COVID-19 Update | Friday, July 24
August 7, 2020
The House is in Session today, the Senate will next meet on Monday.
- Negotiations on the next COVID-19 package are at a standstill after White House officials and Senate Republicans could not reach an agreement among Republicans allowing for negotiations to begin with Congressional Democrats.
- The disagreements ranged from a payroll tax cut (which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said will not be included, despite the President’s insistence), more money for testing, unemployment insurance benefits and other measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn.
- We expect the Republicans to start releasing language on Monday.
- Even amid veto threats from President Trump, both the House and Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with provisions to remove Confederate names from military installations. The NDAA passed each chamber by large enough margins to override a potential veto.
- Conference negotiations on the NDAA will likely begin at the staff level almost immediately, but formal conferees may not be named until after the August recess given Congress’ long to-do list before the break.
- Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced S. 4293, the Maintaining Important Distance During Lengthy Epidemics (MIDDLE) Act of 2020 on Thursday. This legislation would require face coverings on passenger aircraft and ban the sale of middle or otherwise adjacent seats for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. A press release on the legislation can be found here.
- Elevate does not expect this legislation to become law, as Republicans have been reluctant to impose mandates on the transportation industry since the start of the pandemic.
- As a reminder, major U.S. airlines have imposed mask requirements for passengers both while on board and, for some, even while in the airport.
- The House companion, H.R. 7741, was introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).
- Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced S. 4313, the Physician Education for PFAS Health Impacts Act, to help educate physicians on the effects of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have showed up in drinking water and military bases across the country. The legislation would establish a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant program to fund training and courses for physicians on the health outcomes and best practices for those who’ve been exposed to PFAS. A press release on the legislation is here. Bill text is here.
- Seven Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that urged aid be included in the next COVID-19 package to support the clean energy industry. Though no specific policies are offered, the letter argues that investing in clean energy would be “fiscally prudent.”
- A report from the minority staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee found that only ten states and the District of Columbia have protections set up to shield their residents from having their water, gas or electric utilities shut off. Eighteen states offer no protections, while twenty-two states offer some level of protection.
- Seven Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr raising concerns about Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit. The Senators urged that the Department of Justice take any warranted action in order to make sure that this acquisition is appropriate.
- The House passed the first Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations minibus, H.R. 7608, today by a vote of 224 to 189. This $259.5B minibus included the Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and State-Foreign Operations spending bills. More than 100 amendments were added to the bill.
- The House Rules Committee will meet on the second appropriations minibus, H.R.7617, on Monday, setting the legislation up for floor consideration later next week. As a reminder, H.R. 7617 includes the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development measures.
- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) led a letter signed by twenty-five other Democrats urging U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to distribute the $180M, which Congress appropriated in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Implementation Act, H.R. 5430/S.3052, to help the Mexican government implement its labor reforms as the USMCA requires.
- The late Rep. John Lewis will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda on July 27-28. Only thirty-two people have ever had this honor since 1852. Lewis is set to be honored in a small private ceremony earlier in the day on Monday before the public will be allowed to pay its respects.
- The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law’s July 27 hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple is likely to be postponed due to the announcement that the late Rep. John Lewis will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol on the same day.
- Forty-nine governors have asked to extend the Federal deployment of tens of thousands of National Guardsmen working on COVID-19 relief efforts across the country. The Department of Defense will send these requests forward to the Department of Justice for approval, before they head to the President’s desk. Major General Matt Quinn, the president of the Adjutants General Association of the United States and the head of the National Guard in Montana, is hopeful that the President will support this extension. As a reminder, Federal support of the National Guard’s work is set to end on August 21.
- American Airlines expects to finalize a $4.75B loan agreement with the Treasury Department in the next couple of months. American is one of ten major U.S. airlines that have signed letters of intent to accept Federal loans through the CARES Act. The other airlines are Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, United, Southwest, Frontier, Hawaiian, Sky West and Spirit.
- Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao announced Thursday that hyperloops will fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Chao noted that with hyperloop under FRA authority, it will have access to Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI) grants, Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loans and the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) and Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) programs. Jay Walder, the CEO of Virgin Hyperloop, characterized the announcement as historic.
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has ended its standoff with the state of New York and will now allow the state’s residents to once again enroll in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) trusted traveler programs like Global Entry and NEXUS. As a reminder, DHS barred New York residents from enrolling in the programs in February after New York passed legislation barring DHS from receiving certain information about New York residents, which the Department argued made it impossible to accurately validate a person’s identity.
- Governor Andrew Cuomo alleged that top DHS officials could be subject to criminal charges for the original decision to bar New Yorkers from expedited border crossings and that the decision might have exacerbated the COVID-19 situation in New York. Cuomo urged Attorney General William Barr and Congress to investigate DHS’ actions.
- The head of the Chinese Consulate in Houston has not yet committed to closing the office, in direct contradiction to U.S. State Department orders. Cai Wei, the Chinese Consul General in Houston, said that the State Department’s demand that the Consulate be shuttered by the close of business Friday violates international and diplomatic norms, the Vienna convention, and the China-U.S. consular treaty and urged that the Trump Administration revoke this order.
- The Chinese government called on the State Department to close the American Consulate in the western Chinese city of Chengdu in retaliation.
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a notification of temporary changes to policies on the use of short-term escalations (STE) to manage scheduled maintenance requirements affected by COVID-19.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is expected to release its final environmental impact report for the Pebble Mine in Alaska. In a leaked version of the report, USACE concluded that the mine would not have a significant impact on fish numbers and fishing in Bristol Bay. Following the release of this study, USACE, along with the Coast Guard, will decide whether to issue permits within the next 30 days.
- Federal Register notices:
- The Department of Energy’s Office of Science announced a meeting of the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC), scheduled for Monday, August 24, 11:00 am to 5:30 pm EDT. The notice can be found here.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the review of the residual risk and technology review (RTR) conducted for the Rubber Tire Manufacturing source category regulated under national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP). The EPA is taking action to add electronic reporting of performance test results and reports, compliance reports, and Notification of Compliance Status (NOCS) reports and to remove the provision that exempts emissions from compliance with the standards during periods of startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM). The notice can be found here.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a final rule to facilitate the deployment of earth stations in motion (ESIMs) communicating with geostationary and non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite service (FSS) satellite systems. The notice can be found here.
- The General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Federal High-Performance Buildings within the Office of Government-wide policy issued a notice that the recurring, biweekly conference calls of the Green Building Advisory Committee’s Embodied Energy Task Group will now be extended to last through November 18, 2020. The notice can be found here.
- The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Small Business Capital Formation Advisory Committee issued a notice that it will hold a public meeting by videoconference on August 4, from 10:00am to 3:00pm EDT. The notice can be found here.
- The State Department announced a closed meeting of the Foreign Affairs Policy Board to take place on August 17, at the Department of State’s offices in Washington D.C. The notice can be found here.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced a final rule to their regulations that revised the list of user fee airports to reflect the designation of user fee status for four additional airports: New York Stewart International Airport in New Windsor, New York; Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland, Florida; Boca Raton Airport in Boca Raton, Florida; and Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California. The notice can be found here.
- For the third straight day, COVID-19 deaths exceeded 1,000 in the U.S. More than half of those deaths occurred in Florida, Texas, and California. White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx characterized the spike in COVID-19 cases in those three states as “essentially three New Yorks” at once.
- Airbus has moved to stop subsidies for the A350 in a bid to end a decades-long dispute with Boeing over government aid. The company agreed to pay higher interest rates on loans granted by the governments of Spain and France where some of its main production sites are housed. The loans, known as Repayable Launch Investments, were found to be illegal by the World Trade Organization (WTO) earlier this year. This move was also an attempt to coerce the USTR to end its retaliatory tariffs on European goods. Following Airbus’ move to end these subsidies, the European Union called on the U.S. government to remove “unjustified tariffs on European products.”
- As a reminder, USTR has received more than 15K comments on its proposal to revise tariffs on the European Union regarding the Airbus dispute. The USTR is expected to announce changes to the $7.5B retaliation list by August 12, with most of the tariffs aimed at Airbus and European Union wine, cheese, and other such products.
- Most European Union countries have yet to establish an alternative 5G provider to Chinese firm Huawei, which a recent European Union report described as a high-risk supplier.
- The European Commission requested that Google agree not to use Fitbit’s data in order to improve its search engine as part of its initial investigation into Google’s acquisition of the wearable technology company.
- According to data from the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending in the country was $11.5B for the week ending on July 18, which was 51% below 2019 levels. Additionally, since March 1, there have been $297B in cumulative losses for the U.S. travel economy and a loss of $38B in federal, state, and local tax revenue.