Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 #2

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In Washington

  • With no deal between Democrats and the Trump Administration in sight, It’s appearing more likely that Congress might package additional coronavirus relief with the 12 must-pass appropriations bills before the government runs out of funding on 30 September. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke on Tuesday for about half an hour without bridging the remaining gaps between Democrats and Republicans on more coronavirus relief. Pelosi said in a statement that the two sides still have “serious differences” while detailing questions that she says remain. She also indicated the sides stand far apart on the price tag for a fifth package. Senate Republicans continue to say that they will be introducing a “skinny” or “targeted” coronavirus bill after returning after Labor Day. While the bill is unlikely to pass, it will probably serve as a marker once negotiations restart.
  • The White House says the U.S. will not participate in an international effort to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine because the initiative is tied to the World Health Organization (WHO) and China. "The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China," White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement on Tuesday.
  • The Trump administration is ordering a halt on evictions nationwide through December for people who have lost work during the pandemic and don't have other good housing options. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is enacting the ban pursuant to its powers under the Public Health Service Act of 1944. Under the order, renters must declare that their income falls under specified thresholds and that they have no other housing option if evicted other than homelessness or living with more people in close proximity. The government says it will impose criminal penalties on landlords who violate the ban. Housing advocates cheered the order while calling for congressional action to provide rental assistance, while landlord groups decried the move’s lack of recoupment of rent for landlords.
  • Senate Democrats on Wednesday took a step toward forcing a vote on overturning President Trump's payroll tax deferral. Trump on 8 August ordered the Treasury Department to allow employers to defer withholding and payment of employees' Social Security payroll taxes in an effort to provide relief to workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked for an expedited determination about whether last week’s Treasury Department and IRS guidance implementing the payroll tax deferral is a "rule" for purposes of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the CRA, Congress can vote on measures to disapprove of recently issued rules produced by federal agencies.
  • More than 1 million ballots were delivered to voters late during the 2020 primaries, according to the Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General. In an audit released this week, the internal watchdog at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) analyzed primary contests from 2 June to 13 August and found that ballots mailed the week before an election were at “high risk” for not making it to election officials on time. Dozens of states have expanded mail-in balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday announced a US$129.3 million initiative to scale up the manufacturing of rapid tests and widen the network of high throughput labs. The NIH said this should significantly increase the number and type of tests by millions per week. The contracts go to nine companies as part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program. The first awards went out in July.

In the News

  • The federal deficit is expected to reach a record US$3.3 trillion this year, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). That’s over twice the largest level on record, but lower than earlier estimates.
  • A new analysis from the World Health Organization (WHO) finds that cheap, widely available steroid drugs reduce deaths among severely ill coronavirus patients. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA) on Wednesday, analyzed seven clinical trials involving 1,703 patients. It found that steroids such as dexamethasone helped reduce mortality in seriously ill patients.
  • United Airlines announced Wednesday that it plans to cut 16,370 employees in October when federal aid that passengers carriers received expires. The airline will furlough 6,920 in-flight service employees and 2,850 flight operations employees. The airline also plans to cut 1,400 management and administrative employees and 2,260 airport operations employees.
  • Americans struggling with mental health during the pandemic are not alone. Nearly a quarter of people in the U.S. have symptoms of depression, according to a Brown University study published Wednesday in the American Medical Association Journal (JAMA) Network Open. That's nearly three times the pre-pandemic number. People with a lower income, smaller savings, or who experienced job loss or a loved one’s death are more likely to report symptoms.

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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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