McConnell to Force Vote on ‘Skinny’ Coronavirus Relief Bill

McConnell to Force Vote on ‘Skinny’ Coronavirus Relief Bill

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Plus, Dems debate a 2021 agenda
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

McConnell to Force Vote on 'Skinny' Coronavirus Relief Bill

The Senate is back in session and lawmakers returning from the August recess are finally ready to jump into action and cement a long-delayed deal on the next coronavirus relief package.

No, of course not. Congress is picking up right where it left off, which is to say Republicans and Democrats are still smack in the middle of their month-long standoff on a coronavirus bill, maneuvering to score political points and cast blame with little prospect for an agreement anytime soon.

What’s new:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Tuesday that he plans to hold a vote this week on a slimmed-down relief bill that would cost upwards of $500 billion, well shy of the $1 trillion plan McConnell released in July.

The package would provide $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits through the end of the year, $258 billion in funding for small businesses, $105 billion for education, $47 billion for vaccines and testing, $10 billion for child care and $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service. It would also provide liability protection for businesses and health care providers and reportedly includes divisive "school choice" language. It does not include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individuals or aid to state and local governments.

"It does not contain every idea our party likes," McConnell said in a statement. "I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation."

The package also includes at least $350 billion in offsets, according to a summary cited by Roll Call in order to draw more support from fiscal conservatives.

Still going nowhere:
"The legislation is not expected to advance, since that would require support from Democrats, who’ve held out for a larger package," The Washington Post reports. "McConnell has struggled even to unite Republicans behind the bill, and is likely to suffer some GOP defections."

Politico reports that Senate Republican leaders are trying to find a path to get 51 votes, but it’s not yet clear they’ll be able to reach even that threshold. "The inability to get 51 GOP votes would be a big defeat for the White House and Senate GOP leadership," Politico’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer write.

What it means:
The move is an attempt to ratchet up pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). "Senate Republicans and administration officials believe Pelosi will come under growing pressure from moderate members of her own caucus who face tough reelections and have been uneasy about the failure to act on additional economic stimulus," the Post reports. "McConnell’s new legislation is partly an attempt to attract the attention of such lawmakers."

Pelosi and Schumer quickly dismissed the GOP plan. "Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere," they said in a joint statement, adding, "this emaciated bill is only intended to help vulnerable Republican Senators by giving them a ‘check the box’ vote to maintain the appearance that they’re not held hostage by their extreme right-wing that doesn’t want to spend a nickel to help people."

A bit of good news:
One possible bright spot in the bipartisan stalemate is that Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have tentatively agreed to a "continuing resolution" to fund the government and avoid a shutdown at the beginning of next month.

The bottom line:
With only a few weeks to go before lawmakers leave town again for the final stretch of campaigning, a deal still appears unlikely.

Vice President Mike Pence told CNBC on Friday that nobody wants another round of direct payments more than Trump, and Politico reports that the White House is set to take "baby steps" toward an agreement this week by embracing a $1.5 trillion price tag. But the overall price of a bill and the issue of state and local aid remain significant obstacles. Any GOP urgency to reach a bipartisan deal has also been diminished by last week’s employment report showing the economy added 1.37 million jobs in August and the unemployment rate fell to 8.4% — still high but down enough for the White House to continue to tout what it says is a strong recovery.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Friday told Bloomberg TV that, while a targeted relief package would be helpful, the country would be fine without an additional coronavirus relief bill. "We can absolutely live with it," he said.

Democrats Debating Their 2021 Agenda if They Win Congress and the White House

The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that Democrats are already haggling over their agenda for next year if they win complete control of Congress and Joe Biden defeats President Trump:

"The top priority of Democrats is to pour federal resources into combating the coronavirus and the economic devastation it has caused, lawmakers say.

"Private discussions are also taking place over whether to eliminate or reform the legislative filibuster, which sets up a 60-vote threshold to pass most major legislation through the Senate. …

"Beyond that, there’s little agreement over whether to move next to immigration reform, gun control, legislation to address climate change or health care reform. Other Democratic priorities on the table include tax reform, housing reform, voting rights legislation and campaign finance reform."

The Washington Post’s Annie Linksey reports that "bitter internal battles" could lay ahead, thanks in large part to Biden’s "strategic flexibility" in staking out policy positions.

"This reluctance to be pinned down on policy details is central to Biden’s campaign, which has focused on a pledge to ‘restore the soul of the nation’ rather than any particular legislative holy grail," Linksey writes. "While Biden has issued a raft of proposals, he’s often taken an all-things-to-all-people approach, sometimes making strong public declarations while relying on aides to soothe critics behind the scenes."

One example: Biden’s campaign, as part of a "unity task force" with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) issued recommendations to expand access to financial services by allowing banking at the U.S. Postal Service and bank accounts at the Federal Reserve.

"But in private calls with Wall Street leaders, the Biden campaign made it clear those proposals would not be central to Biden’s agenda," Linksey reports. The Biden camp told the Post that the task force recommendations were never intended to be official policy.

Read more at The Hill and The Washington Post.

Pharma CEOs Pledge to Abide by Science, Not Politics, for Coronavirus Vaccine

The chief executive officers of nine pharmaceutical companies — AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer, Merck and Sanofi — have pledged to uphold scientific standards as their firms work to develop coronavirus vaccines.

In a letter released Tuesday, the CEOs said they "want to make clear our on-going commitment to developing and testing potential vaccines for COVID-19 in accordance with high ethical standards and sound scientific principles."

The unusual public statement comes amid growing concerns that President Trump may attempt to rush vaccines or treatments for the coronavirus in order to strengthen his hand in the fall election. The Trump administration has rolled out "Operation Warp Speed" to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines, and the president said over the weekend that a vaccine could be ready by October — a claim that has been questioned by federal health officials.

"It’s unprecedented in my experience that industry would do something like this," Ira Loss of Washington Analysis, which monitors drug regulations and legislation for investors, told Stat. "But we’ve experienced unprecedented events since the beginning of Covid-19, starting with the FDA, where the commissioner has proven to be malleable, to be kind, at the foot of the president."

Loss added that drugmakers are concerned about the public losing faith in their products. "The companies are aware that, on a good day, they have trouble selling vaccines to 25% of the country that is suspicious about safety," he said. "So the last thing they need is to have Trump pull a stunt and push through a vaccine ahead of its time. In many ways, the industry is doing a defensive move to ensure they’re not going to have to defend any approval because the president is doing a dance."

Number of the Day: $12.2 Billion

Last month’s huge motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, was a "superspreader event" that led to more than 250,000 reported cases of Covid-19 and an estimated public health cost of $12.2 billion, according to a recent report published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany. Read more here or here.

Charts of the Day

SALT Cap Isn’t Scaring Away Millionaires: The $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions imposed as part of the 2017 Republican tax law is not causing high-income taxpayers to flee high-tax blue states, according to Carl Davis, research director at the progressive Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

In a blog post last week, Davis said that new IRS data show that states including California and New York added a significant number of millionaires to their tax rolls from 2017 to 2018. "California and New York saw more growth in millionaire tax returns than any other state in 2018," Davis wrote. "Taken as a group, California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois saw 40 percent of the nation’s growth in millionaire tax returns occur within their borders, despite the fact that these states are home to just 27 percent of the nation’s population."

But Politico’s Weekly Tax notes that "it’s also undeniable that traffic is more going away from high-tax states and toward low-tax ones" and analysts on the other side of the political divide argue that taxes play a sizable part of such decisions.

Majority of Young Adults Now Living With Their Parents: The coronavirus pandemic is pushing millions of young Americans back into their family homes, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

In July, nearly 26.6 million people between the ages of 18 and 29 — or 52% of all young adults — were living with one or both parents. That marks the first time the majority of people in that age group have done so, surpassing levels seen during the Great Depression. (Researchers note that data is sparse for the ‘30s, and levels may have been higher at some point between the 1930 and 1940 Census counts.)

"Essentially we saw about a little over 3 million more people moving home ... with their parents or grandparents, from a year ago," Cheryl Young, a senior economist at Zillow, told CNN. "A big share of that population that moved home are young people, Gen Z, 18- 25-year-olds, and even some millennials as well."

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