Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, February 2021 # 16

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Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines from Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs practice.

In Washington:

  • The House Budget Committee approved legislation for a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Monday evening, with a full House vote is expected at the end of this week. So far, House Democrats expect a party-line vote, with not one GOP member voting in support of the reconciliation package. 
  • In today's House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on "Pathway to Protection: Expanding Availability of COVID-19 Vaccines," officials from Pfizer and Moderna, said they will deliver at least 135 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the US over the next five weeks. The companies say they solved a production problem and will now be able to double the supply they've shipped so far.   Moderna is on track to deliver 100 million doses of vaccine to the U.S. by the end of March and will produce 40 million doses by the end of April.  Pfizer will deliver 120 million doses by the end of next month and ship 13 million a week over the coming weeks.  Nearly 64.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the U.S., covering at least 13.4 percent of Americans with at least one shot. 
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) official Dr. Anthony Fauci says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could soon relax safety recommendations for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC already recommended earlier this month that fully-vaccinated people no longer need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone who is infected with COVID-19. Those recommendations could broaden. Fauci said there’s no date yet set for issuing a new guidance.
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's confirmation hearing as Biden's Health and Human Services Secretary nominee. Some conservative lawmakers shared concerns that Becerra does not have a medical background and also criticized his support for abortion rights but the assertions were blunted and moderate Republicans did not share those concerns.  On Wednesday, the former member of Congress is scheduled to appear before the Senate Finance Committee, which also has jurisdiction over HHS.
  • Government and economic players continue to debate the risk of excessive inflation from a likely-forthcoming federal COVID-19 stimulus package. Federal Chairman Jerome Powell told the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday that rampant inflation is “not a problem” to fear. Similarly, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told a New York Times-hosted conference Monday that the risk of insufficient stimulus is bigger. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans, centrist economists, and Wall Street are sounding notes of caution. Peter Cecchini, chief strategist at investment research firm AlphaOmega Advisors, predicts “at least a one-quarter [point] jump in inflation” with a large stimulus in 2021.
  • IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Tuesday told the House Appropriations Committee's financial services and general government subcommittee that the agency has no plans to extend the tax-filing deadline due to the pandemic. A group of House Democrats urged him to do so last week. "Keep in mind, it creates a lot of confusion for taxpayers. It also backs up the Internal Revenue Service," he said. The IRS extended last year's tax-filing season from April 15 to July 15 because of the pandemic. The IRS announced Monday that it is extending the tax-filing deadline to June 15 for Texas due to the harsh winter storms there this month.
  • The U.S. Department of Education said states will need to administer annual standardized exams to students this spring, but they can modify or delay the tests.   The department waived the requirements in March of 2020, but in a Feb. 22 letter to state school chiefs and governors, the agency emphasized the importance on obtaining public access to data on student learning and success.

In the News:

  • Cuba’s most advanced COVID-19 vaccine candidate enters late-stage clinical trials next week. Soberana (“Sovereign”) 02 will likely be administered in three doses. The Cuban government aims to produce 100 million doses this year both for Cubans and for export. If successful, Cuba would be the first Latin American nation to immunize its population with a domestically-produced vaccine. 
  • Health officials in Texas are optimistic that vaccine distribution would get back on track by the end of the week. Last week's power crisis prompted shipping delays, canceled appointments and destroyed more than 900 doses across the state.
  • On Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a coronavirus relief package that will include $600 one-time payments for 5.7 million people with low-to-moderate incomes. The package also provides more than $2billion in grants for struggling small businesses.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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