Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, February 2021 # 19

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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 of Representatives was set to pass its $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package (H.R. 1319), late Friday night over solid Republican opposition. The passage is a key step toward giving President Joe Biden his first major legislative victory.  
  • Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled Thursday that a $15 minimum wage increase cannot be included in a COVID-19 relief bill through the budget reconciliation process. Democrats had hoped to bypass a Senate filibuster against the wage hike through such a maneuver. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who had championed the wage hike, assailed the opinion. Lawmakers from both parties have presented the following alternatives:
    • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Friday proposed a 5 percent tax penalty on large corporations if any of their workers earn less than a certain amount. Sen. Sanders said he would work on such an amendment. A senior Democratic aide said Friday that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is looking at adding such a provision to the COVID-19 relief package. 
    • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) on Friday announced a similar tax plan.
    • Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) this week introduced a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2025 and tie the wage increase to crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
  • An independent advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unanimously recommended on Friday that the agency authorize Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA is not required to follow the committee's recommendation but is widely expected to. The agency could issue an emergency use authorization as soon as Friday evening or Saturday. It would be the third coronavirus vaccine authorized in the U.S., in addition to vaccines from the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. If authorized, it would be for people 18 years and older.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) temporary eviction moratorium is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Thursday. Texas-based U.S. District Judge John Barker found that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to grant the CDC the power to halt evictions. He also ruled that the ban threatened the plaintiff landlords’ property rights. Former President Trump issued the order in September. Congress and President Biden extended it through March. Barker, a Trump appointee, did not enjoin the ban’s enforcement but reserved the option to do so. The federal government is expected to appeal.
  • The Navy on Friday reported more than a dozen COVID-19 cases among service members aboard a warship in the Middle East and several people possibly infected on another ship. The amphibious transport dock USS San Diego, which is docked in Bahrain, suffered from one outbreak. Additionally, “several persons [are] under investigation” on the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, whose location the Navy did not disclose. The branch said medics are tracing infected sailors’ contacts on the ships and that infected personnel are isolated.

In the News:

  • Canada’s drug regulator authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on Friday for adults aged 18 and older. Health Canada authorized two versions of the vaccine, one made in partnership with Oxford University and another manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. AstraZeneca’s vaccine is the third that Canada has authorized. The nation authorized vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in December. Canada signed an agreement with British drugmaker AstraZeneca in September for 20 million doses of the vaccine.
  • Ten major auto insurance companies face class-action lawsuits from customers who claim that the firms charged excessive insurance premiums during the pandemic. The Associated Press reported that the suits filed Tuesday argue that the insurers failed to offer “meaningful” premium reductions reflecting “the reduction in cars on the road and reduced driving during the pandemic.” The defendants include State Farm, USAA, Geico, Allstate, Progressive, and more. The plaintiffs charge them with violating a Nevada state law barring excessive premiums. 
  • Months into the winter flu season, reports of the flu have "virtually disappeared" in the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reports. The drop is partly a byproduct of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, like wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding travel, and remote schooling, experts say. Nationally, CDC scientist Lynnette Bramme said, it's likely the "lowest flu season we've had on record," going back 25 years. The flu typically causes 600,000 to 800,000 hospitalizations a year, and between 50,000 and 60,000 deaths.

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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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