Congress in Early Stages of Developing Fourth Relief Package

The Senate is back today with plans to continue considering President Trump’s nominations and legislation to reinstate some expired surveillance programs, but little formal talk of a fourth coronavirus relief package. After backing almost $3 trillion to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have begun raising alarms about the deficit and characterizing a new relief package as an “if, not when” proposition.

The House could return with a vote on another coronavirus response bill, but no schedule or legislation has been released so far. Moderates and progressives in the House majority were still debating the contents of a possible bill late last week, with leadership considering proposals including extending unemployment benefits and providing more cash payments to individuals.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week there will also likely be a vote on changing rules to let members cast proxy votes for absent colleagues as the coronavirus pandemic continues. House leaders promised a 72-hour notice before a vote would occur to allow for travel to Washington.

President Trump is also tapping the brakes on the idea of swift action on any new aid package, saying he’s in “no rush” for a new stimulus even after Friday’s Labor Department report showed 20 million jobs were lost in April.

Work Beginning on Appropriations Bills for 2021

Appropriators are making gradual progress in their efforts to fund the government past September 30, but they are still in the early stages and face plenty of uncertainty due to the coronavirus. In the House, at least some Appropriations subcommittee leaders were asked to send in draft legislation Friday so that Democratic leaders could review it, House Appropriations Homeland Security Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40) said.

Senators are off to a slower start, with appropriators missing top-line allocations for the 12 spending bills, as the committee’s top members continue to try to negotiate a bipartisan set of numbers. There is growing support for some Department of Veterans Affairs money to be designated as emergency funds; such a move would mean the funds would not count against budget caps set under current law.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) told reporters last week that members would like to move bills through the committee to the Senate floor by the end of June, but that plans are tentative at this point. Appropriators have not held bicameral talks about their bills yet, though House Republicans have had some involvement in the drafting of House bills, Chairwoman Roybal-Allard said.

Senate Health Committee to Hold Remote Coronavirus Hearing

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plans a hearing tomorrow on returning to work and school safely as Covid-19-related shutdowns are lifted. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield, FDA Administrator Stephen Hahn, and Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir are scheduled to testify.

The hearing was changed to a virtual meeting after Fauci, Redfield, and Hahn announced over the weekend they were now quarantining after coming into contact with a White House staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will also self-quarantine in Tennessee for 14 days after a staff member tested positive.

House Democrats Eye New Funds for Virus Testing, Surveillance

House Democrats are looking to provide more funds for Covid-19 testing and surveillance to aid efforts to restart the U.S. economy, the head of a prominent committee said Friday. Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ-06), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during a rare teleconference briefing with lawmakers the House does “intend to do more” in terms of funding for testing and contact tracing programs.

At the briefing, one witness outlined a $46.5 billion plan to reopen the economy and expand the contact tracing workforce. Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is still growing in much of the country and the public health infrastructure needs to expand.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL-01) has pitched a $100 billion grant program to mobilize coronavirus testing and contact tracing. The most recent coronavirus relief package included $25 billion to expand Covid-19 testing.

Minnesota Delegation Notes

  • Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN)have backed legislation to significantly expand national service programs as the country works to respond and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. ThePandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act, would fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period, in part to meet the projected need for as many as 300,000 public health workers. Read more here.
  • Congressman Jim Hagedorn (R-MN-01)and two of his House colleagues introduced legislation to expand the benefits available to American small businesses and workers by improving the coordination between the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC). Read more here.
  • Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-MN-02)joined a number of her colleagues in calling for a $100 billion investment to aid in the relief, recovery, and revitalization of the child care sector in the wake of the pandemic. Read more here.
  • Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN-03)introduced theSmall Business Transparency and Reporting for the Underbanked and Taxpayers at Home (TRUTH) Act. The TRUTH Act would direct the Small Business Administration (SBA) to explain and justify all disbursements of coronavirus relief funds in an effort to ensure transparency and accountability. Read more here.
  • Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN-04)criticized the Trump administration for its slow release of congressionally-allocated coronavirus relief funds for Native American tribes. Read more here.
  • Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05)led a number of her House colleagues in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy calling for the one-time student loan debt cancellation of at least $30,000 per borrower in the next round of coronavirus relief legislation. Read more here.
  • Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN-06)announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the St. Cloud Regional Airport a grant of $1,092,430. The funds are provided as part of the CARES Act and will go towards economic relief as well continued infrastructure operations and maintenance. Read more here.
  • Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN-07)led a letter to President Trump urging the administration to provide guidance on how FEMA can help farmers depopulate and dispose of livestock following the closure of meatpacking plants due to coronavirus outbreaks and worker safety concerns. Read more here.
  • Congressman Pete Stauber (R-MN-08)joined EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in announcing that the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission has been selected to receive a Brownfields Assessment Coalition Grant worth $600,000. The Cities of Two Harbors, International Falls, Cloquet, Grand Rapids, and Cohasset, and Aitkin County – all within the Eighth District – are considered coalition partners and have prioritized locations where the funding will be considered. Read more here.