With the Senate back in session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Republicans will introduce “a new targeted proposal” to provide coronavirus relief, noting that he “will be moving immediately today [September 8] to set up a floor vote as soon as this week.” Lawmakers have only a few weeks in September to address both the government funding deadline and the next round of pandemic relief before members recess at the end of the month to campaign through November.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi have announced an informal agreement on a clean continuing resolution to provide government funding through December. Details of the package are expected to be released by the end of this week. They have agreed that this continuing resolution will be considered separately from the COVID 4 package, with neither side showing interest in a showdown over whether or not to keep the government open right before the elections. This could push the consideration of surprise medical billing and prescription drug pricing legislation to December at the earliest.
The talks on the COVID 4 package have reached a stalemate as Leader McConnell has released a new $500 billion interim draft coronavirus financial aid package. This bill is half the size of the original $1 trillion Senate Republican “skinny” bill, the HEALS Act. This effort is largely a political effort to force Senate Democrats to vote against addition financial aid to help the country during the pandemic. With some changes expected before filing, including additional tax provisions, this new draft contains the following:
- $300 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits;
- $29 billion to support vaccine and countermeasure development and distribution;
- $16 billion for testing and contact tracing;
- $105 billion for schools and universities;
- $250 billion in additional funding for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program;
- liability protections for health care providers, businesses, and schools through at least October 1, 2024; and
- a provision converting a prior $10 billion loan (provided in the CARES Act, P.L. 116-136) to the U.S. Postal Service into a grant if certain financial conditions are met.
Tomorrow, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will question NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and Surgeon General Jerome Adams on COVID-19 vaccines and public health. The timing and availability of a safe COVID-19 vaccine has come into focus as President Trump has touted that a coronavirus vaccine could be approved before the November election. Senate HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have pressed senior health officials, arguing that political interference from the Trump Administration has impacted the agencies’ work in response to COVID-19.
The House is expected to hold hearings in five subcommittees in September on COVID-19 related issues, including another hearing regarding the progress on a vaccine for COVID-19. The vaccine hearings are expected to have third party interest groups in rather than bringing pharmaceutical manufacturers back to the witness stand.
The House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee will consider 38 bills at a markup tomorrow. They include measures relating to Medicare and commercial insurance coverage and mental health care access, as well as legislation to stem the opioid crisis. See the memorandum from E&C Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) for the complete lineup.