Legislative / Policy Update
House. The House came back into session for one day, Aug. 22, to pass legislation providing $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service and temporarily prohibiting the Postal Service from changing its level of service. The Senate has no plans to take up the House-passed bill. This week, action in the House will be in the committees, and next week, the House will hold floor votes.
Senate. The Senate is in session this week and will take up more nominations. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to schedule a floor vote “as soon as this week” on a targeted Covid-relief proposal. Referred to as the “skinny” bill, the proposal McConnell unveiled today will cost substantially less than the $1.1 trillion Heals Act that Senate Republicans introduced July 27 as a counteroffer to the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act passed by the House in May. A version of the skinny bill that circulated last week was said to cost about $500 billion, but this latest iteration is expected to cost even less because it includes language to rescind and redirect certain funds from the Cares Act.
Covid Relief. McConnell’s goal is to show that a majority of the Senate supports a relief package and, to that end, he has worked to round up support for the skinny bill from at least 51 of the chamber’s 53 Republican Senators. To do so, he has made changes to the earlier version, such as offsetting part of the cost and including provisions on home schooling and private school tuition designed to win the votes of Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). Given Democratic opposition, the proposal will fall well short of the 60 votes needed for passage, but McConnell wants to make the case that Republicans support a relief package that would pass if Democrats weren’t raising parliamentary roadblocks. Democrats counter that the proposal is not sufficient to address the continuing problems caused by the pandemic.
Notably missing from both the skinny bill and the Heals Act is additional aid for state and local governments that Democrats insist must be part of a negotiated deal. Other points of contention are the levels of additional unemployment aid in the skinny bill ($300 per week vs. $600 in the Democratic bill) and the inclusion of liability protection provisions that Democrats oppose and will want to modify if they are to be part of an eventual deal. While a vote on the skinny bill may help vulnerable Senate Republicans in their re-election battles, it does not move the two sides closer to an agreement.
Sept. 30. On Sept. 30, tens of thousands of airline pilots and flight attendants will be laid off when the Payroll Support Program (PSP) in the Cares Act expires, much of the federal government will shut down unless Congress passes a continuing resolution to provide appropriations, and authorization for surface transportation programs and federal flood insurance will expire. Supporters of the airline program are pushing for an extension through March 31 to be included in the Covid-relief package; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi support passage of a clean continuing resolution to keep the government open but details are yet to be finalized; there is talk of a one-year extension of surface transportation programs; and there will no doubt be an extension of the flood insurance program. As for the CR, Republicans are reportedly looking to extend current levels of funding through mid-December, but Democrats have not yet staked out a public position on the duration of the funding.
Committee Action of Note:
Elections. New Hampshire and Rhode Island are holding primary elections today. In New Hampshire, Republicans will choose who will go against Senator Jeanne Shaheen – retired Army brigadier general Don Bolduc or attorney Corky Messner, who is endorsed by President Trump. Shaheen is leading both in the polls. Democrats will decide who will face GOP Gov. Chris Sununu – Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes or Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky. Recent polling has the primary in a deadlock, with Sununu ahead in general election polling.
Presidential Polling. A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday shows Joe Biden up by six points in Wisconsin and up 10 nationally. A Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler poll has Texas still as a tight race. President Trump now has a two-point lead after being down by five in July, but his lead is within the margin of error.