COVID-19 Federal Update 5-19-20
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported: (last Friday, 85,906), Monday 90,980, Tuesday 91,985
House Democrats HEROS Bill – HR. 6800
Relief Talks Show Areas of Bipartisanship: Lawmakers negotiating the next coronavirus stimulus legislation are starting to see areas of health policy where Democrats and Republicans can agree, despite recent weeks of partisan bickering on Capitol Hill.
The legislation (H.R. 6800), passed Friday mostly along party lines 208-199, would give cash-strapped states and local governments more than $1 trillion while providing most Americans with a new round of $1,200 checks. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it should be the basis of talks with the Senate and White House, which have called for a “pause” to allow earlier coronavirus recovery spending to work.
Republican aides say parts of the $3 trillion coronavirus package contained areas they support—such as revamps of the Strategic National Stockpile that would let the government partner with private companies and accept donations, and ways to protect the pharmaceutical and medical supply chains like creating centers of manufacturing excellence.
There is also growing agreement that there needs to be strengthened oversight of the emergency funds going to health-care providers.
Lawmakers are also finding common ground around improving Covid-19 testing in the U.S., which public health experts have said will be essential to reopening the country. “State testing capacity has gotten substantially better; however, we must reflect on what went wrong and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen in the future,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said on the House floor.
Overhauls of Medicare’s advance payment program have been getting attention by members of both parties after hospitals and doctors across the country took out nearly $100 billion in pre-payments from the federal government that they’ll need to pay back. The House-passed legislation would slash the interest rate for health-care providers who borrowed from Medicare, an effort that’s seen some bipartisan support this year.
Major divides between the parties on the next stimulus package remain: Senate Republicans want to bolster liability protections for businesses operating during the pandemic, but many Democrats have flatly rejected that priority. Democrats have sought to boost the Affordable Care Act and approve billions in state aide that Republicans have opposed.
A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce legislation Monday that would establish a $500 billion fund to help state and local governments cope with the impact of the coronavirus.
Sen.Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Sen.Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, first announced plans for the bill in April
They have added two more Republicans to the effort: Susan Collins of Maine and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi; Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Cory Booker of New Jersey are also co-sponsors
Details of the measure include:
- The money would be divided into three tranches, distributed according to population size, infection rates and revenue losses
- The bill does not have a population requirement, meaning municipalities of any size can use the money it makes available
- All states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia would receive a minimum of $2b under the plan
- NOTE: A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Reps. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., and Peter King, R-N.Y., along with a group of bipartisan co-sponsors
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his Republican colleague Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana want to establish the half-trillion-dollar fund to help the states hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The money would be divided into three tranches and distributed according to formulas that reflect population, infection rates and revenue loss.
Governors and mayors across the country have been pleading with the federal government for additional aid as tax revenues plummet and demands for resources skyrocket. More than 22 million people have been thrown out of work and businesses have shut or severely curtailed operations. At the same time, health care infrastructure has been stretched in many areas.
“The Covid-19 pandemic may not know state borders, but it has certainly hit some states and regions harder than others,” Menendez said in a statement. “The proverbial house is on fire and we need to focus the water on the hot spots, because if we don’t put the flames out, they will only jump until the entire block is up in smoke.”
Menendez is a member of the Senate Banking Committee and Cassidy, a doctor, is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
“Senator Menendez’s state and mine were hit hard by the Covid-19 epidemic,” Cassidy said in a statement. “We worked hard to make sure state and local governments can maintain essential services necessary for employees and employers to survive. We must protect Americans’ financial future.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are in talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to replenish a $349 billion fund that allows small businesses to continue to pay their employees amid widespread stay-at-home orders. Money in that fund ran out on Thursday.
The Democrats want additional aid for states and municipalities in the interim package, but Mnuchin said Sunday that’s not currently part of the deal being negotiated for quick approval by Congress.
Menendez and Cassidy said they’re answering the call from the National Governors Association to establish a much larger “stabilization fund” for states.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, the NGA’s chairman, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, its vice-chairman, said on April 11 that without at least $500 billion, states would have to curtail essential services. The pair are Republican and Democrat, respectively.
The federal stimulus approved in March provides $150 billion for municipalities’ virus expenses but doesn’t address budget shortfalls and only helps states and cities with populations greater than 500,000. The Federal Reserve announced loans to states and only cities with over 1 million residents.
The fund proposed by Menendez and Cassidy would be divided into three equal tranches. The first would be would be allocated to states and territories according to their percentage of U.S. population. All states and the District of Columbia would receive at least $1.25 billion from this fund. Cities and counties with populations above 50,000 would also be eligible for aid.
The second and third tranches would be allocated according to a state’s share of the U.S. infection rate and loss of revenue funding resulting from shut-downs and stay-at-home orders.
Menendez and other Democrats are also pushing for the Fed to do more for state and local governments. They’re advocating for a permanent change to the Federal Reserve Act that would allow the Fed to purchase municipal debt on the open market under “unusual and exigent circumstances.”
Happening on the Hill
- 9:00 am – In-House Pool Call Time
- 9:00 am – Pence, Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
- 10:30am – Pence chairs National Space Council meeting
- 11:00 am – Trump delivers remarks on supporting our Nation’s Farmers, Ranchers and Food Supply Chain
- 3:00 pm – Trump holds a Cabinet Meeting
- House holds pro forma session
- 10:00 am – Senate meets; resumes consideration of judicial nominees.
- 10:00 am – Senate Banking Committee hears from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on the Cares Act report to Congress
- 12: 00pm – Holds weekly policy lunches from approx. noon to 2:15pm
Trump administration said firms that took loans of more than $2 million that they didn’t need from a small business aid program would be allowed to repay the money without legal consequences ahead of a deadline today
If you’re looking for a real-time list of public companies who have received SBA Cares Act loans, AI Margaret rom Factsquared has been reading SEC 8-Ks as they’re filed.
Trump Says He’s Taking Anti-Malaria Drug: President Donald Trump said that he’s currently taking hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug he’s promoted as a treatment to fight a coronavirus infection.
Trump said yesterday at the White House that he has been taking the drug for a week. Medical experts have cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine as the benefits against coronavirus were not proven and the treatment could carry significant negative health side effects.
The FDA on April 24 cautioned against the use of the drug or its cousin, chloroquine, for Covid-19 outside of a hospital setting or in a clinical trial, citing a risk of heart rhythm problems.
Trump said he began the treatment about a week and a half ago. That course would have followed revelations that an official in the White House had tested positive for the virus. Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for coronavirus May 8. Trump wasn’t seen in Pence’s company following the diagnosis until yesterday, when the vice president joined him for the meeting with restaurateurs.
When taken by healthy patients on its own, hydroxychloroquine has a relatively well-established profile and is considered low-risk. In several trials of severely ill patients with Covid-19, it has been shown to raise heart risks and rates of death when combined with the antibiotic azithromycin. The drug is known to interfere with the heart’s electrical signals in extremely rare cases, and can cause death.
The drug is also being studied as a preventive, under the theory that the malaria pill might work for the new coronavirus, as well. While over 100 clinical trials are ongoing, there’s been little solid clinical evidence to back it.
Last night, the White House distributed a memo from Sean Conley, Trump’s physician, about the decision to take the medication. Conley said after “numerous discussions” with the president about the pros and cons of taking hydroxychloroquine, “we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.” Justin Sink has more.
House Dems Want Covid-19 Contract Answers from Blue Flame Medical: House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats moved forward with their probe of Blue Flame Medical, which was first announced last week. Chairman Frank Pallone (N.J.) and Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), the leader of the panel’s oversight subcommittee, sent a letter yesterday to Mike Gula—a former GOP fundraiser and co-founder of Blue Flame—asking questions surrounding allegations that the company has failed to fulfill its contracts with state and local governments or government entities. Although California and Maryland have canceled their contracts with the firm, an attorney for the company contends it plans to make good on delivering the equipment. Blue Flame has until June 1 to reply. The medical supply and personal protective equipment company, which is also under investigation by the Justice Department, was founded in March by two Republican operatives. Read the letter here.
Moderna Vaccine Test Shows Promise: An experimental vaccine from the U.S. biotechnology company Moderna showed signs it can create an immune-system response to fend off the new coronavirus, offering tentative hopes in the global effort to combat the pandemic. The results are only one sample from the small, first study designed to examine the safety of the vaccine in human volunteers and should be viewed with caution. But they showed no major safety worries, a key first hurdle, since such vaccine would be given to millions of healthy people.
“This is a very good sign that we make an antibody that can stop the virus from replicating,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in an interview yesterday. The data “couldn’t have been better,” he said. The company is moving forward with plans for a wider test to pick a dose of the vaccine and further study its efficacy, as well as a Phase 3 test with thousands of patients. Robert Langreth has more.
Xi Vows China Will Share Vaccine: Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to make any Covid-19 vaccine universally available when it’s developed, part of an effort to defuse criticisms of his government’s response to the pandemic. In a speech yesterday before the World Health Assembly—the governing body of the WHO—Xi pushed for greater global cooperation in fighting the virus and said Beijing will provide $2 billion over two years to support the fight.
China has come under fire from the U.S., European Union and Australia over its initial handling of the outbreak and subsequent heavy-handed response to any criticism. Xi’s full-fledged support for the WHO contrasts with the White House’s move to suspend U.S. funding for the organization after accusing it of being too conciliatory toward China. Read more from Corinne Gretler.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot later said in a statement that China’s $2 billion pledge is merely a “token to distract” from Beijing’s failure to warn the world about the outbreak. “As the source of the outbreak, China has a special responsibility to pay more and to give more,” Ullyot said, Ben Livesey and Justin Sink report.
Guidelines for Reopening Nursing Homes: The Trump administration issued guidance that would eventually allow nursing homes to re-open to visitors—on a phased-in basis—nationwide. The guidance recommends that all nursing home staff and residents are tested for exposure to the coronavirus before restrictions are relaxed or facilities reopened. It also recommends that state agencies inspect nursing homes that had a Covid-19 outbreak before allowing reopening, according to a statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. T he CMS guidelines say that nursing homes should be among the last to reopen within communities that are emerging from lockdowns, Tony Pugh reports.
Stockpile Plan Wants Makers, Sellers to Store Virus Supplies: The Department of Health and Human Services is looking for input from companies on how it should restructure and resupply the Strategic National Stockpile. The department has put out a request for information that outlines its plan for making sure there are enough ventilators, personal protective equipment, testing supplies, and other items needed for a Covid-19-like pandemic. Read more from Shira Stein.
Trump Threatens WHO With Permanent Cutoff of U.S. Funds: Trump escalated his threats against the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he would permanently cut U.S. funding if it does not make sweeping reforms. In a four-page letter detailing his many grievances with the WHO, Trump called on the group to “demonstrate independence from China,” renewing a complaint that led him in April to temporarily suspend U.S. funding. He posted the letter late Monday on Twitter.
“If the World Health Organization does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization,” Trump wrote to Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Nick Wadhams.
Virus Hacks Risk Security Updates at Schools: With more researchers moving from the laboratory to their living room couches, now is the time for universities and other institutions combating the coronavirus outbreak to take a close, hard look at their cybersecurity strategies. Chinese hackers are interested in stealing research on vaccines and treatments for the virus, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently said. Universities and other research institutions should assess their information technology systems and training to ensure they are protected, cybersecurity experts say. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.
DeFazio’s Primary; Cars Go Back to Work: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D), a 17-term member and the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is opposed today in an Oregon primary by Doyle Elizabeth Canning, a community organizer and supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) policy platform.
Canning underscored her opposition to an Oregon pipeline project and criticized DeFazio’s record on immigration, including his 2017 vote for the Republican “Kate’s Law” measure that would have increased penalties for those illegally re-entering the U.S. after deportation. Canning raised about $200,000 from individuals and none from political action committees through April 29, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
DeFazio, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, highlighted his support for abortion rights, the Green New Deal climate-change blueprint, and his work to hold corporations accountable. He received scores of 97% from the League of Conservation Voters and 90% from the AFL-CIO for his votes in 2019.
The likely Republican nominee is Alek Skarlatos, a military veteran who helped thwart a gunman on a Paris-bound train in 2015 and lost a bid for the Douglas County Board of Commissioners in 2018. DeFazio defeated Republican Art Robinson in each of the past five general elections, with vote percentages between 54.5% and 59.1%.
Oregon also holds an open-seat Republican race and another primary with a Democratic incumbent challenge tonight. Greg Giroux highlights what you need to know about tonight’s other key races.
U.S. Car Industry Is Restarting—Now What? The coronavirus pandemic forced carmakers to close virtually every auto plant in North America, sending production plummeting to a level last seen at the end of World War II. While companies shut down their factories abruptly and across the board in March, they’re now reopening them in stages and resuming production gradually. It’s probably going to take months—possibly years—for companies to restore manufacturing to levels reached before the crisis. Craig Trudell lists the litany of challenges the industry will have to overcome in getting back up and running.
Nervous Auto Workers Back After Hiatus: Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford resumed U.S. production yesterday after weeks of careful planning that managed to sway an apprehensive United Auto Workers union it was safe to do so. Their restart was sorely needed for an economy that’s suffered from overall U.S. factory production plummeting in April by the most in records dating back more than a century. The first day back has been smooth, with few staff being turned away after their health checks, according to Brian Rothenberg, a spokesman for the UAW, which represents the three carmakers’ workers. The union continues to advocate for more testing. On Thursday, President Donald Trump will visit a Ford components plant that’s been re-purposed to manufacture ventilators and personal protective equipment, Gabrielle Coppola and Keith Naughton report.
Treasury Hasn’t Deployed Much Relief: The Treasury Department has spent only $37.5 billion thus far of a $500 billion pool of funds Congress provided to help struggling businesses, including airlines, during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a congressional watchdog panel, Laura Davison and Billy House report. None of an additional $46 billion in loans for airlines or national security companies has been distributed yet. Up to $25 billion is available for passenger air carriers, eligible businesses certified to perform inspection, repair, replace, or overhaul services, and ticket agents. Up to $4 billion is available for cargo air carriers. And up to $17 billion is available for businesses “critical to maintaining national security,” according to the report.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is scheduled to appear before a Senate committee today with Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to talk about the rollout of the virus relief CARES Act. In his prepared testimony for Congress, released after the report, Mnuchin said that as much as $195 billion in credit support has been committed.
Cantwell Calls for ‘Clear’ Distancing Guidelines for Airlines: Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is urging the Transportation Department to “issue clear, uniform national social distancing guidelines” for the aviation industry to help protect airline workers and travelers amid the coronavirus pandemic. “The Department’s guidance should clearly lead the airlines to either keep middle or adjacent seats open, or limit capacity of aircraft to a level that allows adequate social distancing,” Cantwell wrote in a letter yesterday to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Yesterday’s letter follows correspondence Cantwell sent on May 11 to the White House Coronavirus Task Force seeking guidelines for airlines and airports.
International Air Travel Creeps Back With ‘Bubble’ Corridors: Planes are flying again on a handful of international routes, creating a possible path to recovery for a battered industry. But with Covid-19 still spreading, aspiring passengers will have to navigate a patchy network that might include virus tests and weeks-long quarantine. This month, China and South Korea opened a tightly controlled travel corridor between Seoul and 10 Chinese regions, including Shanghai. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania lifted travel restrictions between the three Baltic states on May 15. Australia and New Zealand are working to resume flights between the two countries, while the U.K. is also considering creating low-risk air corridors.
The unique accords have emerged as templates for airlines that have been pushed to the brink by the industry’s worst-ever crisis and for countries desperate to salvage some tourism as the world enters a deep recession. But they also highlight the biggest challenge to re-establishing international travel: there’s little agreement on what kind of protections could limit the risk of spreading Covid-19 across borders. Read more from Angus Whitley.
Pipeline Safety Agency Chief Tapped as Transportation Watchdog: The Trump administration has chosen the head of the federal pipeline safety agency to serve as acting inspector general for the Department of Transportation. Skip Elliott, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, will keep that role while also temporarily serving as the Transportation Department’s inspector general, which he was appointed to on Friday, according to the department. Trump announced his intent Friday to nominate Eric Soskin, senior trial counsel for the Justice Department, to become Transportation’s inspector general. Soskin will require Senate approval. Read more from Sylvia Carignan.
NYC Interim Transit President Nominated to Amtrak Board: President Donald Trump yesterday announced his intent to nominate Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of New York City Transit, to the Amtrak Board of Directors, according to a statement from the White House. Feinberg has also served as president of the Federal Railroad Administration under President Barack Obama. She also served on the Amtrak Board of Directors during her time as administrator, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s website. Feinberg previously served as director of global communications and business strategy at Bloomberg, L.P.
Trump also nominated Chris Koos to join the Amtrak Board of Directors. Koos is serving as the mayor of Normal, Illinois, a position he has held since 2003. Additionally, Koos currently serves on the Advisory Board of Transportation for America, as a member of the Uptown Normal Business Association.
California Sues EPA, NHTSA Over Emissions Waiver: The California Air Resources Board filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit last Friday against Trump administration agencies that sought to revoke the state’s special waiver to set and enforce vehicle emissions standards. The lawsuit wants a judge to order the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to turn over documents related to revoking the state’s Clean Air Act waiver.
CARB filed Freedom of Information Act requests in December and EPA said later that month it was processing the request, but by February had extended its due date to respond to the end of 2020. By contrast, the state said NHTSA never responded to the public records request at all. Emily C. Dooley has more on the case.
FedEx, Microsoft Join Forces Against Amazon: FedEx and Microsoft are teaming up to provide commercial shipping customers with early warnings of delays from weather, traffic and other mishaps, giving the courier and the software maker another weapon as each competes with Amazon. FedEx Surround is the first fruit of a partnership between the two companies that may lead to other initiatives designed to help the courier position itself as a logistics alternative to Amazon for small and large retailers. Read more from Thomas Black and Dina Bass.
Friday’s Legislative Action
- H.R.6898— 116th Congress (2019-2020)To encourage the research and use of innovative materials and associated techniques in the construction and preservation of the domestic transportation and water infrastructure system, and for other purposes.Sponsor: Rep. Cicilline, David N. [D-RI-1] (Introduced 05/15/2020) Cosponsors: (4)Committees: House – Transportation and Infrastructure; Science, Space, and Technology; Energy and CommerceLatest Action: House – 05/18/2020 Referred to the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. (All Actions)Tracker:
- H.R.6911— 116th Congress (2019-2020)To provide a Federal income tax credit for State income taxes paid by individuals temporarily providing certain health or emergency services in the State, and to provide a corresponding reduction in Federal highway funds to the State.Sponsor: Rep. Posey, Bill [R-FL-8] (Introduced 05/15/2020) Cosponsors: (0)Committees: House – Ways and Means; Transportation and InfrastructureLatest Action: House – 05/18/2020 Referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. (All Actions)Tracker:
- H.R.6917— 116th Congress (2019-2020)To prohibit funds made available under the airport improvement program from being provided to entities that have violated the intellectual property rights of United States entities and therefore pose a threat to national security, and for other purposes.Sponsor: Rep. Wright, Ron [R-TX-6] (Introduced 05/15/2020) Cosponsors: (5)Committees: House – Transportation and InfrastructureLatest Action: House – 05/18/2020 Referred to the Subcommittee on Aviation. (All Actions)Tracker:
- H.Res.969— 116th Congress (2019-2020)Recognizing “National Public Works Week”.Sponsor: Rep. Craig, Angie [D-MN-2] (Introduced 05/15/2020) Cosponsors: (2)Committees: House – Transportation and InfrastructureLatest Action: House – 05/18/2020 Referred to the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. (All Actions)Tracker:
- S.3751— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend the CARES Act to provide the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery with additional personnel authorities, and for other purposes.Sponsor: Sen. Grassley, Chuck [R-IA] (Introduced 05/18/2020) Cosponsors: (4)Committees: Senate – Banking, Housing, and Urban AffairsLatest Action: Senate – 05/18/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. (All Actions)Tracker:
- S.3752— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend title VI of the Social Security Act to establish a Coronavirus Local Community Stabilization Fund.Sponsor: Sen. Menendez, Robert [D-NJ] (Introduced 05/18/2020) Cosponsors: (5)Committees: Senate – Banking, Housing, and Urban AffairsLatest Action: Senate – 05/18/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. (All Actions)Tracker:
- S.3753— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure that certain medical facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs have physical locations for the disposal of controlled substances medications.Sponsor: Sen. Braun, Mike [R-IN] (Introduced 05/18/2020) Cosponsors: (1)Committees: Senate – Veterans’ AffairsLatest Action: Senate – 05/18/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. (All Actions)Tracker:
- S.3754— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to make a technical correction to the water rights settlement for the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation, and for other purposes.Sponsor: Sen. Cortez Masto, Catherine [D-NV] (Introduced 05/18/2020) Cosponsors: (1)Committees: Senate – Indian AffairsLatest Action: Senate – 05/18/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs. (All Actions)Tracker:
- S.3755— 116th Congress (2019-2020)A bill to provide for the establishment of a COVID-19 Compensation Fund, and for other purposes.Sponsor: Sen. Duckworth, Tammy [D-IL] (Introduced 05/18/2020) Cosponsors: (4)Committees: Senate – JudiciaryLatest Action: Senate – 05/18/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. (All Actions)Tracker: