officers, police officers in jeopardy. Every governor and mayor across the country has been fighting to keep these people working and McConnell is pulling the rug out from under them,” he said.

New York, for example, faces a 15 percent reduction in revenue compared to pre-pandemic projections for 2021 while California faces a 17 percent to 21 percent reduction in projected revenue for 2021.

‘The state and local funding provisions have broad bipartisan support from the National Governors Association and within the Senate. Many Republican support state and local funding,” he said.

Schumer argued there is no bipartisan support for McConnell’s proposed five-year liability protection plan, which the GOP leader has made a top priority.

Updated at 5:50 p.m.