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COVID-19 UPDATE | FRIDAY, JUNE 17

July 17, 2020

Congress

Both the House and Senate are in recess through July 20; however, House Committees continue to meet.

Senate

  • Negotiations on the next COVID-19 relief package will begin next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that details of the legislation will begin to be provided to members on Monday and that leadership anticipates briefing Senate Republicans on their bill on Tuesday. No discussions with the Democrats, House or Senate, have commenced.
    • A draft outline of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) liability protection plan for the next COVID-19 relief package indicated a focus on temporary protections for schools, colleges, charities, churches, government agencies and businesses through 2024. The liability protections would not apply if entities do not make a reasonable effort to follow applicable public health guidelines. The proposal would also provide additional protections for frontline medical workers and protect employers from lawsuits stemming from stay-at-home orders or from injuries resulting from COVID-19 testing. In addition, the proposal would limit liability for products that meet certain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, including types of protective gear. The draft Republican outline will be part of the negotiations on a COVID-19 relief measure.

House

  • Reps. Ralph Norman (R-SC), Ted Budd (R-NC), and John Larson (D-CT) introduced H.R. 7651, the Healthy Skies Act, which would create a pilot program for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct temperature checks at 10 commercial airports. The airports would be chosen by TSA, according to the legislation. A press release on the legislation is here. The bill text is here.
  • Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced H.R. 7654, the COVID Testing Transparency Act. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to share testing data with Congress and the public. A press release on the legislation is here.
  • Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) introduced H.R. 7650, the Coronavirus Containment Act of 2020, which would require U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to test any individuals who are slated for deportation for COVID-19. A press release on the legislation is here. Bill text is here.
  • Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Vincente Gonzalez (D-TX), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) introduced H.R. 7634, the Isolate COVID-19 Act. The bill would establish a program where states can lease out hotel properties to temporarily quarantine individuals who come into contact with the virus that do not have the ability to quarantine in their own homes. A press release on the legislation is here. Bill text is here.
  • The House Rules Committee met today to discuss the process for H.R. 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act and H.R. 6395, the William (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA). As of the writing of this update, the Committee has not completed its consideration, which is expected to stretch late into the evening given the number of amendments to the NDAA. We will provide an update on amendments that were made in order for consideration by the House on Monday morning.
  • Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Bob Latta (R-OH), wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) on Thursday requesting expedited regulations on driverless delivery vehicles. The letter cited the COVID-19 pandemic as another reason to prioritize driverless vehicle regulation, as contactless delivery of goods could help decrease the spread of the virus.
  • The House Committee on Small Business held a hearing on oversight of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Department of Treasury pandemic programs. The witnesses were SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Department of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
    • During the hearing, Secretary Mnuchin called on Congress to ensure the next COVID-19 relief package helps industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, as well as smaller businesses and low- to middle-income families. Mnuchin also called for an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and stated that lawmakers should consider automatic loan forgiveness for smaller loans (but did not provide a threshold).

Administration

  • White House advisor Kellyanne Conway indicated that the White House will push for 10% of funding in the next COVID-19 relief package to be set aside for nonpublic schools and so-called Education Freedom Scholarships. The scholarships proposal, spearheaded by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has been introduced as H.R. 1434, and in the Senate as S. 634. The proposal would provide federal tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting organizations to pay for students to attend private schools or expand their public education options.
  • An unpublished document that was prepared by the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended 18 states roll back reopening amid the surge of COVID-19 cases. The 18 states were all determined to be in the “red zone,” which the document defined as having reported both new cases above 100 per 100,000 people, and a diagnostic test positivity result above 10% in the last week. The document has not been released publicly but its accuracy was confirmed by Vice President Mike Pence’s office, who leads the White House Task Force.
  • Attorney General William Barr on Thursday urged U.S. companies to reject doing business with the Chinese Communist Party. Barr specifically criticized U.S companies like Google, Disney, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Apple that have significant business interests in China.
  • Social Security Administration Chief Actuary Stephen Goss testified before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security that 2020 earnings and payroll tax liability are on track to be about 10% lower than expected in the 2020 Trustees Report that came out in April. The report found that if current unemployment levels continue, we could see depletion of Social Security by 2034. The report also found that if the unemployment situation continues to deteriorate, effects on Social Security could be exacerbated.
  • The Federal Reserve expanded eligibility of the Main Street Lending Program to include educational institutions, hospitals, and social service organizations. Additional information, including term sheets for the new organizations to participate, can be found here.
  • HHS announced that it will send another $10B in provider relief funds to hospitals in COVID-19 hotspots with high volumes of COVID-19 admissions. The full press release on HHS’ announcement can be found here.
  • The White House is reportedly blocking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials from testifying next week before a House Education and Labor Committee hearing on reopening schools. The CDC also confirmed that more guidance for opening schools will not be released until later this month.
  • Federal Register Notices:
    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of funding availability for applications for credit assistance under the State Infrastructure Finance Authority Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (SWIFIA) Program. The notice can be found here.
    • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a final rule authorizing permissive use of the “Next Generation” Broadcast Television standard. The notice can be found here.
    • DOT issued a notice and request for public comment on reducing the illegal passing of school busses. The notice can be found here.
    • The Executive Office of the President issued an Executive Order on Hong Kong normalization. The notice can be found here

Other News

  • The U.S. Travel Association sent a letter to Congressional leadership and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlining the travel industry’s priorities in the next COVID-19 package. Among the priorities are:
    • An extension of the PPP through the end of the year and an expansion of qualification guidelines to include destination marketing organizations, a different loan formula “that accounts for sustained periods of economic interruption,” a long-term relief program “to account for ongoing cycles of shutdowns and re-openings at different times in different parts of the country” and up to $10B in grants to promote safe travel practices and a liability shield for businesses.
    • Creation of a temporary travel tax credit, a tax credit for the “cost of attending or hosting a convention, business meeting, or trade show in the United States,” a tax credit for enhanced cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE), an enhanced employee retainment tax credit and an increased food and entertainment business expense deduction.
    • A national COVID-19 testing strategy.
    • More emergency assistance for airports.
  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced that she has been receiving chemotherapy treatment since May after a recurrence of cancer was found in her liver in February. She indicated that the treatment has yielded positive results thus far. Justice Ginsburg is the oldest Justice on the Supreme Court at 87.
  • The European Union’s (E.U.) Court of Justice on Thursday invalidated a data transfer agreement between the U.S. and the E.U. known as the Privacy Shield. The agreement allowed companies to commit to higher privacy standards before transferring consumer data transfers between the U.S. and the E.U. The court argued that the agreement did not provide sufficient protections for E.U. citizens once data was transferred and that U.S. surveillance laws were too intrusive and should not cover E.U. citizens.
  • BusinessEurope, a leading European business group, released a proposal Thursday on how to improve trade relations with the U.S. The proposal called for a formal platform for dialogue on trade and economic cooperation between the E.U. and the U.S., strengthened multilateral cooperation, and less protectionist policies.
  • The U.S Chamber of Commerce issued comments on the USTR’s Section 301 investigations against digital services taxes that are being considered or have been adopted by the E.U. The Chamber of Commerce called the digital services taxes “de facto discrimination” against U.S companies.
  • Amtrak released its Fiscal Year 2019 sustainability report on Thursday. The report highlighted that trains emit 83% less greenhouse gas than driving and up to 73% less than flying. The report also noted that Amtrak has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in the past 10 years.
  • The Cuban government announced on Thursday that it plans to eliminate the 10% tax imposed on U.S. dollars and that the currency will be used to purchase food, personal hygiene and other consumer goods.
  • The 12-member Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which includes Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Exxon Mobil, Equinor and Occidental, among others, have pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of their operations. The group aims to curb methane and carbon dioxide intensity to 20 kilograms by 2025, down slightly from a 23 kilograms baseline in 2017.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign released a five-point plan to reopen this schools this fall. Among the key points mentioned was the campaign’s support for $4B in emergency appropriations to help schools secure internet connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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