Legislative / Policy Update
House and Senate. The House this week is holding hearings and markup sessions; the Senate is in recess until July 20.
FY 2021 Appropriations. House appropriators will finish work this week on the remaining FY 2021 appropriations bills in anticipation of floor consideration before the end of July. It appears as though the bills will be divided into two packages for floor votes. The first minibus, which could be considered Thursday and Friday of next week, will reportedly contain four bills – Agriculture (which includes FDA and other agencies), Interior-Environment (which includes EPA and other agencies), Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs, and State-Foreign Operations.
Coronavirus Package. Next week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to unveil the Senate’s counterproposal to the HEROES Act that the House passed May 15. Democrats would like to see all parties reach an agreement by July 31, when bonus unemployment payments expire. More skeptical Congress-watchers doubt that all the details can be hammered out in such a short timeframe, and feel a more realistic “deadline” could be Aug. 7, when the Senate is scheduled to leave until after Labor Day.
There will be a lot to negotiate, including how to provide liability protection from Covid-related lawsuits for businesses, medical facilities, and schools if they comply with certain guidelines; how much federal aid to provide to state and local governments, including funds targeted for schools; what changes to make to the Paycheck Protection Program; and whether to provide additional direct cash payments to individuals with incomes below a certain cut-off level. There is also discussion, particularly among Administration officials, about whether to include various tax breaks to incentivize the economic recovery. Just as McConnell has said the next bill must include liability protection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the bill must include extended unemployment benefits. While the House-passed HEROES Act calls for roughly $3 trillion in federal spending, Leader McConnell would prefer that the Senate package stay more in the $1-trillion range. Whatever the Majority Leader brings to the Senate floor will need 60 votes to pass.
Unemployment Insurance. The CARES Act provided an extra $600 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits, but that additional amount expires July 31. The HEROES Act that the House passed May 15 would extend that bonus payment through January. The Trump Administration and Senate Republicans believe that the extra $600 payment provides a disincentive for low-wage workers to return to work and would prefer something along the lines of a proposal by Senator Rob Portman that would reduce the $600 bonus and provide an extra $450 a week for employees who return to work.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer opposes the Portman approach and, instead, has partnered with Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden to author a measure that would extend the bonus payments in each state based on economic conditions. The $600-per-week bonus would begin to phase down if a state’s three-month average unemployment rate falls below 11%. At that point, the benefit decreases by $100 for each percentage point decrease in unemployment until the rate falls below 6%.
Committee Action of Note:
Elections. On Tuesday, Alabama and Texas will hold runoff elections while Maine will hold primary elections. In Alabama, Republican voters will choose who will go up against Senator Doug Jones in November, in what is widely viewed as the GOP’s best pick-up opportunity in the Senate. After President Trump’s full-throated endorsement, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville appears to have the advantage over former Senator Jeff Sessions, whose departure from the seat in 2017 to become Attorney General led to Jones’ upset win in a special election.
In Texas, runoffs were postponed from May, and one of the most-watched races will decide the Democratic challenger to Senator John Cornyn. The contenders are Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar and State Senator Roy West. One of the most heated Republican runoffs is in the district represented by retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry. The race is between Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor who has President Trump’s endorsement, and Josh Winegarner, an agriculture expert and former Hill staffer, who has Thornberry’s backing.
In Maine, Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon is expected to win her primary and then face Senator Susan Collins in what is shaping up to be the most expensive Senate race ever in the state.
Polling. Three CBS/YouGov polls released this weekend show the Presidential race tightening up in the Sun Belt. In Arizona, former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump are tied; in Florida, Biden leads the President by six points; and in Texas, the President has just a one-point lead. A Dallas Morning News poll has Biden up by five points in the state.
Convention Planning. President Trump’s team is considering moving the GOP Convention festivities in Jacksonville to an outdoor location as Covid cases in Florida spike. While some aides have advocated to scale back the event and move to a virtual convention, the final decision is being left to the President. It is expected that any changes will be announced soon, as the convention is only 43 days away. Half a dozen Republican Senators have already said they will not attend the convention and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed reservations according to the Associated Press.