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Window On Washington - March 23, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 12

Mar 23, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Stimulus Package. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had wanted the Senate to reach an agreement over the weekend on the coronavirus stimulus bill, a procedural vote to move forward with the draft package failed after all Democrats voted against the measure. McConnell plans to hold another procedural vote this morning after negotiations continued throughout the night. The package was designed to prop up the economy for the next 10 to 12 weeks through one-time cash payments to families, loans to small businesses, and an expanded social safety net. Democrats believe the package does not do enough to help workers, did not provide enough resources for state and local governments, and did not tie corporate assistance closely enough to worker protections.

House Action. After negotiations fell apart on Sunday morning, House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) said she would begin working on her own package but it is unclear if this is occurring. Either way, the House would need to vote on a package and the Members are not in Washington but are on stand-by to return if needed. In order to avoid the threat of travel, House Leadership is attempting to have unanimous consent on the measure. However, if an in-person vote does need to occur, the House might hold the vote open for several days to allow people to vote at their own pace.

Remote Voting? While Congressional leaders have opposed remote voting for floor votes (though proxy voting is allowed on some Committee votes), the coronavirus pandemic may be changing the thinking on this long-held view. Five Senators are currently under quarantine: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) tested positive and the other four had close contact. In addition, Senator Gardner (R-CO) has been self-quarantining. President Trump expressed his support for the change at least on a temporary basis. No changes have been proposed so far.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Coronavirus Stimulus Package Stalls After Senate Motion Rejected: The Senate on Sunday rejected the motion to proceed to the COVID-19 economic relief package, 47-47. Sixty “aye” votes were required; five senators were not present due to self-quarantine. (Roll Call)

Health

Trump Signs Coronavirus Aid Package with Paid Sick Leave, Free Testing: President Trump last Wednesday signed into law a multibillion-dollar emergency aid package aimed at helping Americans impacted by the coronavirus. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes provisions offering paid leave benefits for Americans, bolstered unemployment benefits, and free diagnostic testing for the virus. (The Hill)

Tax Reform

Coronavirus Relief Law Includes Tax Breaks for Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave: A package of coronavirus relief legislation that was signed into law Wednesday includes provisions for paid sick leave, family leave and medical leave, along with tax credits to help employers and the self-employed pay for them. (Accounting Today)

Defense

Democrats Introduce Bill to Send Coronavirus Tests to US Troops in Middle East: A pair of lawmakers on Thursday introduced bicameral legislation to send coronavirus testing kits to US troops in the Middle East. (The Hill)

Cyber

Senate GOP Punts on Surveillance Bill Amid Coronavirus Crisis: The Senate last Monday unanimously adopted a short-term extension of key federal surveillance programs that expired on Sunday night — a move that allows the chamber to more rapidly consider legislation addressing the economic impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Congress Should Bail Out Gig Workers, Cohn Says: President Trump’s former economic chief said Sunday that Congress should require businesses to pay independent contractors out of work during the coronavirus crisis. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

Sherrod Brown Calls on Regulators to Suspend Non-Coronavirus Rulemaking: Earlier last week, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) wrote letters to a number of regulators, calling for comment periods closing after March 1 to be suspended or extended for at least 45 days. (American Banker)

Coronavirus Crisis Drives Housing Advocates' Push for Rent and Mortgage Relief: Affordable housing advocates are calling on Congress to do more to protect the fragile housing options for low-income workers who are at heightened risk of losing their homes as the COVID-19 public health crisis drags on. (Axios)

Environment/Interior

Democrats Call for Pollution Reduction Requirements in Any Aid for Airlines, Cruises: A group of eight Democratic senators says that any possible aid for airlines and cruises that are dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus should include requirements that these industries act in a way that is more environmentally friendly. (The Hill)

Education

Stimulus Education Plan Prompts Calls for More Direct Aid: The stimulus package, unveiled late last Thursday, includes provisions designed to shield students and borrowers from financial consequences related to widespread campus closures and job losses, but no new appropriated funds. (Roll Call)

Trade

US Trade Chief Tells Congress of Plans for Trade Deal with Kenya: US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the Trump administration intended to follow procedures set out under a 2015 law, often referred to as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which ensures lawmakers can play a role in developing U.S. negotiating positions for the talks. (Reuters)

Agriculture

The Latest Senate Stimulus Does Not Cover USDA Programs or Farmers, But That Could Change: The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association on Thursday asked Congress to specifically provide direct financial assistance to ranchers in the next emergency aid package. NCBA said it has been engaged with House and Senate leaders to ensure relief funds reach its members, and said the support should avoid the “lasting market-altering effects” of a price support program. (Politico)

In Letter, Pingree Urges Speaker Pelosi to Provide Emergency Disaster Payments, Loans to Farmers in Local, Regional Markets: Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) last week encouraged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to provide emergency disaster payments to farmers selling fresh and minimally processed foods in local markets who have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Pingree Press Release)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Democrats Pan White House’s $46B Coronavirus Aid Request: House Democrats were quick to dismiss the Trump administration's new $45.8 billion supplemental appropriations request for the ongoing COVID-19 response, sent up to Capitol Hill last Tuesday night.

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Administration Advises Delaying All 'Nonessential' Medical Procedures: Officials last Wednesday urged Americans and health care providers to delay elective procedures across the country to ensure medical supplies go where they are most needed. (The Hill)

President Trump Expands Telehealth Benefits for Medicare Beneficiaries During COVID-19 Outbreak: The Trump Administration last Tuesday announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage that will enable beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. Beginning on March 6, 2020, Medicare—administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries residing across the entire country. (CMS Press Release)

HHS and States Relax Telehealth Licensing Rules for Healthcare Professionals Amid COVID-19 Emergency: HHS has finalized licensure waivers that would permit physicians participating in Federal health care programs to receive payment for telemedicine services in states where they do not hold a license during the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency. The waivers were published on March 15, with a retroactive effect back to March 1. (JD Supra)

Defense/DOD

Schumer Urges Trump to Invoke Defense Production Act to Rush Medical Equipment to Providers: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged President Trump by phone last Friday morning to use the Defense Production Act to "get ventilators and other important medical equipment to those who need it," a Schumer spokesman said Friday morning. (Politico)

Will Trump Be Able to Get Emergency Medical Supplies Fast Enough?: Though President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act this past Wednesday, don't expect new masks, ventilators, gloves and goggles to show up in the field right away. The Trump administration has yet to complete a comprehensive assessment, despite weeks of discussion about using the act to help prevent the medical system from being overrun, according to current and former administration officials. Even Trump said on Wednesday that he's in no hurry to order the supplies. (Politico)

Defense Sec. Mark Esper on Mobilizing the US Military to Fight COVID-19: The US military is gearing up to fight the novel coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly across the US Plans include deployment of hospital ships as overflow for hospitals, allocation of critical medical supplies and research in military labs on development of treatment and a vaccine. PBS spoke with Defense Secretary Mark Esper about these efforts and keeping service members safe. (PBS)

DOJ

DOJ Seeks New Emergency Powers Amid Coronavirus Pandemic: The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the United States. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

Labor Department Asked States to Delay Releasing Increased Unemployment Numbers: The Trump administration asked state labor officials to delay releasing exact numbers for increased unemployment claims. “States should not provide numeric values to the public,” Gay Gilbert, the administrator of Labor Department’s Office of Employment Insurance, wrote in a memo last Wednesday. (The Hill)

Energy/DOE

Coal Industry Asks for Financially Beneficial Rollbacks Amid Coronavirus: Coal companies are looking to the White House and Congress to roll back a number of fees paid by mining companies, arguing the coronavirus will exacerbate difficult financial times for the struggling industry. (The Hill)

Energy Regulators Disagree on Whether to Delay Actions Amid Coronavirus: One commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has proposed delaying certain regulatory actions amid the global coronavirus outbreak. The commission’s chairman, however, is cool to the idea. (The Hill)

Dept. of Ed

Education Dept. Says Borrowers Can Now Pause Student Loan Payments Amid Pandemic: DeVos said this pause, coupled with the suspension of interest on student loans President Donald Trump announced last week, would allow borrowers to be “focused on staying safe and healthy” and “not worrying about their student loan balance growing.” (CNBC)

Trade

US-China Relationship Worsens Over Coronavirus: President Trump is blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic threatening lives and the economy in the United States, further testing a relationship with Beijing already stressed by a trade war. (The Hill)

Transportation/DOT

Senate’s Bill Would Give Airlines $58B in Loans: Senate Republicans proposed a relief package Thursday that would give airlines the $58 billion bailout they asked for — only all in loans and loan guarantees, with no grants. Passenger airlines would get $50 billion, cargo airlines would get $8 billion, and “other eligible entities” would get $150 billion. They’d have to keep serving any route DOT asked them to, with special attention to rural routes, and they would be banned from raising executive pay — for two years. (Politico)

Airlines’ Historic Rout Deepens as They Plead for Billions in Government Aid, Slash Costs Amid Coronavirus: Delta Air Lines said last Wednesday that it plans to cut its flying by an unprecedented 70%, on a year-over-year basis, after March revenue fell nearly $2 billion short of the same month last year as bookings drop and cancellations pile up. (CNBC)

COVID-19: Amtrak Implements Measures to Limit Spread: US-based passenger railway service Amtrak has taken steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on its trains and has reduced some of its services. (Railway Technology)

Coronavirus - Impact on the Transportation Sector: The National Journal developed a helpful presentation on the impact of COVID-19 on the airline and rail industries, the Trump administration’s travel restrictions related to the virus, and the effects of the virus on energy consumption. (National Journal)

DHS/Immigration

FEMA Administrator: Shortage of Health-care Supplies a 'Global Problem': Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor is calling the shortage of health-care supplies “a global problem” as the coronavirus outbreak around the world increases demand. (The Hill)

ICE Scales Back Immigration Arrests Amid Coronavirus Outbreak: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Homeland Security agency that arrests and deports unauthorized immigrants, announced it would only target individuals who present public safety risks or who have criminal records. (Roll Call)

Farm Group Warns of ‘Bare Shelves’ Without Expedited Work Visas: Agricultural employers warned of “bare shelves in grocery stores” in a letter to the State Department if it does not find a way to expedite its review of visa applications for foreign agricultural workers as U.S. farmers prepare for spring planting. (Roll Call)

Environment/EPA/DOI

EPA Sued Over Reapproval of Key Roundup Chemical: The agency re-approved the chemical, known as glyphosate, in January, claiming that it doesn’t pose a danger to humans. Thousands of lawsuits, however, have attributed cancer to Roundup. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

Trump Signs Relief Bill with Emergency Food Aid: President Trump last Wednesday night signed into law a COVID-19 relief package that expands domestic feeding programs and suspends the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s work requirements during the crisis. The bill authorizes an emergency increase in SNAP benefits, $500 million in food aid for pregnant women and mothers under the WIC program, $250 million to deliver meal packages to millions of seniors, and $400 million for USDA to buy up commodities and distribute them to food banks. (Agri-Pulse)

US Approves Abbott Coronavirus Test; Company Set to Ship 150,000: The US Food and Drug Administration last Wednesday granted Abbott Laboratories approval to sell a test for the new coronavirus, as more companies begin producing much needed diagnostics for the pathogen that has set off a global pandemic. (Reuters)

Homeland Security Deems Agriculture As ‘Critical Infrastructure’ Amid COVID-19 Pandemic: The Trump administration has labeled agriculture as a critical industry in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, allowing businesses to continue operating as usual amid current and potential restrictions created to stem the spread of the virus. (Agri-Pulse)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Space Industry Seeks Help Amid Coronavirus Pandemic: The Commercial Spaceflight Federation has proposed six recommendations to Congress to help its more than 85 members, including establishing a $5 billion grant or loan program; designating the space manufacturing workforce as essential; and creating a Supply Chain Stabilization program that would give larger companies access to low-interest loans to continue paying their suppliers. (Politico Space)

“Overstressed” NASA Mars Exploration Budget Threatens Several Missions: Cost overruns on a major rover mission and proposals for both sample return missions and a new orbiter are straining NASA’s Mars exploration program and threatening the future of two ongoing missions. In related news, NASA announced that preparations for the Mars 2020 launch of the Perseverance rover mission, scheduled for July 17, remain on track despite disruptions to agency activities caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (Space News)

Work on SLS Suspended, NASA Centers Adjust to Coronavirus Guidance: Despite an upbeat assessment earlier last week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Thursday announced that he was suspending work on the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft at two NASA facilities because of the coronavirus.  Stennis Space Center and the Michoud Assembly Facility have been moved to Stage 4 of the agency’s Response Framework, meaning only personnel needed to maintain safety and security are allowed on site, while all other NASA Centers remain at Stage 3. (Space Policy Online)

Tax Reform/IRS

Trump Administration Moves Tax Day to July 15: The deadline for filing tax returns will be postponed three months, to July 15 because of the coronavirus outbreak, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced last Friday. (Politico)

COVID-19 Impact on Tech Industry: The National Journal developed a helpful presentation on the coronavirus’ impact on the tech industry, available here.

Baking & Housing/HUD

It’s Official: IRS Delays Tax Deadline to July 15, Mnuchin Says: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted this past Friday that the IRS will move the income tax filing deadline from April 15 ahead to July 15. (Forbes)

Fed Expands Reach of New Credit Facility to Muni Bond Market: The Federal Reserve announced the creation of the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility last Wednesday and on Friday announced they are expanding it to also provide support to the municipal bond market. (American Banker)

US Banks to Get Community Lending Credit for Virus Aid Efforts: Lenders will get Community Reinvestment Act credit for lending that’s “responsive to the needs of low- and moderate-income individuals, small businesses and small farms affected by COVID-19,” the Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said in a statement. (Bloomberg)

Trump Orders HUD to Suspend Evictions and Foreclosures: "The Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing immediate relief to renters and homeowners by suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April," Trump said at a White House press briefing last Wednesday. (The Hill)