COVID-19 UPDATE | WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 2
September 9, 2020
Both the House and the Senate are in recess. As a reminder, the next Senate vote is not expected until September 8 and the next House vote is not expected until September 14.
COVID-19 Relief Negotiations
- Negotiations on COVID-19 relief continue to be stalled, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had a 36-minute phone call on Tuesday. According to a statement from the Speaker’s office, the call was another illustration of the continuing major divisions between the White House and Congressional Democrats.
- With negotiations stalled, Senate Republicans are preparing to introduce a new version of their COVID-19 legislation which, according to reports, would have an even lower topline number (between $500-700B) than the HEALS Act, which was introduced in July with a $1T topline.
- It should be noted that this bill, which Republicans have yet to formally introduce, is not expected to pass the Senate.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated to reporters that he is doubtful about the prospects of a COVID-19 package being agreed to in the next few weeks, citing decreasing bipartisan motivation given the approaching elections.
- Elevate is increasingly pessimistic that a COVID-19 relief package will be enacted before the end of the fiscal year.
- Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, urged the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to develop rules around the use of cryptocurrencies and distributed ledger technology by banks. A full press release on the issue and the letter the Chairman sent to Acting Comptroller Brian Brooks can be found here.
- The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a hearing yesterday featuring testimony from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The hearing focused on the Administration’s response to the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic. During the hearing, Mnuchin expressed support for and optimism that a bipartisan COVID-19 package would be agreed upon soon.
- Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced the Protecting Tourism in the United States Act (H.R. 8122), which directs the U.S. Department of Commerce to study the effects of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism industry. A press release can be found here. Legislative text is not yet publicly available.
- Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) sent a letter to the Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness urging that the Canadian government provide more flexibility and transparency for Americans who reside in the exclave communities of Point Roberts in Washington and the Northwest Angle in Minnesota. The letter asked the Canadian government to provide more advance notice of border policy changes and an exemption allowing travel through Canada to access the rest of the United States.
- In a new letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Speaker Pelosi, along with Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN), said that the ODNI had previously scheduled a September 17 briefing for the Select Committee on Intelligence and a September 24-25 briefing for the full House before suddenly pulling back last weekend.
- As a reminder, on Monday we reported that the ODNI informed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees it would no longer brief lawmakers on election security issues in person. Instead, the ODNI plans to provide written updates to lawmakers, marking a significant shift in how the information is provided. The letters informing Congress about the new plan can be read here.
- House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Democrats criticized Amtrak’s plan to furlough more than 2,000 employees, despite receiving federal relief money intended to prevent furloughs.
- Specifically, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D- IL), who chairs the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, criticized Amtrak for not notifying Congress first, given it received nearly $1B in CARES Act funding specifically to help it avoid furloughs.
- Full Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) directed his criticism at Senate Republicans, who he blamed for “sitting on” appropriations legislation and H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, that would provide Amtrak billions of additional dollars in federal funding.
- Rep. Lipinski’s subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing with Amtrak CEO William Flynn next week.
- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released updated budget projections for the next decade indicating that the U.S. government budget deficit will triple this year compared to 2019 to $3.3T, reaching the highest percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since 1945. The large increase is mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the enactment of relief legislation, according to CBO.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a residential eviction ban that will be in effect for the rest of 2020. The move is reportedly a result of an August 8 Executive Order, entitled “Fighting the Spread of COVID-19 by Providing Assistance to Renters and Homeowners.” The CDC order applies to people who:
- Have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers.
- Can demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments.
- Affirmatively declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships.
- Affirm they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that the State Department will impose new restrictions on Chinese government diplomats in the U.S., including:
- Requiring senior Chinese diplomats in the U.S. to receive approval to visit university campuses and to meet with local government officials.
- Requiring State Department approval for cultural events with an audience larger than 50 people hosted by the Chinese embassy and consular posts outside of mission properties.
- The State Department will also take action to help ensure that all official embassy and consular social media accounts are properly identified as Chinese government accounts.
- Lauren Willard, counsel to Attorney General William Barr, who has helped lead the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) review of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, said in an American Bar Association webinar that Section 230 has made it difficult for the DOJ to combat online misinformation regarding COVID-19 since Section 230 protects websites from being responsible for what their users post.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their final rule to roll back a regulation that monitored the amount of toxic waste from coal fired plants that seeped into drinking water supplies.
- The rule signed is largely similar to the draft version posted last November.
- The proposed rule from November would remove the mandate that utilities continually recycle their wastewater and instead allow them to discharge 10% of their water on a 30-day rolling average.
- The proposed rule would also offer utilities an extra two years to upgrade their waste treatment systems for scrubber sludge and exempt from those requirements the plants that said they would soon be retiring or operating for a limited number of hours per year.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced plans to expand the collection of biometric information from individuals seeking U.S. citizenship. The proposed change would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to request biometrics from immigrants with green cards or work permits at any point until they become a U.S. citizen.
- The policy would further modify existing procedures so that anyone who has received an immigration benefit, including their U.S. citizen sponsors, would need to provide biometrics unless told otherwise by USCIS.
- The Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) announced that in July it approved 162 authorizations totaling $167M in support of an estimated 600 American jobs at small businesses in 38 states and territories that export “Made in the USA” products around the world.
- EXIM announced that it has extended through October 31 relief measures for U.S. exporters and financial institutions impacted by COVID-19.
- U.S Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer announced that his office will reduce the remaining quota for Brazilian semi-finished steel products for the remainder of 2020 to 60K metric tons, down from 350K, but will maintain existing quotas for other steel products. The USTR will hold consultations with Brazil about the semi-finished steel quota for 2021 in December. The Federal Register notice on this action can be found here.
- The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that they will award more than $1.2B in airport safety and infrastructure grants through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to 405 airports in 56 states and territories. A full list of how much money each of the airports should receive can be found here, and a map of those airports can be found here.
- White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is set to hold talks with U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in London on Thursday. Tensions between Israel and other Middle East leaders are set to be discussed.
- For Federal Register notices, please refer to the end of the update.
- Delta Air Lines , American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines announced that they are eliminating flight change fees, following an announcement by United Airlines. Delta said the dropping of change fees is effective immediately and includes tickets purchased for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands for all tickets except basic economy. United’s policies will mirror Delta’s. Alaska’s policies will also mirror Delta’s, while also including all international flights (Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica are the only international destinations for the airline). American’s elimination of change fees will also cover flights to Canada, Mexico and Caribbean countries.
- United Airlines confirmed plans on Wednesday to cut 16K employees, mostly through furlough, in October after the Payroll Support Program (PSP) expires. This 16K jobs represent 17% of the United workforce.
- As a reminder, in early July we reported that United warned they might have to cut up to 36K employees by October.
- According to data from the CDC, the 7-day average for new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is 42K, down from the July 23 peak of 67K.
- The National Football League’s (NFL) New Orleans Saints sent an email to season ticket holders that they have gotten tentative approval from Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) to host fans in their second home game of the season on September 27. In a press briefing Tuesday, Edwards stipulated that the decision could still be reversed. There were no details released about the number of fans that would be allowed into the 74K seat Mercedes Superdome, nor were there any details on how far apart the Saints would mandate their fans be at the game.
- European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said in an interview that the European Union had ruled out banning TikTok, but that users’ data should be stored within Europe.
- German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz made comments during a hearing at the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs signaling his belief that pressures from the pandemic will help bring about a global deal on digital tax this year.
- As a reminder, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced in June that Washington was pausing its participation in the global talks.
Federal Register Notices
- The President announced on August 29 that he directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund an additional 25% of the emergency assistance activities associated with preventing, mitigating, and responding to the threat to public health and safety posed by COVID-19 that Louisiana is undertaking using its National Guard forces. Louisiana had already been included in an August 3 order which provided Louisiana with a 75% cost share for the National guard. The notice confirming the President’s August 29 announcement can be found here.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a proposed update to the FCC’s ex parte rules. The FCC will receive comments until close of business on October 2. The notice can be found here.
- The Materials and Equipment Technical Advisory Committee will virtually meet on September 17, at 10:00am ET. The notice can be found here.
- The Regulations and Procedures Technical Advisory Committee will meet virtually on September 15, at 10:00am ET. The notice can be found here.
- The USTR added additional exclusion extensions to the Section 301 investigation into Chinese government acts and imposed additional duties of 10% ad valorem on goods of China with an annual trade value of approximately $300B. The extensions will go until December 31. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will issue instructions on entry guidance and implementation. The notice can be found here.
- The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued an interim final rule to implement the requirements of the laws that govern the operation of the Federal Acquisition Security Council. Comments will be received until November 2. The notice can be found here.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued an interim final rule that responded to an “emergency petition” submitted by the Alliance of Automotive Innovation (Alliance) regarding the phase-in and compliance requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141 (FMVSS 141), “Minimum sound for hybrid and electric vehicles.” This rule is effective immediately, and comments will be received until September 16. The notice can be found here.
- The Office of Postsecondary Education issued a final regulation which amends the general, establishing eligibility, maintaining eligibility, and losing eligibility sections of the Institutional Eligibility regulations issued under the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), related to distance education and innovation. The rule is effective July 1, 2021. The notice can be found here.
CBP is requesting that individuals who are interested in serving on the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (COAC) apply for membership. COAC provides advice and makes recommendations to the Secretaries of the Department of the Treasury and DHS on all matters involving the commercial operations of CBP and related functions. Applications are due on or before October 19. The notice can be found here.