The legislative calendar continues to march forward as members of Congress adapt to their new work environments and routines. With the House and Senate both in session this week, Senate Republicans plan to roll out their Phase 4 proposal, which is expected to serve as the starting point for negotiations on additional COVID-19 relief. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said the package will focus on liability protection, children, jobs and health care. The initial Republican offer will be substantially smaller in size and scope than the $3 trillion House-passed Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which passed the House on May 15 by a vote of 208 to 199 (H.R. 6800) and reflects the House Democrats' Phase 4 priorities. Phase 4 negotiations are expected to dominate Congressional activity for the work period concluding August 7, when the Senate plans to adjourn for the August recess scheduled to run through Labor Day (September 7). The House, meanwhile, is set to adjourn Friday, July 31 for the August recess, but may end up extending by an extra week if Phase 4 negotiations are not complete.
Upon return this week, the Senate will continue debate and votes on a handful of amendments and then final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). On July 1, the House Armed Services Committee unanimously approved its version of the NDAA, voting 56-0 to approve the $740.5 measure after a nearly 14-hour markup. Both the House and Senate included provisions in their NDAA legislation to address security concerns related to U.S. dependence on the China supply chain to combat COVID-19. After the two chambers adopt their respective NDAA bills, they will then enter a reconciliation process, with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (ROK) indicating that it could be November before the Senate adopts a final bill.
Following the Fourth of July recess, the House Appropriations Committee began considering the fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding bills. The Committee approved all 12 of its funding bills, which will now head to the House floor where they may be further amended. Beginning this week, the House is expected to consider the first minibus of FY 2021 appropriations bills, H.R. 7608, which includes: State-Foreign Operations, AgricultureRural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. The Senate appropriations schedule remains stalled due to a partisan dispute regarding potential amendments related to COVID-19 and police reform
Outside of Phase 4 negotiations and appropriations, outstanding items on the congressional agenda prior to the November elections include the federal highway bill (the "FAST Act"), water infrastructure legislation (WRDA) and flood insurance.
With the FAST Act set to expire at the end of September, House Democrats unveiled their $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal, H.R. 2, the Moving America Forward Act. The House approved the measure on July 1. The path forward in the Senate is not clear. While the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee approved the highway title of the bill (S.2302, the America's Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019) on July 30 of last year, the other Senate Committees with jurisdiction over surface transportation legislation (Banking (transit), Commerce (rail, intermodal and motor carrier) and Finance (funding)) have yet to act on their titles. With policy and funding issues unresolved, Congress may extend existing law until after the elections.
In addition, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on July 15 favorably reported a WRDA bill, which now heads to the House floor for a vote. Congress has successfully enacted three consecutive bipartisan WRDA bills in 2014, 2016 and 2018, a track-record the House will seek to continue in 2020. In the Senate, one of the two water infrastructure bills the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved on May 6 contains WRDA provisions.
IN THIS ISSUE
- Financial Services Update
- Congress, Administration Examine Medical Supply Chains
- National Defense Authorization Act
- Privacy Update
- Tax Update
- Telecom Update
- Trade Policy Update
Financial Services Update
With the House passage of the $3 trillion HEROES Act behind them, The House Financial Services Committee has continued its oversight of the CARES Act and the Administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic by holding 10 virtual hearings since the beginning of June. These hearings have covered the full range of the committee's jurisdiction from the delivery of the CARES Act stimulus payments to the challenges of women-and-minorityowned businesses accessing capital during the pandemic. While Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has signaled that the HEROES Act is a non-starter in the Senate, many of Chairwoman Maxine Waters' (D-CA) priorities will remain central features of the Democratic agenda as negotiations unfold on the next round of COVID-19 legislation. These provisions include: direct stimulus payments of up to $6,000 per household; the creation of a $100 billion emergency rental assistance fund and a $75 billion homeowner assistance fund; providing $11.5 billion for homeless assistance grants; and appropriating $1 billion for new Section 8 vouchers to support persons experiencing homelessness. The HEROES Act also suspends negative credit reporting and debt collection, and requires forbearance and loan modifications for consumer and commercial loans. The House has also passed the $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act which included Chairwoman Waters' Housing is Infrastructure Act, legislation that would invest over $100 billion in affordable housing infrastructure.
While Senate Republicans continue to monitor the successes and shortcomings of CARES, Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) and the Senate Banking Committee held regular hearings in June examining the legislation's infusion of $500 billion into the Federal Reserve's (the "Fed") emergency lending facilities, oversight of housing regulatory agencies, the digitization of money and payments, and oversight of the Export-Import Bank. Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has been critical of the Administration's handling of the pandemic and has introduced legislation such as the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act and the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act of 2020 that he will likely want included in the Senate's next pandemic response legislation.
Treasury has continued to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with the application process now extended until August 8. The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, signed into law in early June, substantially amended the PPP program, extending program eligibility from 8 to 24 weeks and liberalizing the minimum required percentage of loans to be spent on payroll costs. The Treasury and the Fed finally brought the Main Street Lending Program online, but the jury is still out as to whether it will get the promised assistance to the mid-sized businesses unserved by PPP and the other Fed programs.
Originally published 22 July, 2020
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