After days of negotiating with the Trump administration, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to unveil Republicans’ coronavirus relief package later today, finally kicking off negotiations with Democrats. The $600 federal unemployment benefit expiring at the end of the week is putting pressure on the White House and Congress to act fast, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows even floating the idea for piecemeal legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has quickly rejected that approach indicating that the House would remain in session until a deal is reached.
According to a draft agreement circulated last week, the relief package is expected to appropriate $303 billion in emergency supplemental funding. This includes $25 billion for the Provider Relief Fund; $25 billion for testing; $26 billion for vaccine research and distribution; $4.5 billion for mental health, suicide prevention, and overdose response programs; and $7.6 billion for community health centers.
The package is also expected to include several health care policy provisions, such as extending telehealth reimbursement flexibilities through the end of 2021 and pushing back the repayment date for Medicare advance payments from this August to January 2021. In addition, the legislation is expected to contain liability protections for employers and a number of measures to stimulate the economy, including another round of direct payments and additional funding or the Paycheck Protection Program.
Later this week, the House will consider its second appropriations minibus for FY 2021 (H.R. 7617) – a compilation of seven spending bills, including Labor-HHS-Education, Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Service and General Government, Homeland Security, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. The Labor-HHS-Education bill includes $9 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support the federal government’s coronavirus response. Another $9 billion would be made available to support other public health and response activities, particularly at the state and local levels.
The Senate Finance Committee will convene a two-part hearing to examine ways to protect the U.S. medical supply chain amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Committee members will hear from senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement on Tuesday, followed by senior executives specializing in supply chain and logistics at large health care systems (Vizient and UC Health) as well as the President of the International Safety Equipment Association on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Subcommittee on Health will convene a legislative hearing to discuss five bipartisan bills that would reauthorize various public health programs. At the last E&C markup, Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) indicated that the next full Committee markup will likely not be until September.
- School-Based Health Centers Reauthorization Act of 2019 (R. 2075) would reauthorize funding that expired in 2014 for school-based health centers, which provide a full range of age-appropriate health care services such as mental health care, through FY 2024.
- Early Act Reauthorization of 2019 (R. 4078) would reauthorize and increase funding through FY 2024 for the CDC to develop initiatives to increase knowledge of breast health and breast cancer among women, particularly among those under the age of 40 and those who face increased risks for developing breast cancer.
- Creating Hope Reauthorization Act (R. 4439) would permanently reauthorize the rare pediatric disease priority review voucher program at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- TRANSPLANT Act of 2019 (R. 4764) would reauthorize funding for the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, which helps patients who need a bone marrow transplant or umbilical cord transplant, and the National Cord Blood Inventory, which coordinates the collection and storage of new cord blood units.
- United States Anti-Doping Agency Reauthorization Act of 2019 (R. 5373) would reauthorize funding for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency through FY 2027 to promote clean and healthy sporting among young athletes, leading up to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
On Friday, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will question Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s topic infectious disease expert, Admiral Brett Giroir, who leads the federal testing response, and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield on whether a national plan is needed to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Since late June, the Trump administration has refused to comply with Chairman James Clyburn’s (D-SC) requests for documents showing the demand and supply for testing, contact tracing, and other countermeasures; the causes of the recent explosion in cases; and the Administration’s effort to – in the President’s words – “slow the testing down.”