House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to unveil a draft $1.2 trillion coronavirus relief package ahead of a floor vote that could be as soon as this Friday. Speaker Pelosi also indicated that she wants to move soon on a resolution to allow remote voting by proxy in the House. While the package is likely to be viewed as a wish list, it may put pressure on Republicans to come to the negotiating table and pass another bill sooner rather than later, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has subscribed to a wait-and-see approach.
Democrats are working to include approximately $1 trillion for state and local governments, with funding allocated in separate tranches to ensure smaller communities receive financial assistance; additional funding for hospitals and COVID-19 testing; a 15 percent increase to SNAP benefits; Medicaid funding; unemployment assistance; enhanced sick leave for workers; and direct payments. Missing from the package are liability protections for businesses, a top priority for Leader McConnell (R-KY), and a payroll tax cut pushed by President Trump.
Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on liability protection for employers, a “red line” for Republicans and a nonstarter for Democrats. The hearing will likely shed light on the scope of protections Republicans are seeking and whether both parties can reach a compromise, which would increase the likelihood of additional coronavirus relief measures reaching the President’s desk in the near term.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will also convene virtually for a hearing focused on reopening the country – an interesting topic considering Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and several of the witnesses are self-quarantining. The panel includes Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH), Dr. Robert Redfield (CDC Director), Dr. Stephen Hahn (FDA Commissioner), and Dr. Brett Giroir (Assistant Secretary for Health).
Questions at the HELP Committee hearing will likely center around testing capacity and supply chain issues, with Democrats reminding the Trump administration of their statutory obligation to submit to Congress a comprehensive national strategic plan by May 24. The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (Pub. L. 116-139) requires that the plan address how the HHS Secretary will increase domestic testing capacity, including testing supplies, among other response issues. Of note, President Trump and administration officials are scheduled to hold a press briefing on COVID-19 testing at 4pm ET today.
On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing to discuss the removal of Dr. Rick Bright, former Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). He was transferred to the NIH to work on diagnostic testing. Prior to his removal, Dr. Bright had filed a whistleblower complaint raising concerns about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the handling of supply shortages and the promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a potential cure. Dr. Bright was invited to testify before the Health Subcommittee, though it is unclear if he will do so.