COVID-19 UPDATE | THURSDAY, JUNE 16
July 16, 2020
Both the House and Senate are in recess through July 20; however, House Committees continue to meet.
- Senate Democrats announced a new $350B bill to invest in communities of color that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Economic Justice Act authorizes $215B for infrastructure, $135B for childcare, health care and job training, a tax credit for homeowners and renters, and an expansion of Medicaid. A summary of the proposal can be found here and a backgrounder can be found here.
- Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey requesting that Twitter immediately contact the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to ensure that measures are taken to secure the website after many verified accounts, including those of former President Barack Obama and 2020 Presidential candidate Joe Biden, fell victim to a cyberattack.
- The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will host a business meeting to consider legislation, including S.345, the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, next week. The bill, which was introduced by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Rick Scott (R-FL), would prohibit federal employees from using the Chinese-owned app on government-issued work phones.
- The Committee will also consider S. 4133, the REAL ID Act Modernization Act, S. 4024, the Cybersecurity Advisory Committee Authorization Act of 2020, and the nomination of Derek Kan to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will testify in front of the committee later this month to answer questions about the State Department’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget request.
- Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking that the Department provide an accurate accounting of more than $1T in aid to state and local governments to date.
- The House Rules Committee will meet on Friday to discuss H.R. 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act. The committee will likely propose a “closed rule” that will not allow any amendments to the bill besides the motion to recommit.
- House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) sent a letter to Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) raising concerns about the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law’s hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, which is scheduled for July 27, 2020. Jordan noted that Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline’s (D-RI) proposed modifications for the hearing – which include allowing ten minutes of questioning for each subcommittee member and an extended questioning of up to thirty minutes – would violate House and Committee rules. Rep. Jordan also reiterated his belief that the hearing should be conducted by the full committee.
- Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) sent a letter on Wednesday to President Trump in support of a potential U.S ban on the Chinese-owned TikTok app. The letter said that the app and Chinese data practices present a threat to U.S national security.
- Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), along with Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Bill Johnson (R-OH), and Doris Matsui (D-CA), announced new legislation that would eliminate telehealth restrictions in Medicare. The bill, the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act, would make it easier to access telehealth care through Medicare.
- Two House Republican Representatives introduced legislation proposing tax credits for businesses struggling with additional costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) introduced legislation that would offer a refundable payroll tax credit to help businesses retain employees and keep customers safe as they reopen. Some examples of eligible expenses include COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment (PPE). The press release can be found here.
- Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) introduced legislation that would offer a refundable payroll tax credit for COVID-19 testing.
- 111 House lawmakers, led by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig expressing concerns about the Economic Impact Payments provided under the CARES Act. The letter specifically asked Commissioner Rettig to address issues with delayed payments, issues around deceased spouses, “Get My Payment” tool issues, and direct deposit issues faced by lawmakers’ constituents.
- According to data from the Department of Labor, another 1.3M Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week. The number of people that have filed for unemployment has continued to slowly decline since March.
- According to the Department of Labor, almost 32M Americans are now receiving unemployment benefits.
- President Trump has signaled to Republicans on the Hill that any new COVID-19 relief package must include a payroll tax cut. As a reminder, the payroll tax cut has long been a priority of the White House but was met with bipartisan opposition when President Trump suggested it for the next package earlier this year.
- Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette toured General Motors’ (GM) Estes Battery Lab and Design Center in Detroit and announced $139M in electric vehicle grants for 55 projects to conduct research in advanced batteries, electrification, and manufacturing in support of DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge. A press release on the announcement is here. A full list of the grant recipients is here.
- Jason Kearns, the Chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), sent a letter to Congressional leaders on Wednesday warning that the ITC might not be able to implement its end of the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) unless Congress increases its budget.
- U.S. District Judge Yvonne Rogers of the Northern District of California blocked a Trump Administration rollback of a methane emissions rule regarding oil and gas operations on Federal and Tribal lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2016 regulation established methane leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas production on federal lands, and in 2018, BLM, under the Trump Administration, repealed many of the rule’s key provisions including requirements that companies write waste minimization plans for their operations, meet methane capture targets and use equipment that adheres to certain technical standards.
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced the FCC’s August 6 meeting agenda on Wednesday. A key item on the agenda is the bidding procedures for the FCC’s December auction of 5G-friendly C-band airwaves. It is important to note that there was no mention of action on distributing the 5.9 GHz spectrum, even though FCC Commissioners voted in December on an initial plan that would have expanded the uses of the spectrum otherwise reserved for transportation safety. Chairman Pai’s post on the FCC agenda can be found here.
- 37 states saw an increase of at least 10% in the amount of new COVID-19 cases over the past week, whereas only two states – Maine and Arizona – have seen recent improvement.
- 25 U.S states and Washington D.C currently have face covering mandates. This translates to more than half of the American population.
- On Wednesday, Alabama became the 25th state to enact a face covering requirement.
- However, there is still no indication from the White House that the Administration plans to institute a nationwide mandate for face coverings.
- Of note, however, is the inclusion of language in the House’s FY 2021 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill requiring face coverings on Amtrak, commercial aircraft, and public transit in urban areas.
- Aviation labor groups urged Congress in a letter on Wednesday to extend the payroll support included in the CARES Act and to sign on to the Dear Colleague letter, led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), that we reported on last night. The groups argued that the payroll support saved hundreds of thousands of frontline airline jobs without any money going to the airlines themselves.
- Airlines for America also issued a statement indicating they would support an extension of the payroll support program that was included in the CARES Act.
- Microsoft and food company Land O’Lakes announced a strategic partnership on Wednesday that will seek to create new innovations in agriculture, increase efficiency in food supply chains, expand sustainability for farmers, and fix the rural broadband gap. The press release can be found here.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) outlining priorities in the Phase 4 COVID-19 package to help businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter asked for an increase of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) and asked for an acceleration of general business tax credits, which the letter said would help the liquidity needs of businesses. The letter also asked for Congress to set aside funding to open schools safely, to extend federal unemployment benefits, but to decrease them from $600 a week to a maximum of $400 a week with enough funding to replace 80-90% of the employees’ wages, and to provide relief to state and local governments.
- The New York Public Service Commission approved a $700M program to build more electric vehicle chargers around the state. The program will build more than 55,000 chargers by funding a portion of the transmission upgrades and the site preparation work needed to install the chargers. The program will be funded by revenue generated through New York residents’ electric bills.
Caltrain, a commuter rail system in the Bay Area, is facing a full shutdown after a bid to put a sales tax measure on the November ballot was declined by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The sales tax would have raised around $100M, necessary funding to bridge drastic revenue shortfalls faced by Caltrain as a result of COVID-19.