Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 # 5

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  • Based on the Senate failing to advance a coronavirus stimulus bill and the ensuing election-season rhetoric by both sides of the congressional aisle, it is looking increasingly dim that a deal will be made before the November elections. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) called bipartisan talks "sort of a dead-end street" right now. And Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby said it "looks like negotiations are dead." The inaction comes amid pleas from Federal Reserve officials and others who have expressed more fiscal assistance is needed to prevent the economy from sliding further this year.
    • The lack of an agreement is making several moderate House Democrats in vulnerable seats uneasy. They are pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to schedule some targeted coronavirus relief bills for votes, even if they are unlikely to pass the Senate. In Thursday's Democratic Caucus call, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer raised the idea of passing another relief bill in the coming weeks. Reports say that the Democratic leadership quickly dismissed the proposal saying that the Democrats need to stay unified and confident that their "wait-and-see" approach will work. "We don’t want to go home without a bill, but don't be a cheap date," Pelosi said at one point in the call. With the decreased access and interaction with the people in their home states due to COVID-19, it is questionable how in-touch lawmakers are with their constituents' needs and feelings of Congress's lack of action.
  • In a September 9 memorandum, Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis shared "serious" concerns around the ability of Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin to hold safe and secure elections during the coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers cited concerns with the lack of expansion of mail-in voting; poll worker shortages; and polling places' safety. They called on states to take immediate action to fix these problems.
  • Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, said she wants to put together a working group to reach a compromise on her proposed pandemic risk insurance bill (H.R. 7011).
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Americans that they need to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 infections as flu season approaches. "We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it's not going to be easy," Fauci told attendees of a Harvard Medical School panel on Thursday. "Don't ever, ever underestimate the potential of the pandemic. And don't try and look at the rosy side of things," Fauci emphasized.
  • According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), most unemployed workers will get up to US$1,800 in extra jobless benefits through the Lost Wages Assistance program the Trump administration created last month. The program pays a US$300-a-week federal subsidy on top of regular unemployment benefits. It follows the lapse of a US$600 weekly supplement in late July.
  • House Democrats are launching an investigation into a US$250 million coronavirus-related communications contract awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support public service ads to "defeat despair and inspire hope" over the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers are concerned that the plan, which would be overseen by a former Trump campaign operative, Michael Caputo, will distract "focus on planning and executing a national strategy to contain the coronavirus" and use taxpayer money for a political propaganda campaign.
  • Eight high-level regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) promised to uphold their work's scientific integrity and defend the agency's independence in an op-ed published in USA Today on September 10. The career scientists warned that "if the agency’s credibility is lost because of real or perceived interference, people will not rely on the agency's safety warnings."
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Thursday rejected the Texas Democratic Party's efforts to expand mail-in voting. Texas allows voters over age 65 and other limited categories of voters to mail-in ballots. Texas Democrats sought to expand mail-in voting to all registered voters, arguing the state's restrictions violate the 26th Amendment's bar on age-based voting restrictions imposed on people over 18. But the court ruled that "conferring a privilege" to some voters, such as mail-in voting for people 65 and older, does not violate the Constitution.
  • The Trump administration reportedly circumvented charter flight restrictions when it flew immigrant detainees to Virginia this summer leading to an outbreak of more than 300 inmates in its Farmville detention center. The charter was to accommodate the rapid deployment of Homeland Security tactical teams to quell protests in Washington. After the transfer, dozens of new arrivals tested positive for COVID-19.

In the News

  • At least six teachers across Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have died since early August from coronavirus complications as students return for the school year.
  • Goldman Sachs economists are bullish on third-quarter economic growth. The investment bank's analysts forecast third-quarter GDP growth of 35 percent, primarily driven by what they see as surprising strength in consumer spending. Goldman economists had upgraded their forecast to 35 percent growth from 30 percent after the stronger-than-expected August jobs report earlier this month.
  • The use of preventive care early in the coronavirus pandemic declined significantly and has not resumed despite the reopening of medical offices, according to a new analysis. Childhood vaccinations dropped 60 percent in April at the height of the pandemic compared to 2019 levels and by June were still down close to 30 percent, according to the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI). Mammograms and Pap smears were down nearly a quarter from 2019 by June. The data comes from a sample of millions of health claims across 18 different states.
  • Retailers, e-commerce sites, and delivery giants are announcing plans to hire hundreds of thousands of workers for the holiday shopping season. Americans spent roughly a quarter of 2019’' US$730 billion holiday shopping bill online or in other non-store sales, according to the National Retail Federation. COVID-19 means home delivery or store pickup is likely to increase significantly. Analysts expect companies to hire fewer in-store seasonal employees in favor of workers who will package and ship online orders.
  • Warner Brothers has postponed the October release of "Wonder Woman 1984," a much-anticipated superhero flick, until Christmas Day. Recent box office receipts have dimmed the industry's hopes for robust return to theaters. Last weekend only about 65 percent of cinemas were open in the U.S., with caps on attendance of between 30 and 50 percent. Dramatically higher reopening figures or attendance caps do not appear imminent.

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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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