COVID-19: Federal Update (7/22)
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
— GOP LOOKS FOR COMMON GROUND ON COVID-19 RELIEF BILL AS TALKS CONTINUE. Republican lawmakers and White House officials will need to get on the same page on certain policy priorities before they can officially release their proposal.
— HOUSE TO TAKE UP SENATE-PASSED PUBLIC LANDS BILL. House lawmakers will convene for legislative business this morning to begin consideration of a bipartisan package of public lands legislation.
— SCHOOL REOPENING 'STRINGS' BEDEVIL STIMULUS TALKS. Both parties in Congress agree a multibillion-dollar lifeline will be thrown to struggling schools under the stimulus package in the works, but conditions on that money could choke off the cash flow.
— HHS ANNOUNCES NEW NATIONAL TESTING IMPLEMENTATION FORUM. The Forum will bring together representatives from key stakeholder groups to share information and provide input to federal leaders about the virus, testing and diagnostics.
Capitol Hill Update
— GOP LOOKS FOR COMMON GROUND ON COVID-19 RELIEF BILL AS TALKS CONTINUE.
Negotiations on the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation will continue today as Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration look to reconcile intraparty differences on their forthcoming proposal. Leader McConnell stated yesterday that the Republicans' opening offer will include up to $105 billion toward education, another round of direct economic impact payments, and "targeted" funding for the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). However, Republican lawmakers and White House officials will need to get on the same page on certain policy priorities, namely funding for testing and tracing efforts as well as President Donald Trump's demand for a payroll tax cut, before they can officially release their proposal.
— HOUSE TO TAKE UP SENATE-PASSED PUBLIC LANDS BILL. House lawmakers will convene for legislative business this morning to begin consideration of a bipartisan package of public lands legislation. The Senate-passed Great American Outdoors Act would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), while also clearing billions of dollars worth of national park maintenance backlog. The measure is expected to pass the lower chamber later today despite opposition from House Natural Resources Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT). Also on the House floor today, lawmakers will take up a pair of immigration-related measures that would limit the president’s authority to suspend the entry of non-citizens into the United States (H.R. 2214), as well as allow let migrants who are subjected to secondary inspection at ports of entry receive access to counsel (H.R. 5581).
— HOUSE PASSES NDAA, SENATE NEARING FINISH LINE. TheSenate is set to pick up consideration of its version of the fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after the House passed (295-125) its bill yesterday. Senators will consider another batch of amendments to the annual defense spending bill prior to moving onto a procedural vote that will end debate on the underlying measure. Once the Senate passes its version, leadership in both chambers will appoint lawmakers to a Conference Committee to iron out a final deal, where lawmakers will need to resolve several key differences related to changing the name of military bases named after Confederate leaders, the transfer of excess military equipment to law enforcement agencies, and limiting Executive Branch war power authority, among other things. Meanwhile, President Trump issued a veto threat against the House-passed NDAA yesterday despite its overwhelming bipartisan support in the final passage vote.
Washington Insider: What We're Reading
Both parties in Congress agree a multibillion-dollar lifeline will be thrown to struggling schools under the stimulus package in the works. But conditions on that money could choke off the cash flow. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Republicans will include $105 billion as part of the economic stimulus bill they plan to roll out this week to ensure "educators have the resources they need to safely reopen." Claiming to one-up House Democrats, the majority leader said the impending bill includes even more education funding than the competing plan the House passed in May.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to announce on Wednesday the first proposed U.S. emissions standards for commercial aircraft, officials briefed on the matter said. The EPA-proposed regulation would align the United States with the ICAO standards, officials said, and would apply to new type designs as of January 2020 and to in-production airplanes or those with amended type certificates starting in 2028. They would not apply to airplanes currently in use.
While Congress jostles over whether businesses should get extra protections from lawsuits related to COVID-19 in the next pandemic relief bill, legal action across the country highlights the stakes for states struggling to reopen their economies. On the flip side, business advocates say such lawsuits appear to be an inevitable and costly risk of reopening, and in some cases they put them in the impossible position of defending their actions when the highly contagious virus spreads in places outside their control.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday issued a draft guidance that would establish a set of rules for researching cannabis. The guidance, which is “limited to the development of human drugs and does not cover other FDA-regulated products,” largely informs researchers how to lawfully conduct cannabis research. The guidance has been long-awaited by lawmakers and cannabis advocates.
COVID-19: What We're Hearing
— 'CARES 2.0' STATE OF PLAY. Lawmakers are mulling over several policy options for the next round of legislation, including:
Liability. In a draft summary of the liability section obtained by TRP, the Senate GOP's proposal would insulate health care, education, government, and business entities from lawsuits retroactive to December 2019 through 2024 unless there is proof of "gross negligence and intentional misconduct."
For personal liability and medical cases, the plan would require a "clear-and-convincing-evidence burden of proof," would place a cap threshold on damages, and would heighten pleading standards. It would also limit liability for new products, such as types of PPE, if they meet established Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards.
While these policies are subject to future negotiation and change, Leader McConnell has continuously emphasized that any future COVID-19 relief efforts must include these protections in order for the Senate to consider additional relief legislation.
Education. Reports suggest that the GOP's bill will also contain $50-$100 billion in education funding, and could either be attached with conditions or incentives for schools to develop concrete reopening plans in the fall.
Health Care Priorities. One of the key areas of bipartisan agreement among the negotiating parties is the need to address existing and emerging health care needs as a result of the pandemic, as well as shoring up the nation's testing regime. These priorities are expected to be reflected in the Senate GOP's forthcoming proposal, and are also reflected in the House-passed HEROES Act.
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. However, the administration has reportedly pushed back on additional funding for testing, tracing, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Payroll Tax Cut. The Trump administration emphasized that the next COVID-19 relief bill must include a payroll tax cut in order for it to earn the president's signature. While this has been a priority for President Trump throughout the pandemic response efforts. the proposal has received a chilly reception from Members on both sides of the aisle. However, GOP lawmakers have expressed openness in including some sort of payroll tax provision in light of the President's demands
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.
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 feweSmr 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 ANNOUNCES NEW NATIONAL TESTING IMPLEMENTATION FORUM. The Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) announced the rollout of a new National Testing Implementation Forum. The Forum will bring together representatives from key stakeholder groups to share information and provide input to federal leaders about the virus, testing and diagnostics.
— HHS, DOD TO PROCURE PFIZER COVID-19 VACCINE. HHS and the Department of Defense (DoD) announced an agreement with Pfizer Inc. for large-scale production and nationwide delivery of 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States following the vaccine’s successful manufacture and approval.
— WAYS AND MEANS REPUBLICANS CIRCULATE TELEHEALTH DISCUSSION DRAFT. The Republicans of the House Ways & Means Committee issued a discussion draft of a bill to make permanent several of the temporary telehealth flexibilities implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read TRP's analysis of this legislation.
— HHS OCR ISSUES GUIDANCE ON CIVIL RIGHTS PROTECTIONS DURING COVID-19. The Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to ensure that recipients of federal financial assistance understand that they must comply with applicable federal civil rights laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in HHS-funded programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
— HHS ANNOUNCES DISTRIBUTION OF $10B FOR HIGHLY IMPACTED HOSPITALS. HHS announced that it would distribute $10B to hospitals in COVID-19 hotspots beginning this week. Click here to read TRP's updated provider relief fund memo.
This distribution, which was first announced June 8, is based on data that HHS collected from hospitals in June detailing COVID-19 admissions through June 10. In addition, the agency extended the deadline for Medicaid and CHIP providers to apply for relief funds from June 20 to August 3.
— FDA APPROVES FIRST GROUP COVID-19 TEST. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for pooled COVID-19 testing. The Quest Diagnostic test is the first COVID-19 diagnostic test to be authorized for use with pooled samples.
— FED EXPANDS MAIN STREET LENDING PROGRAM TO INCLUDE NONPROFITS. The Federal Reserve announced that it will expend its Main Street Lending Program to provide greater access to credit for nonprofit organizations such as educational institutions, hospitals, and social service organizations.
— CFPB PUBLISHES REPORT ON COVID-RELATED CONSUMER COMPLAINTS. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published an analysis of the more than 8,000 complaints it received from January through May that specifically pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic.
— FED EXTENDS PPP-RELATED RULE CHANGE. The Federal Reserve announced an extension of a rule change aimed at bolstering the effectiveness of the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The extension will temporarily modify the Board's rules so that certain bank directors and shareholders can apply to their banks for PPP loans for their small businesses.
— CMS PUBLISHES OVERVIEW OF TELEHEALTH UTILIZATION. In a blog post in the Journal Health Affairs, CMS Administrator Verma provides an overview of CMS’ analysis of telehealth utilization among Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic.
— 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.
— 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 PLANS TO DISTRIBUTE RAPID POC TESTING EQUIPMENT TO NURSING HOMES.HHS announced a large-scale procurement of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -authorized rapid point-of-care diagnostic test instruments and tests to be distributed to nursing homes in COVID-19 hotspot geographic areas.