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Legislative Update

Senate. Both chambers are waiting to see if there will be votes this week on a massive piece of legislation that will fund the government for FY 2021 and provide additional Covid-related relief. In the meantime, the Senate is considering nominations.

House. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer advised Members today that the first votes of the week will not take place until Wednesday.

Omnibus/Covid Relief. Appropriators are working to wrap all 12 FY 2021 spending bills into an omnibus package, which could be unveiled tomorrow. If a deal can be hammered out on the Covid-relief package, that legislation would be tacked onto the omnibus, as would a tax extenders bill and possibly an agreement dealing with surprise medical bills. There’s also talk that an energy bill could be added as well.

Whether there will be a deal this week on the Covid package is still uncertain. This afternoon, a bipartisan group of Senators announced details of a $908-billion plan that they divided into two parts – a $748-billion proposal to provide funding for a wide variety of programs and a $160-billion measure to fund aid to state and local governments and provide liability protection for businesses. The Senators hope House and Senate leaders will use this bipartisan legislation as a basis for a Covid-relief package that will be passed before Congress adjourns for the year.

Included in the $748-billion bill are funds for an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits for 16 weeks; $45 billion for the transportation sector, including $17 billion for the airline Payroll Support Program; $300 billion for an expanded Paycheck Protection Program; and $16 billion for testing, tracing, and vaccine development and distribution.

In an effort to resolve Republican concerns over additional aid to state and local governments, the proposal sets up a formula for distribution of the $160 billion in the second part of the package, with two-thirds of the funding based on revenue losses and one-third based on a state’s population. None of the aid can be used to replenish pension funds.

While there is bipartisan support for the $748-billion proposal, Democrats still have concerns with the liability protection provisions. According to Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, lawmakers need to find a middle ground that is fair to both businesses and workers.

Tax Extenders. Staff of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees have reportedly reached agreement to extend various tax breaks that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. The proposal is not a simple one-year extension for all the provisions, with some proposals getting longer extensions. Details aren’t expected to be released until the chairs and ranking members of those two committees sign off on the deal. Democrats do not plan to support passage of a tax extenders measure unless there is agreement on a Covid-relief package.

Surprise Billing. In a surprise move, key lawmakers Friday night agreed to a deal addressing medical bills that patients receive from out-of-network providers or trips to the emergency room. To address these surprise medical bills, the compromise legislation calls for health care providers and insurance companies to negotiate an agreed-upon rate or bring their dispute to a mediator. The $16 billion in savings from the measure would be used to offset the cost of extending various health programs, including funding for community health centers.

The compromise is supported by House and Senate Democratic leaders as well as the White House, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet signed on, and the American Hospital Association has weighed in with concerns. If McConnell goes along, the measure is expected to be tacked on to the Covid/Appropriations package.

NDAA. Both the House and Senate last week passed the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, the House by a vote of 335-78 and the Senate by an 84-13 margin. President Trump on Sunday again tweeted that he would veto the bill. While some Republicans who voted for the legislation will vote to support the President’s veto, it appears that two-thirds of the members in each house would vote to override a veto. The measure was sent to the President on Friday, following Senate passage, and the President has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign or veto it. If he does neither, and Congress is still in session, the bill automatically becomes law. If he waits to veto the measure until all 10 days have played out, lawmakers might have to return after Christmas to hold override votes in both chambers.

Senate Democratic Rules. After Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on Nov. 23 that she would step down from her committee leadership position, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he would seek the position. This set off a discussion among Senate Democrats as to whether Durbin, who is the Minority Whip and is also ranking member of the Defense Subcommittee of the Appropriations panel, would hold too many leadership positions.

Senator Durbin said he would give up his subcommittee position, and the Democratic Caucus on Dec. 9 reportedly adopted a new rule providing that Democrats who hold the top position on the 13 panels that are designated as “A Committees” will not be allowed to head a subcommittee until junior members of the panel are given the opportunity to be chair or ranking member. The rule, which was proposed by Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was adopted in a private meeting, and details have not been released. According to Roll Call, the new rule could affect several Senators on the Appropriations Committee in particular. Since the Democratic Caucus has not yet released details of its new rules, it may be that there could be additional modifications before the rules are finalized.

Committee Action of Note:

  • Tuesday, December 15:
    • Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection hearing to examine the impact of COVID-19 on the live event entertainment industry.
    • Senate Armed Services Cybersecurity Subcommittee meeting to receive a closed briefing on Department of Defense cyber operations.
    • Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet hearing to examine expanding American entrepreneurship outside traditional hubs.
    • Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property hearing to examine the role of private agreements and existing technology in curbing online piracy.
  • Wednesday, December 16:
    • Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy hearing to examine the United States and China, focusing on winning the economic competition.
    • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to examine irregularities in the 2020 election.
    • Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine pending nominations.
    • Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration hearing to examine Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement through United States refugee policy.
    • Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care hearing to examine the Alzheimer’s crisis, focusing on testing and treatment pipelines and fiscal implications.
  • Thursday, December 17:
    • House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing: “The Role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family in the Opioid Epidemic.”

Political Update

Electoral College. The 538 members of the Electoral College met in their states today to cast ballots for president and vice president. When California cast its 55 votes for President-elect Biden this evening, he surpassed the 270-vote threshold to win the White House. Despite efforts by President Trump and his supporters to pressure state lawmakers in key swing states to back alternate slates of electors, no states have done so. Voting began at 10 a.m. EST and concluded when Hawaii met at 7 p.m. EST. On Jan. 6, the ballots will be formally counted and certified during a joint session of Congress.

House Elections. It is possible that neither Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi nor former Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney will be sworn in to represent NY-22 on Jan. 3. A district-wide ballot recanvass began today after a New York state judge last week ordered all counties to correct their counting errors and examine the more than 2,000 disputed and affidavit ballots that were cast in the election. Representatives from both campaigns and a bipartisan team from the House of Representatives will be present to observe the recanvass. Tenney leads by 12 votes and an updated count is expected to be released early next week, but further legal challenges are likely once the recanvass is complete. The other race where the results are still in question is IA-02, where Democrat Rita Hart is taking her case to the House of Representatives, after falling six votes short against Republican Marianette Miller-Meeks.

As of right now, 222 Democrats and 211 Republicans will be sworn in on Jan. 3. This includes two Democratic House members who will be part of the Biden Administration – Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) – and who will still serve until after President-elect Biden is sworn in. Democratic candidates are expected to fill these two seats, but not until special elections are held. In the meantime, Democrats would hold only 220 seats, the slimmest margin in modern history.

Georgia Senate. In-person early voting began today in Georgia’s Senate runoffs; 1.2 million voters have requested mail-in ballots; and over 260,000 ballots have already been returned. Georgia’s Secretary of State said this weekend that this will be a high turnout election unlike other runoffs. However, there will be fewer early voting locations open than there were in November due to staffing shortages.

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