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Legislative / Policy Update

House. The House stands in recess, but Members will reconvene for votes with 24-hours’ notice if a deal is reached on the next coronavirus package. According to an updated calendar released today by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the House will return after Labor Day for committee work Sept. 8-11, with floor votes the week of Sept. 14 and the following two weeks. The last day scheduled for votes before the election is Oct. 2.

Senate. The Senate is in session, but no votes are scheduled and, like the House, Senators will be given 24-hours’ notice if they need to return for votes.

Executive Action. With negotiations stalled on the coronavirus package, President Trump on Saturday issued four executive notifications related to unemployment benefits, payroll taxes, student loan payments, and evictions of renters and homeowners.

One of the most controversial parts of the negotiations has been how much to provide in expanded unemployment benefits, with Democrats pressing for continuation of the additional $600 per week and Republicans advocating for a lower amount. At his Saturday signing ceremony, the President announced that an additional $400 per week would be provided as of Aug. 1, but the details are more complicated since the President doesn’t have the power to unilaterally modify and extend the current unemployment payments. Instead, states would have to set up an entirely new system to provide the additional aid, which could take weeks or months. Also, states would be responsible for 25% of the extra benefit, a financial commitment some states say they can’t meet. The additional benefit would only be available in those states that provide $100 per week in payments.

On the matter of payroll taxes, the President has the authority to delay certain tax deadlines during a natural disaster, and a natural disaster was declared March 13 because of the pandemic. (Some legal analysts question whether this authority to delay tax payments extends to payroll taxes.) The President’s memorandum provides that from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, there will be a suspension of the 6.2% Social Security tax paid by employees who make less than $4,000 every two weeks, which adds up to $104,000 a year. However, the President does not have the authority to forgive tax payments. There is considerable speculation as to whether employers will actually implement the payroll tax holiday and pass the benefits on to employees, knowing that if Congress does not pass legislation to forgive these payments, employers will either have to get the money back from employees or use their own money to cover the employees’ share of payroll taxes that is owed.

Given the legal and logistical issues associated with the various presidential orders, legislation will still be needed to address Democratic and Republican priorities, so, at some point, the negotiators are expected to see if a deal can be reached. Of course, no one knows when that point will be and what an eventual deal might encompass.

Political Update

Elections (Past). Two incumbents lost their primary races last Tuesday – Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay in Missouri and Republican Rep. Steve Watkins in Kansas. Reps. Clay and Watkins join five other House members who were bested by challengers in their party – Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Also on Tuesday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) was announced as the victor in her June 23 primary after absentee votes were certified. In the Republican Senatorial contest in Kansas, former Secretary of State Kris Kobach lost to Rep. Roger Marshall.

Elections (Future). Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin will hold primary elections tomorrow, and Georgia will hold four primary runoffs. The race receiving the most attention is the Republican runoff in Georgia’s solidly red 14th District to replace retiring Rep. Tom Graves. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who placed first in the June 9 race, has drawn criticism from other Republicans for espousing conspiracy theories and posting controversial videos. She faces neurosurgeon John Cowan, who has the backing of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Polls. Joe Biden holds a narrow lead over President Trump in two battleground states, according to CBS polls released this morning. In Pennsylvania, Biden is up 49-43, and in Wisconsin, Biden is ahead 48-42. Biden’s six-point lead in the two states that ensured Trump’s 2016 victory can largely be attributed to voters' concerns over the handling of the coronavirus crisis.

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