COVID-19 Update | Monday, Aug. 10 (AM)
August 10, 2020
Both the House and Senate are out of session officially. However, lawmakers have been instructed to be prepared to return to vote on a potential COVID-19 relief package.
COVID-19 Relief Negotiations
- It is unclear what shape negotiations will take this week and when they might resume. If Congress does not reach a deal and leaves for August recess, a deal will need to be negotiated in September amid discussions about government funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, which begins October 1. However, Elevate continues to hope for an agreement this week.
- President Trump announced four Executive Orders (EOs) over the weekend in response to the delay in negotiations among House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. As expected, the EOs cover:
- Unemployment benefits
- This order would redeploy up to $44B from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund to extend Federal unemployment insurance. The order authorizes a lost wages assistance program that authorizes Governors to provide $400 per week (at a 75% Federal cost share). The $100 not provided by the Federal government would have to be supplemented by relief funds provided to the state, the District of Columbia, or the territory previously.
- Payroll tax collection deferment
- This order would defer the collection of the employee share of payroll taxes for Americans earning less than $104,000 per year (those who make $4,000 bi-weekly pre-tax). However, since canceling the collection would require an act of Congress, the deferred tax will have to be repaid. The deferment covers wages from September 1 through December 31, 2020.
- Student loan payment relief
- This order extends the deferment of Federal student loan payments and interest through the end of the year.
- Renter and homeowner assistance
- This order instructs the Administration to “take all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19.” It is unclear for how long or what these “lawful measures” are.
- Unemployment benefits
- The EOs were criticized by both by Pelosi and Schumer during interviews on Sunday and even Republican Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) described them as unconstitutional, likening the EOs to EOs signed by President Obama that were heavily criticized for circumventing Congress.
- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 4484, the America’s Clean Future Fund Act, which would provide $50B for investments in clean energy projects and institute a $25 per metric ton of CO2 carbon fee once the pandemic is over, but no later than 2023. The fee would increase $10 per year above the consumer price index. Bill text of the legislation is not yet publicly available, but a press release can be found here.
- Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) urged Senators on Friday to quickly pass S. 4150, the CERTS Act, that would provide $10B in emergency grants to the bus, motorcoach, and passenger ferry industries. A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House also wrote a letter to leadership late last week asking them to include the measure in the next COVID-19 relief package to “rectify the omission of transportation service providers from pervious relief bundles.”
- A recent bulletin issued by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development found that 30-40% of the national bus network could disappear without financial relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) urging stiffer penalties against Boeing. Sen. Cantwell, who is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said the two recently proposed civil penalties totaling $1.25M, and the voluntary reporting system that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to create, are insufficient.
- House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rick Larsen (D-WA) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) also called the recently released independent survey on the FAA’s oversight and design changes to the 737 MAX (more information below) “damning” and “disheartening.” Chairman DeFazio also said that it was incumbent upon the FAA to do something with the survey results and iterated that his Committee wants the FAA to turn over all of the records it requested when it launched its investigation into the 737 MAX in April of last year.
- Margaret Everson will replace current Acting Director of the National Parks Service (NPS) David Vela. Vela was nominated to be Director of NPS in 2018 but was never confirmed by the Senate. Everson currently serves as Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and will be the fourth acting Director of NPS under President Trump.
- In retaliation to the U.S. sanctions of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and others, the Chinese government plans to sanction 11 Americans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, and Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz.
- The Department of the Interior released a proposed rule on Friday that would roll back portions of the Office of Natural Resources Revenue’s regulations determining the value of fossil fuels extracted from Federal lands and therefore determines the royalties to be paid to the government. The proposed rule would decrease royalty payments by $42.1M per year.
- The FAA will conduct two Federal Advisory Committee meetings this week, one on Women in Aviation and the other on Aeronautical Data.
- After President Trump announced the re-imposition of a 10% tariff on Canadian aluminum, the Canadian government is threatening to retaliate by imposing tariffs on $2.7B worth of U.S. goods, including refrigerators, wheel rims and golf clubs. The tariffs will enter into force in 30 days.
- Federal Register Notices:
- FEMA issued a notice extending a rule to allocate certain health and medical resources, mostly personal protective equipment (PPE), for domestic use, so that these resources may not be exported from the United States without explicit approval by FEMA. The notice can be found here.
- The FAA issued a notice of a proposed rule which would supersede an airworthiness directive that applied to Boeing 767-200 and -300 series aircraft. The proposed rule would mandate additional insulation blankets in cargo compartments that need to be replaced, among other things. Comments are due September 24. The notice can be found here.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a final rule which amends the FM Table of Allotments, of the FCC’s rules, by reinstating certain vacant FM allotments. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC issued a proposed rule to take further steps to protect the nation’s communications networks from potential security threats as the FCC integrates provisions of the recently enacted Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (Secure Networks Act) into its existing supply chain rulemaking proceeding. The FCC seeks comment on proposals to implement further Congressional direction in the Secure Networks Act by August 31. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC issued a notice of a virtual public meeting of the Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council on September 16 from 2:00pm to 5:00pm ET. The notice can be found here.
- The U.S. surpassed 5M cases of COVID-19 over the weekend.
- Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced on Sunday that he opposes the proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska.
- Google and Oracle filed supplemental briefs on Friday in their decade-long lawsuit related to the nature of computer code and copyright law. The supplemental briefs offered opposing views on how seriously the Supreme Court should consider the decision the jury reached in Google’s favor during the previous trial. Oracle’s brief said the verdict was a suggestion the court should not uphold and Google’s brief argued that justices should not deviate from the decision.
- The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that “Twitter Inc. has had preliminary talks about a potential combination with TikTok, the popular video-sharing app that the Trump Administration has declared a national-security threat due to its Chinese ownership.” The Wall Street Journal also shared that it is unclear at this time whether or not Twitter will pursue the deal.
- Bill Gates also commented on Microsoft’s potential purchase of TikTok over the weekend, in an interview with WIRED.
- The Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings will hold a virtual discussion today entitled, “Why the World is at a Turning Point with Artificial Intelligence and What to do About It.”
- Airline labor unions and the airlines themselves continue to argue that a six-month extension of the CARES Act Payroll Support Program (PSP) is necessary and that the PSP has already saved thousands of jobs over the summer since the COVID-19 pandemic started. To date, 16 Senate Republicans are the most recent lawmakers to call for a clean extension of the PSP to avoid furloughs and the President has been supportive of the plan.
- Amtrak’s Inspector General released a report on Friday that broke down Amtrak’s use of relief money that was provided under the CARES Act. The report, among other things, stated that Amtrak could do more to help state officials understand the relationship between service levels and costs. Through June, Amtrak has spent about $402M of the $1B in total funds.
- An independent survey on the Boeing 737 MAX, which was submitted to Congress on Friday, “found that many aviation safety employees believe that senior leaders are overly concerned with achieving the business-oriented outcomes of industry stakeholders and are not held accountable for safety-related decisions.” The survey also found industry pressure to be more “liberal-minded” when evaluating safety risks. Reuters reported on the survey Friday.
- Major airlines pledged to allocate money toward more sustainable jet fuel to help reduce the industry’s carbon emissions prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, agreements with refinery companies could be delayed as airlines work to avoid bankruptcy.
- Southwest Airlines, for example, made a deal back in 2016 to buy three million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel a year, when it became available – the refinery is still under construction. However, that may be pushed back according to Southwest’s senior director of fuel supply chain management.