COVID-19 Federal Update March-27-2020
House Virus Aid Bill Vote
The House plans to vote today on Senate-passed legislation (H.R. 748) that would provide about $2 trillion to individuals, businesses, and states in response to the coronavirus pandemic. See the attached bill summary.
The success of a massive stimulus package set for House passage today will depend on how quickly the aid can get to beleaguered consumers and businesses — a huge challenge for federal and state agencies that aren’t built to move quickly.
Congress has moved at a remarkable pace for such an enormous piece of legislation. The Senate unanimously approved the $2 trillion package of loans, aid and payments Wednesday night, and the House is expected to quickly pass the bill today.
“We’ll have a strong bipartisan vote and hopefully by noon be finished,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television. That will send the bill to President Donald Trump for his signature.
Then the hard work begins. Government institutions, especially the Treasury, will be asked to deliver enormous amounts of aid, racing against skyrocketing jobless claims.
Virus Voting Protocol Memo: The House sergeant at arms sent members a list of precautionary measures and rules that they should observe if they have to be present in the Capitol building to vote today. Such instructions include avoiding riding in elevators together and using hand sanitizer before entering and leaving the chamber. House leaders say they’d like to pass the Senate bill swiftly with a voice vote, which would not require members to be on the House floor. But any lawmaker could block that process and demand a recorded vote.
Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving said he recommends members of the 435-seat chamber who are physically present to arrive to vote in staggered, 30-member groups, by alphabetical order. The memo says that during debate on the bill, access to the House floor will be limited to those who are scheduled to speak. Unless participating in the debate, the lawmakers are encouraged to “refrain from grouping” and to stay in their offices until the voting begins. Read more from Billy House.
Discussing of a Fourth Package: Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers haven’t yet cleared the Senate-passed $2 trillion stimulus package, but leaders are already considering a fourth coronavirus relief measure that may include more money for frontline health-care workers, congressional leaders and advocates said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Bloomberg TV yesterday said the next coronavirus bill would “lean toward recovery” and look at covering health-care services beyond testing for people who have contracted the illness.
“It’s not just the tests, it’s the doctor’s visits,” Pelosi said. Within her caucus there is a demand for expanding federal enforcement of safety rules for health-care providers and building on Obamacare to lower what Americans pay for health care. For Republicans, a fourth stimulus bill could mean aid for rural health-care providers. Some hospital and health-care provider groups are already signaling they’re going to need more than the $100 billion included in the bill set to pass the House today. Both the House and Senate are expected to go on recess until late April after this week.
“With all the uncertainty surrounding this, it’s hard to put a firm figure on what more we need,” according to Carlos Jackson, vice president of legislative affairs for American’s Essential Hospitals. “But it’s clear that we’ll need more, given the projections we see,” Jackson said. “A better understanding of how this will flow to our hospitals.”
Vice President Mike Pence said the administration was open to a fourth bill to support states.
“Already we’re hearing from some governors about the need for additional resources, and we will evaluate those very carefully,” Pence said at the White House’s press conference yesterday. “I think the Secretary of the Treasury’s already indicated and congressional leadership has already indicated a willingness to remain open to that.”
Congress, Trump Debate Cruise Aid: A group of senators is looking to ensure the cruise industry could borrow from any of the existing loan programs regardless of their offshore registration, Kasia Klimasinska reports, citing CNBC. They may seek a fix in a subsequent relief package if needed, according to a senior administration official.
But legislation passed by the Senate excludes businesses that aren’t domiciled in the U.S. or whose employees are mostly outside the country, Christopher Palmeri reports. Trump said at a White House press conference yesterday there were senators who objected to including cruise lines for those reasons. He said cruise-line companies should change their official homes to the U.S. if they want to get federal loans.
“There were some senators that didn’t want to do anything. I do like the concept of perhaps coming and registering here. It’s very tough to make a loan to a company when they’re based in a different country,” Trump said. “We’re going work very hard on the cruise-line business, and we’re going to try and work something out.”
Other Economic Efforts
Lawmakers Ask for Tariff Deferral: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are among lawmakers who signed letter yesterday to the Trump administration seeking deferral of at least 90 days on all tariffs amid the coronavirus outbreak.
American Air Sees $12 Billion Share of U.S. Aid, Slashes Flights: American Airlines said it’s in line to receive $12 billion in a pending U.S. rescue program for an industry battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
With demand for air travel having tumbled “precipitously,” American will slash its flight schedule 60% in April and 80% in May, Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker said Thursday. To make up for lost sales, the company will have to rely on government assistance that’s still subject to a Friday vote in the House of Representatives. Read more from Mary Schlangenstein.
Carmakers Stir Workers’ Ire With Restart Plans: Ford and Fiat Chrysler said yesterday they will keep their factories shut until at least April 14. Ford announced several key facilities it plans to reopen on that date, while Fiat Chrysler said its decisions will depend on states’ stay-in-place orders and the readiness of each plant, Keith Naughton and Gabrielle Coppola report.
The announcement drew heated language from the United Auto Workers by issuing plans to restart production next month at U.S. plants as the union confirmed two more of its members have died. Toyota said yesterday it will attempt to resume production on April 20 at all of its North American auto parts and vehicle factories, including facilities in Mexico, two weeks later than an initial target date of April 6. Honda aims to restart its engine, parts and vehicle plants in the U.S. and Canada on Apr il 7, after previously saying it would do so by March 31, Chester Dawson reports.
American Airlines Pilots Seek Early Outs: About 600 American Airlines pilots could be selected for early retirement effective April 1, under a deal between the airline and its pilots’ union in response to the novel coronavirus. Pilots who will be age 62 or older by May 1 were eligible to apply this week for “voluntary permanent leaves of absence,” according to the Allied Pilots Association. American will decide who is selected, and priority generally will go to pilots who are age 64 and then to those who are age 63. The types of aircraft the pilots fly will also be a factor, the union said in a message to its members. Louis C. LaBrecque has more details on the deal.
GM’s Cash-Saving Moves: General Motors is freezing work on new-vehicle programs and deferring pay for white-collar staff to conserve cash while many of the carmaker’s plants are shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In an internal memo described to Bloomberg News, the automaker said salaried staff will have 20% of pay deferred starting April 1 through the fourth quarter of this year or first quarter of 2021. The company’s senior management team will take pay cuts of as much as 10% and defer 20% of their cash compensation. GM also will put 6,500 employees, many of them engineers who work at plants, on leave with 75% of their pay until production resumes. David Welch describes other austerity measures.
Truckers Wary of NYC Deliveries: Delivering food to New York City’s supermarkets isn’t easy even in normal times. Now, it’s become a supply chain conundrum that’s testing the nerves of grocers, truckers and manufacturers alike. Some truckers are refusing to carry orders into the city and surrounding suburbs like New Rochelle that have been hard hit by the coronavirus, even as demand for groceries is double or triple normal levels as shoppers stockpile soup and other everyday goods. Read more from Matthew Boyle.
Trump Likely Too Late to Calm Oil Markets: When Saudi Arabia kicked off its oil-price war and triggered the worst crude crash in a generation, U.S. Trump lauded the ensuing decline in pump prices. But now with thousands of oil jobs hanging in the balance and the U.S. shale industry in upheaval, any action by Trump himself may be too little, too late. Oil’s downturn has rapidly devolved from a simple case of too much supply to a worst-case scenario of total demand destruction — a problem far harder to solve from the Oval Office. Read more from Stephen Cunningham, Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Nick Wadhams.
Prevention & Treatment
Trump Plans to Rank Counties by Virus Risk President Donald Trump told governors in a letter that the federal government will rank counties according to their risk of a coronavirus outbreak, as he seeks to return Americans to work by his aspirational Easter deadline.
Trump said the White House “is working to publish new guidelines for state and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place.” His letter followed a video conference from the White House with the governors yesterday.
“This is what we envision: Our expanded testing capabilities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the nation’s public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus,” he wrote.
Parts of the U.S. might be able to relent on social distancing practices that have crippled the economy as the country battles the coronavirus outbreak, Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview conducted by NBA star Steph Curry on Instagram.
“There are places in the country now where you want to look at carefully and say you know maybe you want to pull back a little bit on the restrictions so long as you don’t just say let it rip and say I don’t care what happens,” Fauci said. “So you treat New York City a little different than you treat Nebraska.”
But the principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anne Schuchat, warned in an interview that relenting on social distancing risks outbreaks in new parts of the country.
“It would be surprising to me, based on what I’ve seen about how this virus spreads, if it were not going to increase in many other parts of the country,” she told The Hill. “I would be very reluctant to let up on measures in the nation as a
whole. There are probably geographies where the virus hasn’t yet arrived in great force but where the health-care system needs to be prepared for it.” Read more from Justin Sink and Angelica LaVito.
Ambitious Plans for Covid-19 Vaccine: Fauci also said yesterday a Covid-19 vaccine will go into production while researchers are still studying if it works, under an ambitious plan to get a vaccine across the finish line in record time.
The proposal to start ramping up production while the candidate is still in a clinical trial is a risky step for a manufacturer, which would have to start assembling raw materials to make a vaccine without knowing whether it would work.
But the plan would make sure a vaccine is ready for patients if Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, comes back next year, Fauci said at a White House press conference. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.
U.S. Surpasses China: The U.S. surpassed China as having the most confirmed cases in the world, Johns Hopkins data show. Infections in America yesterday afternoon topped 82,400, compared with 81,782 in China where the outbreak began three months ago. The American tally was bolstered by a major jump in New York, which had 6,448 new cases yesterday, bringing the state’s total to 37,258. That accounts for almost half the outbreak nationwide, according to data collected by Bloomberg. Read developments here.
Trump, Xi Vow Cooperation and EU Leaders Bicker: Trump and China’s Xi Jinping pledged to cooperate in the fight against the pandemic after weeks of rising tensions, while European leaders struggled to agree on a strategy, leaving key details to be negotiated in the weeks ahead.
The leader of the World Health Organization, who himself didn’t call the coronavirus a pandemic until mid-March, told G-20 leaders to fight the virus “like your lives depended on it.” Read more in Bloomberg News’ virus update.
Labs Take Hit on No-Cost Tests: The American Clinical Laboratory Association said in a statement commercial labs had completed approximately 405,000 coronavirus tests as of March 25, but that Congress’ latest legislation didn’t fund the costs they’re incurring, as earlier bills made testing free for patients, Jeannie Bauman reports. “If Congress fails to designate essential emergency funding for clinical laboratories to support our efforts, labs will be soon be forced to make difficult decisions about whether they can keep building the capacity our nation needs.”
Worst-Case Scenario Not Materializing: Worst-case projections for the spread of coronavirus aren’t supported by evidence emerging from outbreaks in China, South Korea, and Italy, said Deborah Birx, the immunologist advising Vice President Mike Pence.“ There’s enough data now of the real experience with the coronavirus on the ground to really make these predictions much more sound,” Birx said at a White House press conference yesterday. Read more from Jordan Fabian, Josh Wingrove and Mario Parker.
Trump Shuns War Authority: As hospitals, health-care workers and governors clamor for ventilators, intensive-care beds and protective equipment, Trump and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are opposing the single thing many say would do the most good in the fight against the runaway pandemic: activate the Defense Production Act to coordinate a war-like campaign to ramp up both the manufacture and distribution of critical supplies.
Over 100 former national security officials urged Trump in a letter yesterday to use the act’s authority, saying it was necessary that government coordinate the effort and assign priorities to confront the pandemic. Trade groups, governors, attorneys general and Democratic senators are lodging similar calls.
Trump on March 18 issued an executive order essentially declaring he’s ready to use the law, but so far, he’s repeatedly declined to act on it. He’s suggested that the government is coordinating with companies that have voluntarily offered to manufacture medical gear and has compared using the act to “nationalizing our business” like Venezuela. The White House argued in a statement today that the response “has been overwhelming, fulfilling government-identified needs faster than anyone thought possible.” Read more from Ben Brody.
Blood Donation Rule Repeal Urged: Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote in a letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn yesterday that the coronavirus outbreak is creating a “shortage of donated blood” and that the agency should lift a rule barring men from donating blood if they have had sex with other men in the past year. “The FDA continues to enforce a discriminatory donor deferral policy that effectively prohibits many healthy gay and bisexual men from doing so,” the senators wrote in the letter.
How to Ration Scarce Ventilators: New Jersey will ask medical experts on a bioethics panel to set guidelines for which Covid-19 patients will get ventilators, wrenching decisions that could determine who lives and who dies. New Jersey’s medical society and the state’s former epidemiologist will consider the question, State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli told reporters in Trenton yesterday, calling it “one of the more difficult issues that we will be discussing.” Confirmed infections are rising rapidly in New Jersey. Officials reported a 56% jump in new cases, to almost 7,000, yesterday. Elise Young and David Voreacos have more.
Other News Stories
Cost of Health Benefits Could Rise: The cost of providing health care benefits could increase as much as 7% this year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S., according to an actuarial analysis of self-funded employers by Willis Towers Watson. Even as Americans are canceling some health procedures amid the outbreak, the analysis found medical and prescription drug spending is set to soar this year. Willis Towers Watson estimated that costs per infected person are estimated at about $250 for mild cases, $2,500 for moderate cases, $30,000 for severe cases requiring an inpatient stay, and near $100,000 for catastrophic cases requiring intensive care, Alex Ruoff reports.
Older Convicts May Get Home Arrest: The Justice Department will allow more older, nonviolent federal inmates to be placed in home confinement in order to cope with rising Covid-19 cases affecting the federal prison population, Attorney General William Barr said. Barr told reporters today he has directed the Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement for older convicts, following infections that have caused some federal prisons to be closed down such as the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Chris Strohm has more.
DHS on REAL ID Delay: U.S. Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf released a statement yesterday on the decision to set a new deadline for REAL ID enforcement to Oct. 1, 2021. DHS will soon publish a notice of the new deadline in the Federal Register. The U.S. Travel Association sent a letter supporting the decision to delay while making the case for more time to prepare.
“As the administration considers a new enforcement date, the travel industry encourages you to ensure that enforcement would not negatively impact the travel and tourism industry. The current growth in the compliance rate coupled with historical recovery rate after significant economic decline indicates even the most optimistic scenario would take at least two years for Americans and the economy to adequately handle enforcement,” wrote the association’s CEO Roger Dow.
Transit Grants: The deadlines to apply for transit grants unrelated to the coronavirus have been extended by 30 days, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told transit agency leaders on a phone call yesterday.
Uber Dodges Another Antitrust Suit: Uber beat antitrust claims in a San Francisco federal court, dodging another challenge to its business model one day after defeating predatory pricing claims in a California state court. The lawsuit accused Uber of dominating the San Francisco market by relying on its $25 billion “venture capital war chest” to weather losses while it undercut traditional taxis with below-cost prices. Mike Leonard has more on the case.
U.S. Floats Troops on Canada Border: The Canadian government is urging the U.S. not to dispatch troops to its northern border, as Trump’s White House looks to ramp up security to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that the U.S. is considering sending the military to block any illegal migrants after the countries agreed to travel restrictions aimed at halting the contagion. Canada and the U.S. “have the longest, unmilitarized border in the world, and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way,” Trudeau said, Josh Wingrove reports.
Dow Jones later reported the Trump administration dropped its consideration of plans to send military forces to the border, citing a U.S. official.
U.S. Trial Courts Cope with Covid-19: Federal district courts are slowing the wheels of justice in historic ways as they grapple with sick employees and other fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. District, or trial, courts make up the bulk of the federal judiciary and are uniformly on the front lines for both criminal and civil cases. A Bloomberg Law analysis of orders and court websites shows that despite their decentralized nature and freedom to formulate their own responses, the majority of the nation’s 94 U.S. district courts are taking similar steps to address the swiftly unfolding crisis. Read more from Madison Alder.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has put on indefinite hold a major portion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket, including a multibillion-dollar clash between software giants Google and Oracle and cases that could affect Trump’s re-election chances. What was supposed to have been a drama-filled spring at the high court has instead become a season of waiting, especially for the lawyers and litigants in 20 arguments that had been scheduled for March and April. The court has postponed 11 of those cases and could do the same soon for the remaining nine. Read more from Greg Stohr.
School Testing Waived in Most States: Most states have taken advantage of a streamlined process for seeking federal school testing waivers as they navigate classroom closures stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Forty-five states have won initial Education Department approval to do away with standardized tests in the 2019-2020 academic year, a spokeswoman for the department said yesterday. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.
EPA Backs Off On Pollution Rules: The Trump administration will temporarily relax civil enforcement of various environmental regulations, a move it says is necessary given worker shortages and travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. In a memo issued Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency said it wouldn’t go after companies that fail to satisfy many “routine monitoring and reporting obligations” because of the coronavirus, as long as they documented why they couldn’t fulfill the mandates, worked to resolve the issues, and sought to minimize the effects. Read more from Jennifer Dlouhy.
Trump to Send Off Navy Ship: Trump said he plans to travel to Norfolk, Va., tomorrow to see off the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship that is sailing to New York City to help with the coronavirus crisis there. Trump, speaking at the White House yesterday, said the ship will arrive in New York Monday, a few weeks ahead of the original estimate. “I think I’m going to go out and kiss it goodbye,” Trump said. “I will go and we’ll be waving together.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said last week the ship would set sail in early April after undergoing some maintenance. Read more from Mario Parker.
Trump’s Sprint to Relax Regulations Must Clear Virus Hurdles: The Trump administration is racing against the clock to lock in pieces of the president’s first-term deregulation agenda before an obscure law makes it easier for congressional foes to reverse his policies. Regulators are rushing to finish work as soon as next week on some top Trump initiatives, including relaxing fuel economy standards for vehicles and eliminating the legal basis for restricting mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. The haste is necessary to prevent the measures from being killed by Congress next year if Trump loses re-election and Democrats retake the Senate.
The effort has been complicated by the coronavirus, which has strained government resources, distracted policy makers and created a public-relations risk to any measures not connected to the global pandemic. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Amena Saiyid and Susan Decker.
Trump Promises GOP Convention Will Be Held This August: Trump said that the Republican National Convention would go forward as planned this August even as the coronavirus has caused the cancellation of large-scale events all across the U.S. Democrats are scheduled to hold their convention in Milwaukee from July 13-16. The Republican convention is to be held from Aug. 24-27, and the president told Sean Hannity on Fox News last night that “We’re quite a bit later than them, which I think is good.” Trump said there was “no way” he would cancel the convention. “It’s going to be incredible.” Read more from John Harney and Mario Parker.
Today on the Hill
- 10:00 am – In-House Pool Call Time
- 12:00 pm – Trump receives his intelligence briefing
- 5:00 pm – Members of the Coronavirus Task Force hold a Press briefing
- On recess and will return April 20th
- House to meet Friday morning to consider Senate-passed stimulus measure
Additional legislation introduced Yesterday
- S.3587 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)Department of Veterans Affairs Website Accessibility Act of 2019
Bills Passed Senate yesterday