COVID-19 Update | Wednesday, Aug. 5
August 5, 2020
The Senate is in session. The House is not. House lawmakers have been told to be available to vote on a COVID-19 relief package, subject to the call of the Speaker.
COVID-19 Package Negotiations
- There still appears to be no tangible progress to speak of, though the urgency to reach an agreement is growing and both parties are reportedly willing to make concessions. Agreement is likely out of the question this week, but a vote on a deal is still possible next week as negotiations continue 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. It remains unclear what role Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will play and when he will play it. The following concessions have been reported, but not officially confirmed:
- Republicans have made concessions on unemployment benefits ($400 per week until December 15), an eviction moratorium extended until December 15, and $150B-$200B in funding for state and local governments.
- Though the $400 per week for unemployment is a significant move for Republicans, Democrats still are insisting on the extension at $600.
- Democrats lowered their asking price for the U.S. Postal Service, from $25B to $10B, subject to a meeting Minority Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi are having with the Postmaster General.
- It is worth noting that Republicans are dissatisfied with these concessions, as the feeling is that they were very limited.
- There remains significant disagreement on funding for elections, pensions, education, childcare, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, renter and homeowner assistance, and COVID-19 testing.
- Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, one of the key negotiators of this COVID-19 package, said that if a deal would happen, the parameters would have to be agreed to by this Friday.
- Meadows commented that the two sides are still trillions of dollars apart.
- As has been previously reported, the White House is considering using executive action on some of the most pressing issues. President Trump’s authority to make these decisions unilaterally remains unclear. As a reminder, the potential Executive Orders would cover:
- A delay in the collection of federal payroll taxes;
- Reinstitution of an expired federal eviction moratorium; and
- Extension of enhanced federal unemployment benefits using unspent money already appropriated by Congress.
- Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced a new enhanced unemployment proposal that would ensure benefits throughout 2020. The proposal would authorize sending money to individual states and, starting in August, states could choose $500 per week, or $400 per week if the states don’t want to change the amount in September. In September: $400 per week. October through December: 80% of wages, or a waiver for $300 per week if the state is unable to pay 80% of prior earnings. A press release on the measure can be found here.
- A bipartisan group of eight Senators sent a letter to the Treasury Department asking it to allow carbon capture, utilization and sequestration projects an additional year of eligibility to claim the 45Q tax credit.
- Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the National Biometric Information Privacy Act, S. 4400, which would require private companies and corporations to get written consent from consumers in order to collect their biometric data. A press release on the legislation can be found here and full bill text can be found here.
- Senate Commerce Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the Connecting Minority Communities Act, S. 4422, which would codify the Department of Commerce’s Minority Broadband Initiative through the creation of a new office within the Department. The legislation would also create a program to authorize grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to expand broadband in their communities. A press release on the legislation can be found here and full bill text can be found here.
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the Governors’ Broadband Deployment Fund. The bill would allocate $10B to the Broadband Development Fund to provide funding for areas that lack service and would encourage projects that can provide internet service quickly. A press release on the legislation can be found here and bill text can be found here.
- Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced two amendments to S. 178, placeholder legislation for the HEALS Act. One would extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the other that would establish more long-term aid for businesses. A press release on the amendments can be found here.
- Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, which oversees Census Bureau funding, sent a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross requesting information about the Census Bureau’s recent decision to end data collection for the 2020 Census earlier than expected. The letter can be found here.
- U.S. and Chinese trade officials are expected to meet over teleconference next week to begin the implementation talks of the phase one trade deal.
- As a reminder, the deal entered into force on February 14.
- Recently deceased people might be eligible for another round of stimulus checks and may have been eligible under the CARES Act after all, after their survivors were asked to return the funds by President Trump. A provision in the Senate Republicans’ HEALS Act would partially overturn the Treasury Department’s highly-publicized ban on sending stimulus money to the deceased. The provision would allow anyone who was alive at any point in 2020 to be eligible for the $1,200 check.
- As a reminder, by the end of April, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had sent checks to more than 1M people who had died, which totaled more than $1.3B.
- Donald Trump Jr. and Nick Ayers, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence, both expressed opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska over fears it would endanger the fisheries in that area.
- As a reminder, the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a final decision on whether to grant the necessary permits for the mine later this month and recently released a Final Environmental Impact Statement.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agreed to a $1B deal with pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and create 100M doses of the vaccine if it is effective. HHS said the vaccine would be available to the public at no cost.
- Federal Register Notices:
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a correction to a final ruling published on June 29, 2020 in which the FAA amended regulatory relief originally provided in the Relief for Certain Persons and Operations during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) final rule. This correction revised amendment numbers. The notice can be found here.
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced a virtual meeting of the Technology, Innovation, and Engineering Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) on September 1 from 11:00am – 3:30pm ET. The notice can be found here.
- Chicago’s Public School (CPS) system, the third largest public-school system in the country, announced that they will start the school year online and will hold no in-person classes. This decision will last until November 9, when CPS will reevaluate based on the status of the pandemic.
- This is a reversal from a previous announcement, where CPS announced that students would return in a hybrid model.
- According to a tracker from Education Week, 11 of the top 15 public school districts in the country, including Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and others, will begin the fall semester online as of today.
- The U.S. Dairy Export Council and National Milk Producers Federation wrote a letter to Office of the U.S Trade Representative (USTR) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials expressing concern about Canada’s commitment to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) market access commitments.
- Virgin Atlantic Airlines has filed for bankruptcy protections. The airline told a London court that they will run out of money in September if their creditors do not put together a rescue plan.
- British Petroleum (BP) released its detailed plan of the steps it will take to ensure it is carbon neutral by 2050. Some of the steps include cutting oil and gas production by 40% by 2030, from 2.6M barrels per day to about 1.5M barrels per day and increasing its annual low carbon investment to around $5B a yearly.
- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FAA, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice to learn more about those agencies’ use of surveillance by drones, helicopters and planes on the protests over police brutality that have occurred this summer.
- The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released state-by-state data on Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) that were approved by the Small Business Administration (SBA) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report can be found here.
- According to an analysis of Census Bureau data from consulting firm Stout Risius Ross, 48% of renters in Texas will not be able to pay their full rent and are in danger of eviction. Additionally, 45% of renters in Florida and 39% of renters in Arizona are in the same situation. The analysis can be found here.