Legislative / Policy Update
Coronavirus. The House is meeting in pro forma session, and the Senate will begin the week with debate on the FISA bill (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). The big question, though, is how and when the Senate will address the House-passed coronavirus legislation.
Shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday morning, March 14, the House voted 363-40 to approve the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (H.R. 6201). The bill, which was just unveiled late Wednesday, moved through the House at lightning speed but passage came only after extended negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. However, there are unspecified problems with the bill, and the House is prepared to approve technical corrections to fix those problems. The plan is for the corrections to be approved by unanimous consent since the House is in pro forma session and almost all Members have returned to their districts.
One Member still in Washington is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), and he says that he will object to the unanimous consent request if he does not approve of the technical corrections. House leaders are trying to resolve Gohmert’s concerns. Until that happens, we won’t know when the House will approve the technical corrections or when the Senate will take up the legislation.
Coronavirus 3. The “Families First” bill that is now in limbo is the second (Coronavirus 2) in a series of measures to address the coronavirus emergency. The first was the $8.3 billion supplemental appropriations measure enacted on March 6. And now, attention has turned to putting together a third proposal, which will be a massive economic relief package that could have a price tag in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Among other things, the Administration and lawmakers are looking to provide assistance to industries hard hit by the pandemic, including commercial and cargo airlines, airports, cruise lines, the hospitality industry, and the health care system.
Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate have asked Senators to submit their ideas for provisions to be included in the package. Both parties are expected to discuss various initiatives at their regularly scheduled Tuesday caucus lunches (although the Democratic “lunch” will actually be a conference call to “practice social distancing.”) House leaders are also discussing Coronavirus 3 proposals with their members, and the Administration is busy devising its own plans, which are being floated publicly. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that his goal is to send a bill to the President by the start of the Easter/Passover recess, which is scheduled to begin April 3.
Of course, congressional schedules on all fronts are up in the air. The Senate was supposed to be in recess this week but is in session. The House was scheduled to return from this week’s recess on Monday, March 23, but House leaders reportedly told their colleagues on a conference call today that the March 23 return date will be postponed and that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will provide updates later as to when the House will reconvene. Last week, House Democrats announced that their annual legislative retreat April 1-3 in Philadelphia was being postponed until further notice.
Democratic Presidential Primaries. Four states are scheduled to hold presidential primaries on Tuesday – Ohio, Illinois, Arizona, and Florida. However, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced today that he supports postponing his state’s in-person voting until June 2 because of the coronavirus. DeWine said he can’t unilaterally postpone the election, but the state is supporting a lawsuit to do so. Two other states have moved their primary dates. Georgia has postponed its March 24 primary until May 19, and Louisiana has postponed its April 4 primary until June 20. Separately, Alabama is considering postponing its March 31 U.S. Senate primary runoff.
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