Legislative / Policy Update
Senate Floor. The Senate will once again spend most of the week on nominations.
House Floor. The House cut short its session today and will not meet tomorrow as Members pay their respects to the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who laid in state this afternoon in the Capitol Rotunda and will lay in state at the top of the East Front steps for public viewing until 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
The main legislative item on the House schedule is consideration Thursday and Friday of the second minibus, a package of seven FY 2021 appropriations bills that would provide funding for Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, and Transportation-HUD. When the House passes this package on Friday, it will have approved 11 of the 12 spending bills, everything except the Legislative Branch bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to take action on any of the bills, and Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution in September in order to fund government programs after the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Senate Package. Nine Republican Senators this evening unveiled individual bills that comprise the HEALS Act, an acronym for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools. The GOP proposal has a very narrowly drawn tax section, excluding not only the President’s payroll tax cut but also most of the tax provisions that businesses have been advocating for.
It also does not include a specific dollar bonus for unemployment benefits, along the lines of the extra $600 per week provided by the CARES Act and supported by House Democrats. Instead, the HEALS Act would provide an extra payment (up to $500) that would replace 70% of lost wages when combined with the state unemployment insurance payment. If a state couldn’t gear up quickly to provide the new payment, the state could request a waiver to instead pay a fixed dollar amount for up to two months.
As promised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the HEALS package contains liability protection provisions (the Safe to Work Act) designed to discourage “insubstantial lawsuits relating to Covid-19 while preserving the ability of individuals and businesses that have suffered real injury to obtain complete relief.”
The liability and unemployment provisions will be only two of numerous areas of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats. An initial round of talks was set for Monday evening at a meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The House had planned to recess at the end of this week until Labor Day but Democratic leaders promised that the House would stay in session until an agreement is reached.
Committee Action of Note:
Debates. The first presidential debate will be Sept. 29 in Cleveland at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. The debate had been scheduled to be held at the University of Notre Dame, which announced today it had withdrawn because of Covid-19 concerns.
Veepstakes. Joe Biden’s self-imposed deadline for picking a VP candidate is around August 1, but it’s unclear if the campaign will stick to that timetable. Biden is conducting a series of one-on-one interviews with each serious candidate to help make his final decision, which could take more time. The campaign says that Biden will announce a running mate before the Democratic convention kicks off on Aug. 17. Candidates that are still being vetted are reported to include Stacey Abrams, Tammy Baldwin, Karen Bass, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Val Demings, Tammy Duckworth, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Kamala Harris, Susan Rice, Elizabeth Warren, and Gretchen Whitmer.