COVID-19 UPDATE | THURSDAY, NOV. 19
November 19, 2020
– Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) hinted during a press conference today that there may be movement on an additional COVID-19 relief package. He indicated that staff-level conversations are beginning again with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) staff. This would be an encouraging sign after weeks of very little action on additional COVID-19 relief.
· The window is closing on additional COVID-19 relief before the end of this calendar year/Congress. The Senate is set to remain out of session until November 30 and it is expected that upon their return, they will remain in session through December 18, leaving only three weeks to enact a package.
– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that Americans do not travel for Thanksgiving to combat the spread of COVID-19.
· In guidance issued today, CDC stated its recommendation (and not a requirement) that those who do travel for the holiday take precautionary measures, including wearing mask when in public places and on public transportation, practicing social distancing, and frequent washing of hands.
– The Senate Judiciary Committee’s scheduled business meeting to consider Chairman Graham’s (R-SC) Online Content Policy Modernization Act was once again postponed. The Committee has not yet rescheduled the meeting.
· As a reminder, the Online Content Policy Modernization Act would narrow Section 230 liability protections for tech companies and reform copyright dispute resolution.
– Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) released a blueprint for transatlantic cooperation between the U.S. and Europe to pressure China. The report suggests that the U.S. and Europe put aside their differences, namely disputes over government aviation subsidies and work together to combat China’s political influence and anticompetitive practices to protect emerging technologies, international security, and the integrity of international organizations.
· Chairman Risch also held a virtual event with Member of European Parliament David McAllister, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Member of Parliament Tom Tugendhat, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. A press release on the report can be found here.
– Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) urged President Trump to not withdraw from the Government Procurement Agreement. This agreement requires countries to allow foreign firms to compete for government procurement contracts.
· Ranking Member Wyden said that the U.S. withdrawing would allow China and Russia to fill the gap, disrupting supply chains and eroding international anti-corruption rules.
· Chairman Grassley highlighted that, according to the U.S. Constitution, only Congress can decide to withdraw from World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements.
– Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced a bill (S. 4918) to transfer the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust enforcement powers to the Department of Justice.
– The House began consideration of H.R. 8294, the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020. The legislation reauthorizes and expands the existing National Apprenticeship Act by codifying apprenticeship programs, expanding apprenticeships into new sectors, and increasing funding for programs to create 1M new apprenticeship opportunities over five years. Final passage of H.R. 8294 is expected tomorrow.
– The House Democratic Caucus continued leadership elections today. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) defeated Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) to become Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus.
– Contests for committee leadership in the 117th Congress are also heating up. Notably, the race for the Chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee between Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).
– Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) introduced the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act (H.R. 8769) to reduce carbon emissions in the aviation industry by incentivizing sustainable fuel development. According to a press release, the bill would:
· Create a blender’s tax credit for sustainable aviation fuel that reduces carbon.
· Provide $1B for projects that “produce, transport, blend, or store” sustainable aviation fuel.
· Provide $175M for research into sustainable aviation fuel technology.
· Require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish an aviation Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
– Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced a bill (H.R. 8776) to require the Department of Labor to provide stipends to applicants enrolled in pre-apprenticeship programs.
– Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) and Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) wrote a letter to Facebook CEO arguing the platform is inconsistently handling voter fraud claims made on the platform. According to the letter Facebook is “not following its own policies, providing lackluster enforcement and assigning inadequate labeling of misinformation.”
– The Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released new guidance on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan expense deductions. The guidance encourages businesses to file for loan forgiveness as soon as possible, rather than waiting to seek tax deductions. In cases where a PPP loan was expected to be forgiven and is not, the new guidance states expenses related to the loan will be deductible.
– The December 31 deadline for installing positive train control (PTC) technology is set to be met by every railroad, except for New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit). NJ Transit is currently only operating PTC on 48% of its required route miles.
· The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is aiming to help NJ Transit meet the deadline by providing resources, meetings, and technical assistance. However, the FRA has repeatedly commented that it will impose the maximum fines on any railroad that does not meet the deadline.
– The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held an open meeting today, the first since James Danly was promoted to Chairman. The meeting reheard the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) rules that were revised in July and pipeline permits.
· PURPA was previously revised to change how to calculate the cost of power from renewable projects and to remove the requirement that utilities buy power from organized market facilities. The rehearing request will likely be rejected, allowing industries to challenge it in court.
· FERC previously limited the number of construction permits available for pipelines. This hearing request is also likely to be rejected.
– The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested comments on how the federal government should regulate automated driving systems. NHTSA is aiming to “define, assess and manage” the safety and performance of autonomous vehicles while fostering innovation.
– The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced plans to issue an Arctic Exploratory Drilling Proposed Rule which would make energy exploration on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf easier. The move is, in part to increase the U.S. presence in the Arctic but would change 29 out of the 65 regulations currently governing Arctic energy exploration.
– Multilateral negotiations between 18 governments, including the U.S., around new rules for government export credit agencies like the U.S. Export-Import (EXIM) Bank have broken down and likely will not resume for at least one year. Eleven of the 18 participating governments issued a joint statement arguing that the differences between the countries’ proposals remain significant after eight years of talks.
– The U.S. Air Force selected six finalists to be the headquarters for U.S. Space Command. The Air Force had originally already selected six finalists but started the selection process over in May to focus on locations close to an existing military installation and a major metropolitan area. The new finalists areKirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
– Entry The World Trade Organization (WTO) released a report on the G20 countries’ trade response to COVID-19, which found that the countries have repealed 30% of trade restrictions and approved 400 emergency support measures for individuals and businesses.
· In total, G20 countries imposed 133 trade actions in response to COVID-19, 63% of which were trade facilitating and 37% were trade restrictive.
· The G20 leaders will meet this weekend.
– A bipartisan group of former Cabinet officials sent a letter to the Biden transition team urging them to involve the Department of Education in cross-agency efforts to combat climate change. The letter cited the increasing impact of climate change on schools, notably due to hurricanes and wildfires. The letter is attached.
· The Department of Education can also help prepare students to advance sustainability and climate solutions.
– The Washington Center for Equitable Growth released a report urging the Biden Administration to talk bold actions on antitrust enforcement and to promote competition throughout the whole government. Specifically, the report recommends the creation of a White House Office of Competition Policy.
· The report was written by officials from the Obama-era Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and White House. This included Bill Baer, who serves on President-elect Biden’s FTC transition team.
– Antitrust lawsuits are reportedly being prepared against Facebook at the state and federal level over Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. The charges argue that the acquisitions created an anticompetitive social media environment, decreased the quality of service for users, and weakened privacy protections.
· Lawsuits are pending the completion of state and federal investigations into anticompetitive practices, which are said to be in their final stages.
– Facebook employees and content moderators wrote an open letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg yesterday, arguing the company’s decision to require workers to return to physical offices is dangerous and more leniency to work from home is needed.
– The United States passed a milestone – 250,000 COVID-19 deaths – on Thursday as the newest wave of the pandemic sweeps the country. The news comes as 172,000 new cases were reported on Wednesday, along with nearly 2,000 deaths.
· It is estimated that more than three million individuals in the U.S. are currently infected and capable of spreading the virus, per a Columbia University study released on Wednesday.
– While the virus is intensifying throughout the nation, states that imposed fewer restrictions were found by the New York Times to now be experiencing the worst outbreaks.
– As hospitals and healthcare providers become overwhelmed with the surge of new COVID-19 cases, the American Hospital Association, American Nurses Association, and American Medical Association issued a joint letter on Thursday calling for all Americans to wear masks, maintain physical distancing, and avoid seeing their families over the Thanksgiving holiday. – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held an open meeting today, the first since James Danly was promoted to Chairman. The meeting reheard the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) rules that were revised in July and pipeline permits.