Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, November 2020 # 6

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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 Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday released drafts of all 12 annual spending bills for 2021, setting up negotiations for a deal ahead of the Dec. 11 deadline to keep the government-funded. Bogged down in controversies over issues such as police reform and COVID-19 spending, the panel failed to release a single bill through regular order ahead of the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. The House advanced all 12 appropriations bills through committee and 10 of them across the House floor. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) praised the bills on Tuesday while the committee's vice chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) criticized the bills for omitting sufficient coronavirus relief funding.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization on Monday for an Eli Lilly antibody drug to treat mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19. The FDA’s authorization of bamlanivimab will permit the federal government to distribute the drug to state and territorial health departments to give to certain facilities. The U.S. already committed last month to 300,000 doses of bamlanivimab, paying Eli Lilly $375 million. The company expects to make up to 1 million doses of the drug before the end of 2020 to be used through early 2021.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Chief Counsel Michael Desmond said the agency might issue guidelines on debt that companies won’t have to pay back after borrowing from an emergency federal loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Some businesses have complained that the process of requesting loan forgiveness hasn't been straightforward. The IRS and Congress differ on loan forgiveness. Treasury has maintained that businesses couldn't take tax deductions for covered expenses if they had use forgiven loans to pay for the same expense. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they meant to exclude forgiven PPP loans from taxable income and didn’t intend to deny the deductibility of ordinary and necessary business expenses.
  • The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a suit challenging the Affordable Care Act. The case has garnered heightened interest from the public, industry, and interest groups amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh signaled that they may vote to invalidate the Act’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance while leaving the rest of the law standing. Doctors’ groups, including the American Medical Association, and health care experts have argued that invalidating the ACA would worsen the coronavirus pandemic, causing about 21 million people to lose health insurance. The challengers in Tuesday's lawsuit, including more than a dozen Republican-led states, counter that a 2017 tax-cut law rendered a key provision of the Act unconstitutional and therefore the entire law must fall.
  • Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York will remain leaders of their parties in the Senate during the next Congress. Closed-door leadership elections were held Tuesday morning as the country waits to see which party will be in the Senate Majority.
    • Sen. John Thune (SD) remains the Republican whip, and Sen. John Barrasso (WY) keeps his post as Republican Conference Chairman. Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) was reelected as Democratic whip, and Sen. Patty Murray (WA) was once again picked to be the Democrats' assistant leader.
    • Sen. Rick Scott (FL) will lead the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm for the 2022 elections, but it is not yet determined who will lead the Democrats. Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) will be vice-chair of the DPCC and Sen. Cortez Masto (NV) will be vice-chair of outreach.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) unveiled details of a mission to China which it will investigate the origins of COVID-19. The U.S. argues that the inquiry's terms of reference were not negotiated transparently and the organization is not sharing enough information. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus promised that the investigations were transparent and conducted by “excellent and respected professionals” from a wide range of countries, including the U.S. The Director also noted that the team endorsed the terms of reference. Garrett Grigsby, director of global affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) claims that the member states were not aware of the terms of reference until “a few days ago” and claims that he the investigation appears to be inconsistent with the mandate provided by WHO member counties in a resolution adopted in May.

In the News:

  • A new study from Britain’s University of Oxford has linked COVID-19 to a greater risk of developing mental health disorders. The report published in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that 20 percent of COVID-19 survivors will receive a first-time mental health diagnosis within 90 days of infection. Among the most common are anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia, and dementia. The Oxford study evaluated the health records of 69 million Americans, more than 60,000 of whom had been diagnosed with coronavirus.
  • The Danish government has dropped plans to kill all 15 million mink in the country following coronavirus outbreaks at its numerous mink farms. Last Wednesday the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, said all the country’s mink would be culled due to fears that a COVID-19 mutation could transfer from mink to humans and undermine the effectiveness of a future vaccine. But Denmark’s public health agency had not found evidence of the mutated strain for over a month, and Danish and World Health Organization (WHO) experts questioned whether the mutation was dangerous.
  • Saeb Erekat, who served for decades as chief Palestinian negotiator, died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19. Erekat, 65, was being treated in Jerusalem. He had announced his diagnosis on October 8.

[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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