Legislative / Policy Update
Floor Schedules. The Senate has added a pro forma session to its schedule in case the interim, Corona 3.5 supplemental package is ready for a vote tomorrow. If the legislation is finalized and no Senator objects, the Senate could pass the bill under unanimous consent during its 4 p.m. session tomorrow. The Senate also has a pro forma session scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
House leaders do not believe the legislation can pass in their chamber by unanimous consent, so Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has advised Members that the House could meet as soon as 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 22, to debate and take a recorded vote on the interim legislation. With a quorum of Members in attendance, the House is also looking to vote on two other proposals – one to change House rules in order to allow for proxy voting and another to establish a House select committee that would provide oversight of the various Covid-related programs.
Corona 3.5. Negotiations are ongoing to hammer out the final details of the interim package, with the stumbling blocks reportedly including how healthcare aid is distributed to hospitals and details of the coronavirus testing program. Thus far, the package includes $310 billion more for the Paycheck Protection Program that provides loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. This total includes the original $250 billion requested by the Administration and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as $60 billion that would be set aside to provide access to businesses that have had trouble getting loans from banks, such as those in rural areas and those that are owned by minorities. The bill would also include some $60 billion for the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
On the healthcare front, Democrats have been pushing for $100 billion more for hospitals, community health centers, and health systems. The deal appears to provide $75 billion for these healthcare providers, with a significant amount aimed at rural hospitals, and adds $25 billion to expand virus testing nationwide. The agreement does not include the Democratic proposals of $150 billion more for state and local government and a 15% increase in SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
Proxy Voting. Under a proposal crafted by Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a House Member unable to travel to Washington because of the pandemic could provide specific instructions for each vote to a fellow Member who has been authorized to cast votes on their behalf. The instructions would be transmitted (including electronically) in a letter to the Clerk of the House. Remote votes through this proxy system would count towards achieving a quorum. During the House session tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, with a majority of Members present, the House could vote on a resolution to change the House rules and implement the proxy voting proposal going forward.
Oversight Committee. The House is also planning to vote on a resolution that would establish a bipartisan oversight panel, the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the creation of the committee on April 2, saying it would be led by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. The committee, which House Republicans feel is unnecessary, “will be empowered to examine all aspects of the federal response to the coronavirus,” Pelosi said, “to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent to save lives, deliver relief and benefit our economy.”
No one expects the coronavirus select committee to become a permanent standing committee, but that’s how the Ways and Means Committee got its start. Ways and Means, which is the oldest committee in the Congress, was first established as a select committee on July 24, 1789, during a debate on the creation of the Treasury Department. It was formally discharged less than two months later but was reappointed in 1795 and became a standing committee in 1802.