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Window On Washington - April 6, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 14

Apr 06, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Next Response Package. After spending much of the past week discussing possibilities like infrastructure, tax changes, and expanded benefits for a fourth coronavirus response package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) largely changed course on Friday and instead wants to do a package similar to the recently passed CARES Act that focuses on the continued recovery of small businesses and the needs of individuals. In a letter sent to colleagues on Saturday, Pelosi told Members that Congress must “double down on the down-payment” by introducing a CARES 2 stimulus plan. Though House and Senate Republican Leadership were both vocal in their opposition to Pelosi’s original plan and want to wait to see the impact of the CARES Act before moving on to the next response package, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has now acknowledged that he supports the concept of a fourth package. The timing of the next package remains unclear but is unlikely to occur before the House returns on April 20.

Coronavirus Select Committee. Speaker Pelosi has also announced that she wants to form a bipartisan House select committee on the coronavirus crisis. The House would need to vote on a resolution to establish such a committee, and it currently does not have unanimous support among the Republicans. Without this, any vote would have to wait until the House returns later this month.

Impact on Legislative Calendar. The House Armed Services Committee delayed its annual markup of the Defense Authorization Act. While there have yet to be any official announcements delaying the appropriations process, staff have been largely working on the coronavirus response packages and have not started the FY21 bills. The National Journal has a presentation on the legislative forecast for the rest of the year available here.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Pelosi, McConnell Clash Over Next Coronavirus Bill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are publicly at odds over a potential fourth coronavirus package. The two leaders, whose public relationship has been tense in recent weeks, are taking different tactics on follow-up legislation and sparring through the media on next steps to address the devastating economic and health effects of the pandemic. (The Hill)

Consensus Starts to Grow on 'Phase 4' Coronavirus Relief: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) shifted her tone last Friday, calling for a much more focused “Phase 4” relief package to address immediate needs related to the coronavirus pandemic, a departure from the sprawling legislation she and other top Democrats were pushing earlier last week. (Politico)

GOP Senators Begin Informal Talks on New Coronavirus Stimulus: Republican senators, currently spread across the country because of Congress's three-week break, say they are already starting to discuss a "phase four" coronavirus relief bill. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told a Maine NBC station that senators were already weighing potential next steps as the coronavirus continues to cause severe economic damage and the number of cases within the United States has grown exponentially. (The Hill)

Health

Pelosi Forms House Committee to Oversee Coronavirus Response: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last Thursday announced the creation of a special House committee charged with overseeing the unprecedented, multitrillion-dollar federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. Pelosi has tapped Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the Democratic whip, to lead the bipartisan panel. (The Hill)

Apple CEO Cook Questioned by Senators on Covid-19 Screening App: Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to the company on Friday expressing concern “for the safety and security of Americans’ private health data.” They want to know about data-sharing practices and safeguards, and whether the app complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The senators are also seeking information on Apple’s agreements with federal or state governments for the development of the app, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg. (Bloomberg)

Defense

House Armed Services Delays NDAA Markup Amid Coronavirus Pandemic: The House Armed Services Committee has indefinitely postponed its markup of the fiscal 2021 defense authorization due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Roll Call)

Labor & Workforce

House Democrats Push Huge Jobs Project in Wake of Coronavirus: House Democratic leaders are racing ahead with plans to craft another round of massive coronavirus relief, promoting a huge job-creation package despite growing objections from Republicans wary of piling costs atop an already unprecedented stimulus effort. (The Hill)

Pelosi Wants More for Small Business and Individuals in Next U.S. Coronavirus Legislation: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said last Friday that $350 billion in already-passed coronavirus legislation was not enough for small businesses, and she wants more money in next bill being developed now in the Democratic-run House. (Reuters)

Banking & Housing

Tenants Call on Lawmakers to Pass Rent Freezes: Renters are calling on state and federal lawmakers to freeze rent requirements for tenants as part of their response to the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Environment/Interior

Democrats Ask EPA, Interior to Pause Rulemaking Amid Coronavirus: A group of eight lawmakers wrote to the EPA asking it to halt the finalization or implementation of any rules that “are likely to result in an increase in toxic chemicals or air or water pollution,” arguing that they could worsen the situation. (The Hill)

Energy

Murkowski Pushes Mnuchin for Oil Company Loans: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking him to ensure that US oil and gas companies can get federal loans provided for businesses in the coronavirus stimulus package. (The Hill)

Agriculture

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson Announced the Hiring of Chu-Yuan Hwang as Senior Counsel for the Committee: Hwang previously worked as an attorney for the Office of the General Counsel at USDA, providing legal advice on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other domestic nutrition assistance programs. (House Ag)

Beef Costs Are Up at Stores, But Futures Are Down. Senators Want to Know Why: Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), a senior Judiciary Committee member, told reporters last Tuesday he will ask the Justice Department and the US Department of Agriculture to look into live cattle future prices that declined in March as meat packers saw prices rise for the boxed beef they sold to grocery stores and other retailers. (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

White House Is Not Planning for a 4th Coronavirus Relief Bill Despite Democrats’ Push, Officials Say: The White House is not currently planning for a fourth emergency coronavirus response proposal as it focuses on implementing the unprecedented $2 trillion relief package passed last week, two senior administration officials told CNBC. (CNBC)

CBO: Second Coronavirus Aid Package Will Cost $192 Billion: The second coronavirus relief package enacted last month, offering expanded paid leave benefits and increased food aid, among other provisions, will cost nearly $192 billion over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office said last Thursday. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

Fauci Says That All States Should Have Stay-At-Home Orders: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, said he doesn’t know why some states still do not have stay-at-home orders in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (The Hill)

FDA, NIH, VA Partner to Accelerate 3D-Printed Protective Gear for COVID-19 Response: The Food and Drug Administration, Veterans Affairs Department and National Institutes of Health recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize a unified effort through which they’ll solicit designs for, produce and test 3D-printed personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to support America’s response to the worldwide health emergency. (NextGov)

Trump Hints at Using Federal Programs to Provide Coverage After Obamacare Decision: President Trump said he is considering using federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid to cover the rising ranks of the uninsured after his administration decided it would not reopen the Obamacare insurance markets to address the coronavirus crisis. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

Esper: Dismissal of Aircraft Carrier Commander an ‘Example of How We Hold Leaders Accountable’: Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday defended the Navy’s decision to remove Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer who warned of a coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, without an investigation, saying it is an “example of how we hold leaders accountable.” (The Hill)

Defense Industry on Sidelines, For Now, During Pandemic Fight: The defense industry has high-tech production lines sprinkled around the country and a skilled workforce that has been deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, factors that would seemingly make it a candidate for building desperately needed ventilators and personal protective equipment. (Roll Call)

Trump to Expand Use of Defense Production Act to Build Ventilators: President Trump announced last Thursday that he is expanding his use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to help several manufacturers secure supplies for ventilators. (The Hill)

DOJ

Stimulus Bill Contains Watered-down Justice Dept. Wish List: Little-noticed language in the CARES Act permits an expansion of federal courts’ authority to use audio and video conferencing for criminal cases during the current pandemic, including for guilty-plea and sentencing hearings in misdemeanor and felony cases. (Politico)

Barr to Speed Releases at Federal Prisons Hard Hit by Virus: Attorney General Bill Barr is ordering federal prison officials to intensify their efforts to release “vulnerable” inmates at three prison complexes that are struggling to contain major outbreaks of the coronavirus. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

Labor Department Reports 6.6 Million Jobless Claims: Jobless claims hit 6.6 million in today's report, doubling the grim milestone reached last week. The numbers are released weekly by the US Department of Labor. (NPR)

Dept. of Ed

Coronavirus Bill Allows DeVos to Waive Parts of Federal Special Education Law: The $2.2 trillion bill allows the secretary to waive some special education rules as schools across the country struggle to continue education remotely for more than 55 million children during the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Trade

Trump Strikes Friendly Tone on China with Trade in Mind, as His Top Officials Point Fingers over Pandemic: As coronavirus cases in the US surge, President Trump isn't focused just on those statistics, administration officials say, but is also watching another set of numbers: exports to China. (CNN)

DHS/Immigration

Coronavirus Gas Sidelined Roughly 9,000 Homeland Security Employees, Internal Report Shows: Roughly 300 employees of the Homeland Security Department have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 8,500 are under quarantine because of possible exposure to the coronavirus, sidelining them as the agency struggles to respond to the pandemic. (LA Times)

Immigration Policies May Delay Help from Foreign Medical Grads: More than 4,000 foreign medical graduate students are scheduled to begin US residency programs this summer, but experts fear current immigration policies will delay their arrivals — and their ability to help doctors combat the coronavirus pandemic. (Roll Call)

Environment/EPA/DOI

EPA Defends Suspension of Pollution Monitoring in Letter to Congress: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday sent a letter to every member of Congress defending its controversial decision to hold back from penalizing companies that do not monitor their pollution during the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Lifts Sugar Import Limits: The department will soon publish a notice in the Federal Register raising the fiscal 2020 tariff-rate quota for raw cane sugar to 1.43 million metric tons, while nearly doubling the low-duty quota for refined sugar to more than 373,000. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Report Outlines Vision for Long-Term Human Lunar Exploration: NASA released a report April 2 outlining its long-term approach to lunar exploration that involves establishing a “base camp” at the south pole of the moon, but with few details about cost and schedule. (Space News)

Limited Work Continues on JWST: While NASA has resumed some work on the James Webb Space Telescope, project officials say even that limited level of activity will soon come to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Space News)

Tax Reform/IRS

Economic Impact Payments: What You Need to Know: The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service last week announced that distribution of economic impact payments will begin in the next three weeks and will be distributed automatically, with no action required for most people. However, some taxpayers who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the economic impact payment. (IRS.gov)

Employee Retention Credit Available for Many Businesses Financially Impacted by COVID-19: The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service launched the Employee Retention Credit last week, designed to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll. The refundable tax credit is 50% of up to $10,000 in wages paid by an eligible employer whose business has been financially impacted by COVID-19. (IRS.gov)

Cyber

Thousands of Zoom Video Calls Left Exposed on Open Web: Thousands of personal Zoom videos have been left viewable on the open Web, highlighting the privacy risks to millions of Americans as they shift many of their personal interactions to video calls in an age of social distancing. (Washington Post)

New Election Security Funds Won’t Come Easy for Hard-Hit States: Cash-strapped states, which Congress just pumped $150 billion into, will nonetheless have to pony up in order to access new election security grants in the massive new coronavirus aid package signed by President Trump last week. (Roll Call)

Baking & Housing/HUD

Government Housing Agency Unveils New Mortgage Relief Policies for Struggling Borrowers: The Department of Housing and Urban Development last Thursday directed companies that service government-insured mortgage loans to give beleaguered borrowers the option to defer payments for up to a year, effective immediately. The move - coming just 15 days after HUD announced a two-month moratorium on evictions and foreclosures - underscores the urgency of the deepening economic crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak. (Politico)

Mortgage Relief Is Only for Those Who’ve Lost Jobs, Mnuchin Says: US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said only homeowners who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis will qualify for new government programs that let borrowers put off mortgage payments. (Bloomberg)

Big Banks Get Fed Blessing to Extend Leverage: The Federal Reserve will let Wall Street banks take on more leverage so they can absorb a severe lack of liquidity for Treasuries and a surge in customer deposits amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Bloomberg)

Transportation/DOT

Airline Employees See Threat to Stimulus Wage Support Provision: Flight attendants are worried that a provision in the coronavirus stimulus law passed last week will throw a wrench into the payroll grants that they are relying on to keep airline employees afloat. (Roll Call)

Trump Defends Fuel Efficiency Rollback as “Helping US Autoworkers: “My Administration is helping US auto workers by replacing the failed Obama Emissions Rule. Impossible to satisfy its Green New Deal Standard; Lots of unnecessary and expensive penalties to car buyers!” Trump tweeted last Tuesday. (The Hill)

FTA Allocating $25B to Help US Public Transportation Systems with COVID-19 Reality: The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) last week announced a total of $25 billion in federal funding allocations to help the nation’s public transportation systems respond to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Funding is provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Donald J. Trump on March 27, 2020. (US DOT)