GOP Proposes Massive Coal Industry Handout, No Direct COVID Relief Payments

While excluding any funding for direct cash payments to Americans struggling to afford basic necessities amid the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, the purportedly “targeted” relief legislation put forth by Senate Republicans Tuesday calls for a $161 million handout to the coal industry — a proposal Sen. Bernie Sanders condemned as “pathetic.”

“Senate Republicans tell us we can’t afford to give $2,000 a month to the working class during the economic crisis,” tweeted the Vermont senator, but “the Covid-19 ‘relief’ bill they just released provides $161 million in corporate welfare to the coal industry during a climate emergency.”

Sanders pointed to a provision buried in the 285-page GOP bill (pdf) — titled the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools, and Small Businesses Act — directing the Department of Energy to “carry out a program under which the secretary shall develop advanced separation technologies for the extraction and recovery of rare earth elements and minerals from coal and coal byproducts.”

The massive coal industry handout was just one of many provisions crammed in the so-called “skinny” relief bill that progressive advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers denounced as unacceptable.

Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, said in a statement that the new legislation spotlights the extent to which “Senate Republicans’ priorities are completely upside down,” pointing to the measure’s proposal of a sweeping liability shield for corporations that expose workers and customers to Covid-19.

“They’re against providing state and local governments with critical aid to fund public services and schools but in favor of granting businesses immunity from lawsuits related to the coronavirus,” said Gilbert. “The pandemic is already widening social and economic divisions. Shielding corporations from accountability will endanger workers, consumers, and patients, and make the pandemic even worse.”

The price tag of the Republican proposal was pegged at around $300 billion, making the bill dramatically smaller than the $1 trillion plan the Senate GOP rolled out in July — a proposal that was also deemed woefully inadequate to meet the needs of tens of millions of hungry, jobless, and eviction-prone Americans.

The new bill calls for a $300-per-week federal boost to unemployment benefits, just half of the $600 weekly supplement Republicans allowed to expire at the end of July; $105 billion for education and tax credits for “private-school scholarships“; $250 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program; and forgiveness of a $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service approved under a previous relief package.

In a speech on the Senate floor late Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate will vote on the bill this week even though it is widely expected to fail due to lack of Democratic support and divisions within the Republican caucus.

“Every senator who has said they want a bipartisan outcome for the country will have the chance to vote, for everyone to see,” said McConnell. “Senators will vote this week. And the American people will be watching.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said McConnell’s push for a rapid vote on a Republican bill that’s “certain to fail” is “one of the cynical things I have ever seen in politics.”

“This new emaciated Republican Covid proposal fails to meet the needs of the American people,” Schumer tweeted.

Kyle Herrig, president of watchdog group Accountable.US, said in a statement late Tuesday that the Senate GOP’s latest plan is “a slap in the face to the millions of Americans struggling to provide for their families during this crisis.”

“Without adequate support for people who have lost their jobs or sufficient funds to help small businesses stay afloat,” added Herrig, “it’s clear that lawmakers are more interested in helping the president and his allies with this bill than the workers who need support most.”