COVID-19 Update | Friday, July 31
July 31, 2020
Both chambers have recessed for the weekend. The House will not be in session next week, but Members were told to remain in Washington, D.C. and be prepared to vote on COVID-19 relief.
- Though conversations continue, no meaningful progress has been made on the next COVID-19 relief package to date. As a reminder, the plan is still to pass the next package by next Friday, though that timeline may slip.
- The $600 enhanced unemployment insurance expires today, with no current plans in place to extend the benefits. Congressional Republicans have proposed scaling unemployment benefits to $200 a week, but no legislation has been enacted to do this.
- Published reports indicate that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows offered to extend the $600 per week benefit for four months as a stand-alone bill. However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected the offer and countered it with extending enhanced unemployment insurance through the first quarter of 2021.
- Democratic leadership continues to look to the HEROES Act as a base for the discussions, but to date, as noted above, the conversations are not proving fruitful.
- As a reminder, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took procedural steps Thursday that would allow for floor votes on a range of proposals next week.
- A separate proposal from Congressional Republicans would utilize the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to help get Americans back to work. The tax credit is usually used to motivate employers to hire ex-felons and other marginalized groups, but Republicans are suggesting utilizing it to help hire people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The WOTC would provide a tax credit covering up to $5,000 in wages.
- There continues to be disunity between the White House and Senate Republicans, as a recent published report indicates that the White House is prepared to accept a COVID-19 relief proposal without liability protections. As a reminder, liability protections have been Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s highest priority in a relief package.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pushing for liability protections and sent a letter to Members of Congress urging them to pass liability protections in the next relief package.
- Democrats have said the proposal is too broad and needs to be refined further.
- Senate Majority Leader McConnell yesterday filed cloture on the nomination of Mark Menezes to be Deputy Secretary at the Department of Energy (DOE). The first procedural vote will be held on Monday at 5:30pm.
- The House passed the second appropriations minibus, H.R. 7617, by a 217-197 vote. The bill appropriates $1.3T in discretionary funding and includes the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Labor-Health and Human Services-Education and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bills. A section-by-section summary of what is included in the bill can be found here. In addition to the regular appropriations, the minibus includes $210B of emergency spending. That funding, which would be outside the budget caps negotiated by Congress last year, is broken down as follows:
- The Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science bills do not provide additional emergency funding.
- The Energy and Water Development bill provides $43.5B in emergency funding, including $17B in emergency funding to the Army Corps of Engineers, $3B for the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation and $23.5B for DOE.
- The Financial Services and General Government bill provides $61B in emergency funding for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand broadband infrastructure.
- The Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill provides $24.425B in emergency funding, including $925M for the Department of Labor, $5B for the National Institutes of Health, $9B for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), $9B for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and $4.5B for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
- The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill provides $75B in emergency funding, including $26B in emergency funding to the Department of Transportation (DOT), $49B for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and $300M for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation.
- House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rick Larsen (D-WA) introduced the Healthy Flights Act of 2020, a bill which would require airline passengers to wear masks during their flights. Additionally, the bill would provide masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to airline employees and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees and would also clarify that the FAA has the authority to mandate a mask requirement. A press release on the legislation can be found here. Bill text can be found here.
- As a reminder, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced similar legislation, the Maintaining Important Distance During Lengthy Epidemics (MIDDLE) Act of 2020, last week, which would prohibit airlines from selling middle seats and require masks.
- The House Intelligence Committee approved its annual intelligence authorization in an 11-8 party line vote. Bill text can be found here.
- The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a hearing today titled “The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus.” Here is coverage of the hearing, and the witnesses were:
- Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health
- Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D, Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services
- Robert R. Redfield, M.D., Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, along with Members in both chambers have pushed COVID-19 testing at the Capitol for lawmakers and staff. However, the idea has not received much traction. Both Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have said that it is the decision of the Capitol Physician. Speaker Pelosi also said that it does not make sense to only test the Members of Congress, as there are approximately 20,000 people who work in the Capitol complex.
- A bipartisan group of ten lawmakers, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairman (FTC) Joseph Simons urging the Commission to investigate potential privacy violations by advertising technology companies.
- The Trump Administration announced plans to pull the nomination of Anthony Tata to be the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy after his confirmation hearing was abruptly cancelled yesterday.
- However, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany stated that President Trump still supports Tata and declined to answer whether his nomination had been pulled or if Tata will be nominated for a different position.
- DOT issued an order disapproving all schedules that Chinese air carriers have filed. In an announcement, DOT cited that the schedules were “in excess or different” from what was permitted and that the schedules would not be in the public interest.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it will be investing $248M into seven companies that are developing COVID-19 tests.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) endorsed a report that examined the benefits of utilizing “open architecture” in airport security systems. According to the report, open architecture is defined as “physical and software architecture where interfaces, communication and protocols are publicly available, well documented and free to use.”
- The Department of the Treasury issued regulations to prevent Americans from evading new limits on a tax break for the carried interest “glitch,” which occurred due to an error in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The “glitch” allows investors to not follow the law’s requirements that people hold assets for three years instead of one year before they can qualify for the reduced carried interest tax treatment. The new rule can be found here.
- Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) Chairwoman Kimberly Reed said the United States will increasingly use its export credit to try to derail China’s global technology goals. Reed said that EXIM will take bold action before the end of the year and will focus on bringing back global supply chains.
- The Small Business Administration (SBA), according to a new study from the Congressional Research Service, has approved more than 5M loans worth more than $520B under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
- As part of Operation Warp Speed, the Administration’s effort to produce hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, the U.S. government awarded Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline up to $2.1B to further develop their vaccine and provide 100M doses.
- As a reminder, Operation Warp Speed has also given $1.95B to Pfizer for 100M doses, up to $1.2B to AstraZeneca for 300M doses, and $1.6B to Novavax for 100M doses.
- The Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, an advisory group for the Department of Commerce, adopted a report stating that U.S. government agencies need a better approach to managing the country’s wireless airwaves. This is one of the key roadblocks to the implementation of 5G. The report provides policymakers with a wide variety of options to adopt better management systems. The report can be found here.
- The FCC adopted an order granting a conditional sign-off to Amazon to allow them to move forward with their plans to launch 3,200 satellites to help offer more consumers broadband. The order can be found here.
- President Trump reportedly is likely to announce a decision ordering China’s ByteDance Ltd. to divest its ownership of TikTok. As a reminder, the U.S. has been investigating potential national security risks due to ByteDance’s control of the app and Trump’s decision could be announced at any time.
- Federal Register Notices:
- DOE issued a request for information on the Energy Storage Grand Challenge. The notice can be found here.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of an information collection request on the Renewal of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program. The notice can be found here.
- The EPA issued a notice of an information collection request on the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for Stationary Spark Ignition Internal Combustion Engines. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC issued a proposed rule on advanced methods to target and eliminate unlawful robocalls. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC issued a proposed rule on the Reallocation of 470-512 MHz (T-Band) Spectrum. The notice can be found here.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a notice and request for comments on Annual Report of Class I and Class II Motor Carriers of Property. The notice can be found here.
- The Canadian Government announced that travelers crossing through Canada to get to Alaska will face stricter restrictions. The Canadian government said that U.S. travelers heading to Alaska or coming back into the continental United States will only be allowed to cross at five points of entry. Additionally, travelers will have to go through the most direct route to get to their destination and will not be allowed into national parks, leisure sites or tourism attractions.
- The U.S. Travel Association released data on the state of the travel industry. The reported statistics included the following:
- Travel spending rose to $11.6B, a 1% increase from the previous week. Travel spending, however, has seen a 51% decline since last year. Additionally, travel spending increased 3% over the month of July.
- Road travel returned to close to pre-pandemic levels, as it was only 1.4% lower during the week of July 25 than it was in February 2020.
- TSA reported that the amount of TSA screenings has remained constant this week compared to last week. The number of screenings, however, is 74% lower compared to the same time year.
- Credit rating agency Moody’s stated in a report that most port tenants will likely face significant revenue declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, they will likely be able to meet their obligations to ports. The agency said that the tenants have good reason to stay during the short-term and meet their obligations, as demand is expected to return in the long-term.
- A new poll conducted by TradeVistas, a trade education and advocacy section of the Hinrich Foundation think tank, found that 36% of Americans support leaving the World Trade Organization (WTO). Additionally, another 35% of Americans were indifferent or unsure of leaving the WTO and 28% were opposed to leaving the organization.
- The poll found that support for leaving was highest among Republicans.
- WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell announced that the global trade organization has yet to agree on an interim director general, meaning that the four deputies will continue in their existing roles.
- A new organization representing all segments of the transformer industry, called the Core Coalition, has formed to fight against Section 232 tariffs on “grain-oriented electrical steel.” A press release on the creation of the Core Coalition can be found here.
- As a reminder, Section 232 allows the President to impose tariffs to protect national security.