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COVID-19: Federal Update (7/27)

Quick Takes

— SENATE GOP READIES INTRODUCTION OF 'CARES 2.0' OPENING OFFER. Senate Republicans, House Democrats, and the Trump administration will need to bridge deep divides over the size and scope of the next COVID-19 relief bill to reach a deal.

— MNUCHIN: VIRUS AID PACKAGE SOON. $1,200 CHECKS BY AUGUST. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Saturday that Republicans were set to roll out the next COVID-19 aid package Monday and assured there was backing from the White House.

— MEADOWS, MNUCHIN PUSH FOR NARROW CORONAVIRUS RELIEF BILL. The pair suggested Congress could take an issue-by-issue approach to coronavirus relief, an idea House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already rejected.

CDC ISSUES GUIDANCE ON REOPENING SCHOOLS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new resources and tools for school administrators, teachers, parents, guardians, and caregivers regarding school reopening efforts.

Capitol Hill Update

— SENATE GOP READIES INTRODUCTION OF 'CARES 2.0' OPENING OFFER. Senate Republicans are poised to officially introduce their 'CARES 2.0' proposal this week after delaying its rollout due to lingering debates over certain policy issues. While Senators reached an “agreement in principle” last week according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), disagreements over the unemployment insurance and stimulus payment pieces pushed the intraparty negotiations into the weekend. Once the bill is officially introduced, talks between Senate Republicans, House Democrats, and the Trump administration will begin in earnest, and the sides will need to bridge deep divides over the size and scope of the next COVID-19 relief bill to reach a deal. If the parties struggle to clinch an agreement, it’s likely that lawmakers could try to pass smaller bills that address pressing areas of need such as extending unemployment insurance and the moratorium on housing evictions, among other things. For more details on the Senate GOP's forthcoming proposal, click here for a draft summary obtained by TRP.

— HOUSE TO TAKE UP SECOND APPROPRIATIONS PACKAGE. On the floor this week, House lawmakers are set to take up their second “minibus” after clearing the spending bills for Agriculture-FDA, State-Foreign Operations, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction-Veterans' Affairs last Friday. The second package consists of the spending bills for Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Service and General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. Additionally, lawmakers will take up a pair of child care-related measures (H.R. 7327; H.R. 7027), as well as the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. In the upper chamber, Senators are expected to primarily focus on nominations until a bipartisan agreement on COVID-19 relief legislation is reached.

Washington Insider: What We're Reading

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Saturday that Republicans were set to roll out the next COVID-19 aid package Monday and assured there was backing from the White House after he and President Donald Trump’s top aide met to salvage the $1 trillion proposal that had floundered just days before. Mnuchin told reporters at the Capitol that extending an expiring unemployment benefit — but reducing it substantially — was a top priority for Trump. The secretary called the $600 weekly aid “ridiculous” and a disincentive for people to go back to work. He also promised a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks would be coming in August.

During media appearances Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested Congress could take an issue-by-issue approach to coronavirus relief, an idea House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already rejected. “Honestly, I see us being able to provide unemployment insurance, maybe a retention credit to keep people from being displaced or brought back into the workplace, helping with our schools,” Meadows said on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. “If we can do that along with liability protection, perhaps we put that forward and get that passed as we can negotiate on the rest of the bill in the weeks to come.”

The House added a number of environmental measures to the budget Friday, voting to block the Trump administration from drilling in the arctic or rejecting grants for projects and studies tied to climate change. The measures were included in a $259.5 billion spending package that passed with a 224-189 vote. Lawmakers voted on a series of amendments to the budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Interior on Thursday and Friday, seeking to block funding from being used to implement a number of Trump administration rollbacks.

The July 24 eviction moratorium was enacted as part of March’s roughly $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but as the COVID-19 pandemic resurges, unemployment insurance and other direct financial aid may be even more important for renters struggling to make their monthly payments. If landlords stop getting paid, it could spread the economic harm already being wrought by the coronavirus, warned Cindy Chetti, senior vice president of government affairs at the National Multifamily Housing Council.

2020 Elections State of Play

TRUMP VS. BIDEN. Current polling projects a close, hard fought race for the White House in 2020. Recently, Vice President Biden has shown a consistent lead in national polls, as well as a slight edge in key swing state polls such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida, The Democratic nominee is also demonstrating strong poll numbers in traditionally red states such as Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. Click here to view TRP's newest slide deck on the 2020 election outlook.

· RCP Aggregate: Biden +9.1 percent (source)

· 538 Aggregate: Biden +8.2 percent (source)

· PredictIt Market: Biden (62¢) Trump (39¢) (source)

· Gallup POTUS Approval (6/30): 38 percent (source)

What policies has Vice President Biden championed during his 2020 presidential bid? Check out TRP's analysis of the Democratic nominee's health and economic policy platforms.

—SENATE OUTLOOK. The Senate currently features a 53-47 Republican majority. With 23 out of the 35 seats up this cycle held by Republicans, Democrats are statistically well-positioned to narrow or even flip the Senate GOP Majority. According to current political forecasts, the seat most likely to flip this fall is Alabama’s, held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). If that happens, Democrats need to win four GOP-held Senate seats to reach a 50-50 tie, in which case control would rest with the president’s party. As of today, there is a widespread consensus that there are four races that may effectively decide the majority: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina are the seats that Democrats see as their best chance of flipping. However, Democrats are also eyeing seats in Georgia, Iowa, Montana, Texas, and Kansas as potential long-shot flips.

HOUSE OUTLOOK. Democrats are currently favored to keep their House majority, and have maintained a consistent lead in generic ballot polling since 2018, according to polls aggregated by RCP and 538. While Republicans could end up flipping some of the 30 Democratic districts that voted for President Trump in 2016, redistricting in North Carolina — as well as the retirements of Republican lawmakers in tossup districts in Texas, Georgia, and Iowa — leaves the GOP with a slim margin of error in their push to trim or flip the House Democratic majority.

· 538 Aggregate: Democrats +8.5 percent (source)

· RCP Aggregate: Democrats +8.6 percent (source)

Which lawmakers will not be returning for the next Congress? Stay informed and get ahead of the game on the changing landscape in Washington with the TRP Congressional Casualty List.

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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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


CDC ISSUES GUIDANCE ON REOPENING SCHOOLS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new resources and tools for school administrators, teachers, parents, guardians, and caregivers regarding school reopening efforts.


AZAR RENEWS COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar officially renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency yesterday evening. Click here to read TRP's analysis.

CMS ALLOCATES ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR NURSING HOMES. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the agency will allocate additional resources for nursing homes to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes $5 billion in funding from the Provider Relief Fund for Medicare-certified long term care facilities and state veterans’ homes, as well as a requirement that all nursing homes in states with a five percent positivity rate or greater test all nursing home staff each week.

HHS ISSUES REPORTING GUIDANCE FOR PROVIDER RELIEF FUND. HHS released initial information for the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) reporting requirements, including the timing for submissions. HHS indicated that detailed guidance and materials will be released by August 17, 2020.

— HHS ANNOUNCES NEW NATIONAL TESTING IMPLEMENTATION FORUM. 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.

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