COVID-19: Federal Update (7/15)
— HOUSE APPROPRIATORS WRAP UP SPENDING BILL MARKUPS. Members on the House Appropriations Committee will complete their full committee markups of fiscal year (FY) 2021 spending bills today.
— TRUMP LOOKS TO SCALE BACK ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS FOR PROJECTS. President Donald Trump is expected to announce a new federal rule to speed up the environmental review process for proposed highways, gas pipelines and other major infrastructure.
— TRP SPECIAL REPORT: THE PROVIDER RELIEF FUND AND ITS DISTRIBUTIONS. Click here to read TRP's updated analysis on the provider relief fund and its distributions.
Capitol Hill Update
— HOUSE APPROPRIATORS WRAP UP SPENDING BILL MARKUPS. Members on the House Appropriations Committee will complete their full committee markups of fiscal year (FY) 2021 spending bills today. After clearing the funding measures for Defense (report), Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) (report), and Transportation-HUD (report) yesterday, appropriators are considering the bills for Homeland Security (report) and Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) (report) this morning. Looking ahead to next week, Members will begin clearing each of the 12 spending bills prior to the August district work period, starting with a "minibus" package that includes the FY 21 measures for Agriculture-FDA (report), State-Foreign Operations (report), Military Construction-VA (report), and Interior-Environment (report).
Washington Insider: What We’re Reading
President Donald Trump is expected to announce a new federal rule to speed up the environmental review process for proposed highways, gas pipelines and other major infrastructure, a move that critics are describing as the dismantling of a 50-year-old environmental protection law. Trump will travel to Atlanta on Wednesday to announce the federal rule as he seeks to make it easier to meet some of the country’s infrastructure needs. When he first announced the effort in January, the administration set a two-year deadline for completing full environmental impact reviews while less comprehensive assessments would have to be completed within one year.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced on Tuesday a new plan to spend $2 trillion over four years to significantly escalate the use of clean energy in the transportation, electricity and building sectors, part of a suite of sweeping proposals designed to create economic opportunities and strengthen infrastructure while also tackling climate change. In a speech in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden built on his plans, released last week, for reviving the economy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, with a new focus on enhancing the nation’s infrastructure and emphasizing the importance of significantly cutting fossil fuel emissions.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he had signed legislation that establishes a regime for gradually sanctioning foreign banks if they continue to indirectly support Chinese officials’ crackdown on Hong Kong. In a Rose Garden press conference, the president also announced he had signed an executive order that would revoke the special trade privileges the United States has maintained since 1992 toward the former British colony, which helped Hong Kong rise to become one of the biggest financial hubs in the world.
Leaders from America’s largest transportation systems are asking for $36 billion in emergency federal funding as part of a new coronavirus relief bill. In a virtual press conference Tuesday, the group said that the $25 billion provided to them in the March CARES Act is running dry. The coalition is urging the Senate to take up the House-passed relief bill known as the HEROES Act, which included $15.7 billion for public transportation. Senate Republicans, who return from recess on July 20, have rejected the House bill and are split on how much to spend on additional relief funds.
COVID-19: What We’re Hearing
— 'CARES 2.0' STATE OF PLAY. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) provided more details on the GOP priorities for the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation in a sign that another bill could be on the horizon toward the end of this month. Leader McConnell stated that he will be unveiling legislation in the forthcoming weeks that prioritizes health care, jobs, reopening schools and universities, and liability protections. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin noted last week that he expects negotiations between Senate Republicans, House Democrats, and the White House to begin in earnest when the upper chamber returns from its July 4 district work period the week of Jul. 20. However, it remains to be seen whether the parties can clinch a bipartisan agreement given the deep policy divides over the size and scope of the next round of relief. Lawmakers are mulling over several policy options for the next round of legislation, including:
Liability. Leader McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) are working on legislation that would limit the liabilities of health care workers, business owners, and employees from lawsuits pertaining to the COVID-19 outbreak. Leader McConnell stated that the GOP's liability provision would insulate stakeholders from lawsuits retroactive to Dec. 2019 through 2024, unless these entities are "grossly negligent or intentionally engaged in harmful behavior. He has continuously emphasized that any future COVID-19 relief efforts must include these protections in order for the Senate to consider additional relief legislation.
House Democratic leadership appears open to negotiating a deal on liability protections. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) emphasized that these protections must not undermine the health and rights of workers, but indicated that the issue is open for further discussion and negotiation.
Unemployment Reform. Congressional Republicans have spearheaded efforts on reforming the enhanced unemployment benefits so that generous payments approved in the CARES Act don’t become an obstacle to rehiring workers. Democrats, on the other hand, have emphasized that the enhanced unemployment insurance benefits must be a part of the next round of relief legislation.
Senate Republicans have expressed openness to lowering the unemployment boost from $600 to the $200-$400 range. Another compromise option could be enhancing a tax credit that would give employers a tax break for keeping workers on the payroll.
Health Care Priorities. Reports out of the Trump administration suggest that the White House is prioritizing action on surprise medical billing in the next round of relief legislation. It is also looking to address price transparency for pharmaceuticals, as well as an adjustment in the reimbursement rate for telemedicine.
During the CARES Act negotiations, Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) were actively trying to tack their surprise billing legislation onto the package.
Stimulus Payments. President Trump stated recently that he is open to another round of direct economic impact payments, saying that he wants “larger numbers than the Democrats” have offered. Leader McConnell has also expressed openness for another round of stimulus payments that would be targeted toward individuals making $40,000 a year or less.
PPP. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application process has officially been reopened thanks to swift action by Congress. House and Senate lawmakers were able to clinch unanimous consent agreements on a bill that would reopen the application process for the roughly $134 billion remaining in the signature small business rescue program, pushing the application deadline from June 30 to August 18. lawmakers are already eyeing additional PPP reforms in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.
Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) is drafting additional PPP legislation that would create new programs to expand the use of the remaining funds within the program, including a $25 billion set-aside for businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have introduced a bill that would extend the PPP application deadline by six months and authorize new lending for businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
Additionally, there has been a bipartisan push in Congress to expand PPP eligibility to 501(c)6 organizations and other currently ineligible nonprofits in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.
State and Local Governments. Funding for state and local governments is a key pillar of the Democrats' next stimulus bill. While there is bipartisan agreement that more needs to be done to help stymie economic hardships for these entities, allocating additional funding has become a divisive issue within the Republican conference.
It appears likely that some Senate Republicans — particularly those who are up for re-election — would coalesce behind a bipartisan proposal that would provide additional funding and flexibility to address needs at the state and local level.
Budget Reform. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers penned a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) calling for provisions that address the federal debt and trust funds for Medicare and Social Security to be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.
COVID-19 Legislative & Regulatory Trackers
— HHS CHANGES PROCESS FOR HOSPITALS TO REPORT COVID-19 DATA. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced changes to its process for collecting daily COVID-19-related data from hospitals, starting today. HHS plans to use this data to inform decisions at the federal level, such as allocation of supplies, treatments, and other resources.
— TRP SPECIAL REPORT: THE PROVIDER RELIEF FUND AND ITS DISTRIBUTIONS. On Jul. 10, HHS announced $4 billion in additional COVID-19 relief funding for providers that serve a high number of Medicaid patients and provide large amounts of uncompensated care, including to rural populations. Click here to read TRP's updated analysis on the provider relief fund and its distributions.
— CMS EXTENDS COMPLIANCE DEADLINE FOR MEDICAID HCBS SETTINGS RULE. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it was extending the deadline to March 17, 2023, for ensuring compliance with the Home and Community-Based Settings Regulation, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
— CMS ALLOCATES ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR NURSING HOMES. CMS announced plans to provide additional resources to nursing homes COVID-19 hotspots.
Specifically, the agency plans to deploy Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) across the country to provide immediate assistance to nursing homes in the hotspot areas as identified by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
— HHS, HRSA AWARD NEW FUNDING FOR HEALTH CENTERS. HHS and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded $21 million to support health centers' COVID-19 response efforts.
This includes $17 million to support 78 Health Center Program look-alikes (LALs) with funding to expand capacity for COVID-19 testing.
— TREASURY UPDATES CORONAVIRUS RELIEF FUND FAQS. The Treasury Department updated its list of frequently asked questions on the state, local, and tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund.
— NIH LAUNCHES NEW COVID-19 CLINICAL TRIALS NETWORK. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new clinical trials network to test COVID-19 vaccines and other prevention tools.
— HRSA POSTS FACT SHEET ON PROVIDER RELIEF FUND FOR MEDICAID AND CHIP PROVIDERS. HRSA has published a new fact sheet for Medicaid and CHIP providers on the Provider Relief Fund.
— SBA, TREASURY OFFICIALLY DISCLOSE PPP RECIPIENTS. The Small Business Administration (SBA) and Treasury Department have officially disclosed the names of more than 650,000 recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Click here to access the database.
— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES NEW 'OPERATION WARP SPEED' INITIATIVES. HHS and Department of Defense announced two new investments into COVID-19 vaccines and treatments as a part of the Trump administration's "Operation Warp Speed" initiative. This includes a $450 million contract with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to manufacture an investigational anti-viral antibody treatment, as well as a $1.6 billion deal with Novavax to ramp up production of a potential vaccine.
—TRP SPECIAL REPORT: THE VIABILITY OF DRUG PRICING REFORMS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. TRP's newest Special Report examines recent legislation tackling drug pricing reform or price controls for COVID-19 therapies and vaccines, provides a state-of-play on the larger debate on the Hill and within the administration, and explores perspectives on ensuring the affordability of coronavirus-targeted products from the biopharmaceutical industry and health stakeholders.
— TRP SPECIAL REPORT: COVID-19 EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS AND HEALTH POLICY. TRP has published a Special Report describing how emergencies are declared, how they end, the health-related flexibilities that were enabled by the declarations, and what will happen when the emergencies expire.