COVID-19: Federal Update 3-19-20

March 19, 2020

First members of Congress to test positive

Yesterday, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) announced they have both tested positive for the for COVID-19 and are self-quarantining.  They are the first two members of Congress to announce positive tests for coronavirus.  They were both on the House floor Saturday morning to vote for the coronavirus relief package in the House. At least five other members of Congress said Wednesday evening they would self-quarantine because they were in contact with the lawmakers or others who tested positive.

  • Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, said he is self-quarantining because he had an extended meeting with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart late last week.
  • Rep. Drew Ferguson also said he is self-quarantining after Congress’ attending physician informed him he came into contact with a member of Congress who has tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Reps. Ann Wagner, Stephanie Murphy and Kathleen Rice also said they came into contact with lawmakers or others who tested positive.
  • Seven other members of Congress had previously announced they would self-quarantine after exposure in various places and three Hill staffers had tested positive for COVID-19.

Today on the Hill

  • Congress is still in session but with limited staff on the Hill and many working from home.
  • The House is in recess
  • The Senate meets at noon, with no votes scheduled.

White House

  • 11:00 am: Members of Coronavirus task force hold press briefing
  • 12:15pm: President Trump receives intelligence briefing
  • 1:50pm: Trump departs White House for headquarters of Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • 2:00pm: Trump participates in video teleconference with governors on preparation, mitigation of Covid-19
  • 3:20pm: Trump departs FEMA for White House

2nd Economic Package – passed and became law 3/18

  • After passing the second coronavirus economic rescue package in the Senate yesterday (H.R. 6201)  the bill was sent to the President and signed into law.
  • This bill provides paid sick leave, food assistance for vulnerable cohorts, and financial help for coronavirus testing.
  • Massachusetts will receive an estimated $1.08 billion in new Medicaid funding under the recently-passed federal coronavirus stimulus package, which included a 6.2% increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) for Medicaid. See the MA Delegation press release here.

3rd Economic Package – drafting

  • Today lawmakers will work on a third economic rescue package to respond to the coronavirus.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has asked Senators to get their proposals to him by Thursday morning. McConnell said Republicans hope to agree on the next plan with the White House and discuss it with Democrats.  McConnell has also asked Senators to stay close because they want to be able to move rapidly on a new bill.
  • The White House yesterday increased its request to Congress for an additional $1.3 trillion, including $500 billion in direct payments to Americans, $50 billion in loans to the distressed airline sector, and $150 billion to “severely distressed sectors” of the economy from the virus outbreak.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is proposing a $750 billion dollar proposal for the 3rd economic package, we are still waiting for draft legislation (see attachment).
  • In a letter to House Democrats last night, Pelosi said leadership has three areas of concern for the next bill: unemployment insurance, increased Medicaid funding, and further assistance to small businesses.  Pelosi and leadership are also working on their own plans for the 3rd package.

Trump’s Executive Order

  • Yesterday Trump signed a new executive order that gives the federal government broad powers to direct the production and distribution of health-care equipment like protective gear and ventilators if the outbreak in the U.S. gets far worse. The executive order gives HHS Secretary Alex Azar priority over contracts with private companies. His department could also get control over how needed health-care equipment gets distributed.
  • It’s not clear how extensively the government would use the powers outlined in the broadly-written order, or whether companies would start legal objections if they disagreed. In a tweet following the signing of the order, the president said it would be used for a “worst-case scenario,” and hopefully wouldn’t be needed.

The White House cited the Defense Production Act of 1950, which provides the government power to allocate private resources in a national crisis, as the legal basis for the new authority. Bloomberg government for more information on the executive order

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