May 14, 2020

Liability—The Next Battle

Protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits has emerged as Republicans’ top priority for future relief legislation.

COVID-19-related liability protections have not been included in any relief package passed by Congress to date, and they were not included in the Democratic legislation the House is slated to approve tomorrow. However, Senate Majority Leader McConnell says liability protections are a “red line” issue for Senate Republicans to pass any further relief.

While Senate Republicans have yet to release a detailed plan, McConnell has indicated that his caucus is working on a proposal that will contain “narrowly crafted liability protection to target healthcare workers and others who have been on the front line here with something brand new that people were unclear of how to deal with.”

The lengthy and complex negotiation ahead will attract important supporters for both sides, including the Chamber of Commerce and the American Association for Justice.

Democrats are publicly cool to the idea of broad, new protections for business and instead they have focused efforts on additional protections for workers. But Democrats likely will have to accept some form of liability protections to get Republicans to agree to hundreds of billions of additional spending they are pushing for.

Health Care Reform Likely Under a President Biden

While Democrats may be united in their hope Joe Biden will take over the White House, finding consensus on what to do if he wins in November will be more difficult.

As demonstrated by the fractured presidential primary, Democrats go into this election divided on most issues including infrastructure, environment, energy, criminal justice, immigration and taxes.

One exception may lie in a particularly relevant issue for the coronavirus age – health care. If Biden is able to defeat President Trump, a large part of the progressive coalition that will have elected him will demand an expansion of the Affordable Care Act or even Medicare For All as his first priority.

Yet he is likely to confront Republicans dead set against much of what he proposes and complaining loudly about big government and big deficits.

Given progressives’ expectations and that health care could be how Biden begins his presidency, he would be unlikely to propose a fiscally constrained package, and moderate and wavering Democrats would be under tremendous pressure to pass his top priority.

If Democrats manage to take control of both houses of Congress, Biden would be helped by the fact that congressional rules mean he will probably only need simple majorities in the House and Senate, either through use of reconciliation or elimination of the filibuster for legislation in the Senate.

As a result, the odds are good in this scenario for Biden to get the Democratic majority to pass an expensive, partially offset, health care bill.

COVID-19 By The Numbers

Take the Wheel

Wary about hopping on a bus or Metro car with other humans any time soon? You aren’t alone. The pandemic is showing demand for driverless vehicles could be larger than expected, Axios writes, as consumers might prefer a transportation service that doesn’t expose them to a human driver or other passengers.

That’s created a dynamic for the auto industry that Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker and House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden this weeklikened to a post-war boom. “Our current crisis underscores the need for the United States to continue leading in automotive innovation, including in automated vehicle technology,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to automotive and technology trade groups.

Though widespread use of driverless cars may still be some years away, companies are still advancing – Ford says it is still slated to spend $4 billion on the concept by 2023, per Axios.

In the interim, autonomous vehicles are being used to help out during the crisis: Aptiv, which has partnered with Lyft to give rides in Las Vegas over the last two years, is using its driverless cars there to deliver meals to families in need. Cruise, the joint venture between General Motors and Honda, is doing the same in San Francisco.

Open For Business— But Are Americans Buying It?

With most states partially reopening by May 18th, are Americans ready to get back to normal?

Not quite. Americans worry about their community re-opening too soon and think that a return to old routines poses a large or moderate risk that they are not willing to accept.

But there are signs of a growing divide. Republicans are growing less supportive than Democrats of state and local governments’ actions in response to COVID-19, like restrictions on non-essential travel, gatherings of more than 10 people and shuttered restaurants and theaters.

As states begin to lift restrictions, Republicans are also more likely than Democrats to engage in pre-coronavirus activities. A majority of Republicans say they will have dinner at a friend’s house, get a haircut, go to the dentist, attend a funeral, eat at a restaurant, and attend religious services.