Top CEOs Call for Covid Relief, Mask Mandate

Top CEOs Call for Covid Relief, Mask Mandate

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Plus, the Pentagon fails another audit
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Talks to Keep the Government Open Advance, but No Signs of a Stimulus Deal

Congressional staffers are making progress in talks over an omnibus funding package for the federal government ahead of a December 11 deadline, Politico reported Tuesday. Appropriators are working on a 12-bill, bicameral agreement that could win support from both parties, and negotiators are reportedly close to defining the size of elements of the spending package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he was encouraged by the progress so far. “Our colleagues on the committee and their counterparts in the House need to continue their bicameral discussions and settle on top-line dollar amounts for each separate bill,” he said. “I hope they will be able to reach this broad agreement by the end of this very week.”

McConnell also said that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) were in agreement on the issue. “The Speaker would like to do that. I would like to do that,” McConnell said when asked about the prospects for the 2021 omnibus.

President Trump could be a bit of a wildcard in the process. McConnell said he hoped the administration would accept whatever agreement congressional negotiators can reach, but the White House has been silent so far.

Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) — who reported that “extensive talks” are occurring and that “some basic agreements in principle” are in place — said that the president has not offered support for the potential omnibus package, nor for a possible continuing resolution that would be necessary if the omnibus talks fail.

“We understand that the president has a powerful voice,” Shelby said. “Let’s see what we can accomplish first.”

Pelosi and Schumer ask McConnell to restart stimulus talks:
It’s still looking unlikely that a coronavirus relief bill will pass before the New Year. “There are no conversations right now about another round of Covid relief. None,” Politico’s Jake Sherman reported Tuesday. “The White House is silent. The Hill is quiet. That means no new programs, no new money for Americans before the holiday season.”

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Tuesday asked McConnell to come to the negotiating table “so that we can work towards a bipartisan, bicameral Covid-19 relief agreement to crush the virus and save American lives.” The two sides remain far apart on the size and details of another relief package.

If lawmakers are unable to agree, numerous pandemic-related aid programs will expire at the end of December. They include two emergency unemployment programs, the moratorium on evictions, aid for state and local governments and student loan forbearance. “In other words,” Sherman said, “a huge safety net for Americans is going to be yanked away at the end of 2020, and Congress isn’t preparing much of anything to keep people from plummeting.”

The best hope for passing at least some aid may be by attaching it to the omnibus spending package currently under negotiation, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a senior appropriator, said Monday. “There seems to be more interest in trying to move an omnibus and more serious discussion about that than I've heard about a Covid package,” Blunt told reporters.

Fauci Calls for Covid Response That Differs Sharply From Trump's

The United States reported 166,045 new Covid-19 cases and 995 more virus-related deaths on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The nation has now seen more than 100,000 new infections a day for two straight weeks. Here’s what else is happening on the pandemic front:

Fauci calls for ‘uniform’ pandemic response that differs from Trump's: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday that the United States needs “a uniform approach” to combating the pandemic rather than a “disjointed” state-by-state effort — comments that, as The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes, “echoed the views of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and contrasted sharply with President Trump’s coronavirus strategy.”

“We need some fundamental public health measures that everyone should be adhering to, not a disjointed, ‘One state says one thing, the other state says another thing,’” Fauci said at a virtual New York Times event.

Fauci reportedly also stressed the public health importance of a smooth presidential transition and said that the pandemic response should not be a political issue. “We’ve got to get public health issues out of the realm of political divisiveness — this is not a political issue,” he said. “We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to pull together as a nation.”

Business Roundtable backs Covid relief bill, national mask mandate:
The head of the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs from top U.S. companies, on Tuesday called for the presidential transition to a Biden administration to proceed and said lawmakers should quickly pass another relief package to address the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we’re talking about here is important economic relief for people who are hurting, and a lot of economic damage can be done in the next two or three months before the next Congress can get going," Joshua Bolten, the group's president and a former White House Chief of Staff under President George W. Bush, told reporters, according to The Hill.

Bolten reportedly urged lawmakers to address the surge in coronavirus cases by passing a relief bill that includes aid for small businesses, families and schools and then build on that legislation with another package once Biden is on office. He said the CEO group supports a national testing strategy and mask mandate among its priorities for an incoming Biden administration and new Congress. Bolten also said that the group believes Biden should roll back some of the tariffs on foreign goods imposed by the Trump administration.

Medical associations urge Trump to cooperate with Biden on pandemic:
The leaders of the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association on Tuesday urged President Trump to cooperate with the Biden transition team and share “all critical information” related to Covid-19 in order to “save countless lives.”

“All information about the capacity of the Strategic National Stockpile, the assets from Operation Warp Speed, and plans for dissemination of therapeutics and vaccines needs to be shared as quickly as possible to ensure that there is continuity in strategic planning so that there is no lapse in our ability to care for patients,” the three leaders wrote in a letter to the president.

Pentagon Fails Another Audit

The U.S. Department of Defense failed its third-ever audit, officials said Monday, and it may be years before the Pentagon can achieve a clean report. Thomas Harker, the acting comptroller, said officials “have been clear that this is a journey that will require a sustained effort over several years,” with the current timeline pointing to more satisfactory results in 2027. The audit cost $203 million this year, Harker said, while identifying savings worth about $700 million.

Angry at Vaccine Makers, Trump Pushes Plan to Lower Drug Prices

President Trump is angry that Pfizer and Moderna announced promising results for their Covid-19 vaccines after the election, The Washington Post’s Paige Winfield Cunningham reports, and is now seeking to impose a rule that would require pharmaceutical firms to accept lower prices for some drugs.

The so-called “most favored nation" policy would set prices paid by Medicare at the lowest level paid by any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Trump had threatened to impose the rule before, but drugmakers thought the administration had run out of time.

“This is basically Trump being pissed off because he thought the industry campaigned against him and delayed in announcing the [vaccine] results, so he is going to get back at them with favored nations,” a GOP lobbyist told Winfield Cunningham. The rule would be difficult to impose in the few days the administration has left, however, and could be subject to legal challenges or reversal at a later date.

Hundreds of Businesses That Got PPP Loans Have Gone Bankrupt: Report

Nearly 300 companies that received loans from the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of big borrowers in the program. The companies, which employ more than 23,000 workers, received between $228 million and $509 million in loans, based on data from the government, which disclosed loan amounts in ranges. “The total number of companies that failed despite getting PPP loans is likely far higher,” the Journal’s Shane Shifflett writes, noting that “many small businesses simply liquidate when they run out of cash rather than file for bankruptcy.”

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