COVID-19 Update | Wednesday, Aug. 12
August 12, 2020
The Senate is technically in session, but most Senators are back in their home states and no votes are scheduled. The House is in recess. Lawmakers in both chambers have been instructed to be prepared to return to vote on a potential COVID-19 relief package.
COVID-19 Relief Negotiations
- As we reported yesterday, negotiations continue to be stalled. As of this writing, the four negotiators – White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – are not expected to meet today or tomorrow and did not meet yesterday.
- Leaders of each chamber have made comments on the lack of progress:
- In a Senate floor speech, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of not taking COVID-19 seriously.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) commented in an interview that waiting to address COVID-19 relief until the end of the fiscal year would lead to more pandemic-related deaths.
- Reports indicate that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reached out to Pelosi and Schumer to meet but the two Democrats indicated in a statement that they are unwilling to resume negotiations until the Administration agrees to compromise on the size and scope of the next COVID-19 relief package.
- Leaders of each chamber have made comments on the lack of progress:
- Members who face competitive reelection opposition this fall continue to urge party leaders to continue negotiating and reach an agreement.
- Most recently, first-term House Democrats, many of whom will be involved in competitive races this fall, are calling on bipartisan COVID-19 relief talks to resume. Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said that the lack of progress on COVID-19 relief is “a middle finger to the American people.” In addition to Rose, Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Dean Phillips (D-MN), and Ben McAdams (D-UT) have all expressed frustration and concern about the lack of progress on a deal.
- As a reminder, Republican Senators in competitive races previously advocated for the Senate to remain in session until an agreement is reached.
- As a reminder, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) recently expired and with COVID-19 relief talks stalled, there are increasing doubts among many small business owners regarding the future of the program.
- 16 Senators, led by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), wrote a letter to Chairwoman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM) which urged support for the National Parks Service’s Outdoor Recreation Legacy Program (ORLP) to improve outdoor recreation infrastructure, revitalize local economies, and enhance quality of life in neighborhoods.
- House Oversight and Reform Committee Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY) wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey following up on last week’s briefing by Dorsey regarding a July cyber-scam on the social media site. In the letter, Comer said that none of his concerns on employee access to users’ accounts, Twitter’s ability to work from home and still monitor security, and other data security issues were addressed. Comer asked Dorsey to respond to a series of questions by August 18.
- Letters from both the Senate and House were sent to President Trump urging that the Administration provide full Federal funding for the National Guard’s COVID-19 deployment in all states and territories. In the Senate, Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) led a letter of 34 Democrats. In the House, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) led a bipartisan letter that was signed by 115 Members.
- As a reminder, last week President Trump extended the National Guard’s deployment to support COVID-19 efforts across the country but imposed a 25% cost share on states and territories, though for some states, that 25% cost share provision was revoked.
- Right now, Arizona, Texas, Florida, California and Connecticut are all exempt from the National Guard cost share.
- According to a newly released report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Federal revenues fell by 10% from April to July, due to a slowing economy and tax cuts that were passed by Congress in response to COVID-19. The report found that in that same period, revenues from corporate taxes fell 26% while individual and payroll taxes were down only 9%. However, due to stronger than expected revenues in the beginning of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, revenues for FY 2020 are only down 1% compared to where they were at this time in FY 2019.
- President Trump’s Executive Order on payroll tax collection deferment will be optional for employers, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
- As a reminder, we reported Monday that this Executive 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 paid at a later date. The order covers wages from September 1 through December 31, 2020, though President Trump has since suggested that this could be retroactive to August 1, or even July 1.
- The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced in its second quarter report that 99%, or 56K miles, of track are operating positive train control (PTC) systems. As of June 30, PTC has not been activated on approximately 700 required route miles, including New Jersey Transit and New Mexico Rail Runner Express. A full breakdown of the FRA’s implementation of PTC systems across the country can be found here.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense announced that they reached an agreement with Moderna to produce and deliver 100M doses the of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that it will block imports of clothing produced by the Chinese company Hero Vast Group and its subsidiaries based on information that the company might be using prison labor to manufacture products. A press release from CBP can be found here.
- The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced minor changes to retaliatory tariffs against European products in response to the European Union’s (EU) subsidies to the aircraft manufacturer Airbus. The amount of products subject to countermeasures will remain unchanged at $7.5 billion and the tariff rates will remain unchanged at 15% for aircraft and 25% for all other products.
- As a reminder, in July we reported that Airbus moved to end subsidies for the A350 in a bid to end a decades-long dispute with Boeing over government aid. Airbus 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 Investment, were found to be illegal by the WTO earlier this year. Airbus’s agreement to pay higher interest rates was also an attempt to sway USTR to end retaliatory tariffs on European goods.
- USTR Robert Lighthizer and Britain’s Trade Secretary Liz Truss are expected to continue discussing trade issues through the November election and into Spring 2021, according to a statement from Britain’s Department of International Trade.
- Federal Register Notices:
- The General Services Administration announced that its virtual webinar was rescheduled from August 12 to September 10. The notice can be found here.
- The Department of Energy (DOE) issued a request for public comment on its Request for Information (RFI) number regarding the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office Research and Development Strategy. This RFI is issued by the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) to understand how hydrogen and fuel cell research priorities and goals can address evolving needs and to inform related research and development activities that may be undertaken by DOE. Comments will be accepted until September 15 at 5:00pm ET. The notice can be found here.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they extended the comment period to September 14 on the agencies’ proposed finding that the State of Washington has satisfied all conditions the agencies established as part of their 1998 approval of the State’s coastal nonpoint pollution control program under Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA). The notice can be found here.
- Residents of New Jersey filed more than 1,800 applications for $5K rebates in the first two months of the state’s new electric vehicle program, according to data from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which oversees the program.
- As a reminder, Governor Phil Murphy (D) signed a law in January (S. 2252) which would allow anyone who purchased an electric vehicle that was worth up to $55K to receive a $5K rebate.
- A bipartisan group of six former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators penned an open letter that urged the EPA to address issues such as climate change, public health threats, and environmental justice. The letter cites the Environmental Protection Network’s plan on how to reset the EPA as a good tool that can be used to chart a path forward.
- In an interview on MSNBC, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi threatened to halt services in California until November unless the company successfully appeals a ruling that Uber must treat drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.
- As a reminder, yesterday we reported that San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman decided to grant the State of California’s request for an injunction on Uber and Lyft to stop classifying its drivers as independent contractors. This order is a result of California’s State government passing a law (A.B. 5) which required “workers to be treated as employees” and then California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and city attorneys sued the ride-sharing companies this year, arguing they were violating the law by having drivers classified as independent contractors
- Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council, called on the Trump Administration to publish any evidence it might have that led them to consider TikTok and WeChat national security risks.
- As a reminder, President Trump signed two Executive Orders last week which were designed to address the supposed threats posed by TikTok and WeChat, respectively.
- A petition, which has been signed by the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, Association of Flight Attendants, Transport Workers Union, and the Communications Workers of America, urged the Trump Administration to use the Defense Production Act to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) to help protect frontline workers. The petition argues that the Trump Administration has done an inadequate job in producing PPE and that localities and industry are having to compete with one another to obtain enough PPE.