House committees move swiftly to pass COVID-19 relief legislation

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[co-author: Shelly Castle]

House committees drafted and passed their portions of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that Democrats are preparing to pass through budget reconciliation. The reconciliation process will allow Democrats to pass the relief package with just a simple majority vote in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes required for most legislation. Democrats are aiming to give President Biden a relief bill by mid-March, to prevent 1.4 million American workers from losing their unemployment benefits.

Highlights

  • The House and Senate agreed to a 2021 budget resolution allowing Democrats to move forward in their attempts to pass President Joe Biden's "American Rescue Plan" to combat the coronavirus pandemic crisis using a process called reconciliation which enables the legislation to pass both chambers of Congress with a simple majority. 
  • Per the budget resolution instructions, various House committees drafted and passed legislation which will be sent to the Budget Committee by Feb. 16.
  • Congressional leaders plan to complete the House bill and bring it to the floor for a vote by the week of Feb. 22. So far, House Democrats have acted swiftly and appear united as they made their way through the drafting and markup process, rejecting most amendments offered by Republicans.  Biden administration has also been in sync with lawmakers and has shown agreement with the House proposals. The Majority's slim 221 to 211 margins in the House, and 50-50 split in the Senate, will require the caucus to maintain that unity to pass a final bill through its chambers.

On Feb. 5, the House of Representatives approved the Senate's 2021 budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 5), providing the vehicle to attempt passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package through the budget reconciliation process. The budget resolution provides instructions to 12 House committees to draft and report legislation per their jurisdiction within specified budgets amounts totaling $1.9 trillion. House Democrats have started drafting a bill modeled after President Joe Biden's "American Rescue Plan," which also costs the same amount. Most importantly, the reconciliation process allows the Senate to enact the legislation with a simple majority vote rather than achieving the 60 vote threshold required by regular order.  

Reconciliation instructions require certain House and Senate committees to produce legislation by Feb. 16. The House Budget Committee will package the committees' legislation into an omnibus budget reconciliation bill to report to the full chamber. The Budget Committee cannot make substantive changes to the legislative text received from the various committees. At this time, the Senate is expected to take up the House-passed bill rather than repeating the committee drafting and markup process. Senate committee leaders and their staff conferred with each other in the development of the House legislative text marked up by House committees. In the Senate, the bill will be subject to the "Byrd Rule" under rules governing reconciliation measures. Under the rule, any senator may raise a point of order to strike "extraneous matter" in a reconciliation bill or conference report. If a point of order is raised, the Senate Parliamentarian then decides whether there is a Byrd rule violation. Provisions struck through a Byrd rule point of order cannot be offered later as amendments. However, Byrd rule points of order can be waived with the support of three-fifths of senators (60 votes). Again, unity will be imperative with a 50-50 split in the Senate, giving many Democratic senators the ability to shape or negotiate particular policies or complicate the path to passage. Senate Democrats are expected to remain united, delivering President Biden his highest priority agenda item, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote for passage if necessary.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she is hoping to have the House bill ready for a floor vote the week of Feb. 22. Congressional leadership is aiming to pass the bill before Mar. 14, to prevent 11.4 million American workers from losing their unemployment benefits.   

Committee markups

The House Financial Services Committee marked up their committee's proposal on Feb. 11. The measure provides a total of $75 billion towards programs under this committee's jurisdiction, including:

  • $15 billion to extend payroll support for airline workers through Sept. 30, 2021
  • $25 billion for emergency rental aid
  • $10 billion for homeowner assistance
  • $5 billion for homelessness funding
  • $5 billion towards 70,000 emergency vouchers and funding directed to rural and tribal communities
  • $10 billion for Defense Production Act spending to boost supplies of personal protective equipment and increase capacity for vaccine production
  • $10 billion for the State Small Business Credit Initiative, to support up to $100 billion in small business financing through state, territorial, and tribal governments

The House Ways and Means Committee marked up almost $941 billion in nine legislative proposals it announced this week. The tax-writing panel completed the markup of its measure on Feb. 12. Legislative proposals include:

  • $1,400 to qualifying individuals with incomes up to $75,000 and couples making $150,000 with eligibility phasing out at higher income levels. This would be in addition to the $600 supplemental payments enacted in the December COVID relief bill, totaling individual payments to $2,000
  • Provides a $3,000 temporary, fully refundable child tax credit for children between 6 and 17; $3,600 for children under six  
  • Increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025
  • Expands the temporary, fully refundable Child and Dependent Care Credit from the current limitation of $1,050 per child or dependent up to $4,000
  • Extends the temporary federal unemployment benefits through Aug. 29, 2021, and increases the weekly benefit from $300 to $400  
  • Increases the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) premium tax credits for 2021 and 2022
  • Subsidizes COBRA coverage through the end fiscal year 2021 and creates health care subsidies for unemployed workers who are ineligible for COBRA
  • Other provisions include: protections for the elderly in skilled nursing facilities, retirement security, and emergency assistance for vulnerable children, families, and workers

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved its provisions on Feb. 11 and 12. The measure provides a total of $188.5 billion on public health, Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), internet connectivity, consumer protection, and other provisions including:

  • $46 billion for testing, including creating a national strategy for testing and contact tracing of COVID-19
  • $14 billion for COVID-19 vaccines; $7.6 billion to the CDC to promote and administer vaccines 
  • Eliminates the federally mandated 100-percent cap on rebates that drug companies pay Medicaid programs for medicines whose prices rise faster than the rate of inflation 
  • Incentives to conservative states and federal funding to boost and expand Medicaid
  • Full coverage COVID-19 vaccines through Medicaid and CHIP
  • $100 million in environmental justice grants
  • $4.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LHEAP)
  • $500 million to assist people struggling during the pandemic with payments for drinking water and wastewater expenses
  • $7.6 billion to expand internet connectivity for students and teachers without internet access

The House Education and Labor Committee marked up and approved $357.9 billion in relief for school and labor relief on Feb. 9. The measure includes:

  • Gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025
  • $130 billion for K-12 schools and $40 billion for higher education
  • $39 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program
  • $1 billion for the Head Start program
  • $5 billion for food assistance 
  • $800 million for WIC programs

The House Agriculture Committee approved $16.1 billion in funding on Feb. 10 for multiple nutrition and agriculture programs, including:

  • $5 billion in aid for supply chain challenges related to COVID-19 
  • $3.6 billion to support more resilient food supply systems 
  • $100 million for overtime fee relief to small meat and poultry processors 
  • $1 billion for land grant institutions and other groups that assist farmers of color
  • Extends the 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) until Sept. 30
  • $500 million for rural hospitals and communities to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and food assistance

The Small Business Committee marked up its proposals on Feb. 10. The committee passed $50 billion in relief, including:   

  • $25 billion in restaurant grants to be distributed in a new Small Business Administration (SBA) program
  • $1.25 billion in additional funding for shuttered live venue grants (SVOG) 
  • $15 billion in additional funding for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grants
  • $7.25 billion in additional funding to expand Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) aid to more nonprofit groups and digital news outlets

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed its measure on Feb. 10. Some of the main highlights of the nearly $95.6 billion legislation include:

  • $30 billion in COVID relief funding for transit 
  • $1.5 billion for Amtrak to recall and pay furloughed employees through FY2021
  • $3 billion payroll support fund for aerospace manufacturing jobs through Sept. 30, 2023
  • $8 billion to airports, including $800 million for airport concessionaires
  • $450 million to communities whose economies depend on travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation
  • $100 million for a rural intercity bus program
  • $50 billion in disaster funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency through Sept. 30, 2025

The House Veterans Affairs Committee approved its  proposal on Feb. 11. The $16.6 billion legislative proposal includes:

  • $272 million for claims and appeals processing
  • $13.5 billion for VA health care services and related support for eligible veterans
  • $400 million for up to 12 months of retraining assistance to veterans that were unemployed due to COVID-19

The House Oversight and Reform Committee approved a $350.7 billion measure on Feb. 12. The proposals include:

  • $195.3 billion for States and the District of Columbia
  • $130.2 billion divided evenly between cities and counties; $4.5 billion for territories; $20 billion for Tribal governments
  • $570 million for emergency leave of federal employees and postal workers
  • $117 million for oversight entities

[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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