Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines - December 2020

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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:

  • Congressional interest in a coronavirus relief legislation has been revived after months of the stalled negotiations. Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators held a press conference to introduce a broad coronavirus aid framework Tuesday. The proposal would provide $908 billion in aid and also provide liability protection for businesses. The legislation also includes $160 billion in state and local aid, $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance, and $288 billion in aid for small businesses. The framework also grants funding for schools, transportation, health care, and nutrition programs. House members from the Problem Solvers Caucus are also working on the compromise, but so far, no Democratic or Republican congressional leaders have shown support for the proposal, making it unlikely to be attached to the spending bill due by Dec. 11.
    • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has reinitiated talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after talks fell apart just before the November elections. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered a proposal to Republican leaders on Monday night. Mnuchin agreed to review the Pelosi-Schumer offer, as well as the bipartisan Senate proposal that was unveiled today, Pelosi said in a statement.
    • Meanwhile, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday circulated a revised version of his targeted coronavirus relief package among his caucus. McConnell says his proposal has the administration’s backing and the best path forward given that Congress’s tight time frame to pass the measure. The bill’s price tag will likely be more than his previous $500 billion proposal but does not include state and local aid, which is a sticking point for some senators. It does extend expiring unemployment benefits through the end of January and provides funding for schools, hospitals, and small businesses across many sectors. It also includes liability reform.
    • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) challenged McConnell’s legislation during a GOP conference call, saying that their bipartisan proposal has a far better chance of becoming law while calling McConnell’s bill a “messaging bill.”
  • The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted on Tuesday to recommend that healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents should receive a coronavirus vaccine first when it is available. The committee noted the importance of vaccinating healthcare workers first to allow them to continue to respond to the pandemic.
  • Dr. Scott Atlas, the controversial White House coronavirus adviser who has been criticized for his coronavirus strategy, resigned this week, according to the letter posted on his Twitter account. Atlas has criticized lockdowns and the use of masks, often clashing with Dr. Anthony Fauci and White House Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx. According to CNN, Atlas was a special government employee, only giving him “a 130-day window in which he could serve and that window was technically coming to a close this week.”
  • The federal government’s coronavirus vaccine czar said Tuesday that Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are safe but that 10 to 15 percent of volunteers reported “significantly noticeable” side effects. Volunteers reported redness and pain at the injection site, as well as fever, chills, muscle aches, and headaches, he said.
  • The coronavirus was in the U.S. as early as mid-December 2019, a period earlier than officially identified in either China or the U.S., according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study, published Monday, found evidence of the virus in 106 of 7,389 blood donations to the Red Cross in nine states from samples collected between Dec. 13 and 16, 2019. The first case of the virus in the U.S. was officially reported January 19, 2020.

In the News:

  • The moratorium on federal student loan repayments ends for 42 million borrowers at the end of this month. The CARES Act paused monthly payments for most federal student loans in March, giving 42 million borrowers relief during the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump extended the deadline again over the summer. The moratorium will lapse on December 31, meaning payments will resume again in January unless a stimulus bill includes another pause or the President extends the delays again.
  • Holiday shoppers went online Monday and spent $10.8 billion, setting a record for the largest U.S. internet shopping day ever, according to Adobe Analytics data. Cyber Monday spending rose 15.1 percent year over year, according to Adobe, which analyzes website transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers. That came in short of Adobe’s original forecast of $12.7 billion.
  • The United Nations on Tuesday appealed member nations for $35 billion to support humanitarian work necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Forbes reports that the UN’s emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock said a record 235 million people will be in need of humanitarian aid in 2021, an almost 40 percent jump from last year. The UN’s appeal is earmarked for people in poorer countries with the highest humanitarian need. In its Global Humanitarian Overview for 2021, the worldwide body said it would use the funds to assist 160 million people across 56 countries.

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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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