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Focus on Regulation

Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – June 4, 2020

Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines provided by the Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs team.

In Washington:

  • Senate Republicans continue to disagree over unemployment benefits amid a recession.  Forty million Americans are unemployed and the $600 additional weekly benefit expires at the end of next month.  Some argue that Congress can’t just cut off that relief money cold turkey while others say that the extra money simply makes it less enticing for Americans to go back to work.  Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said “it might” need to go back to the normal state unemployment benefits, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said the additional funds were a “terrible idea [that] never should have passed in the first place.”  Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) said, “the unemployment rate is still going to be pretty high, maybe for some time. Even as the economy starts to open up and expand again, it will take a while for some of the jobs to come back. So I suspect the program will be needed for a while. We’ll have to come up [with] some sort of solution.”  Senate Republicans are discussing a proposal from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to provide workers extra money when they go back to work or a gradual decrease of the $600 weekly benefit over time.  Others like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO.) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have proposed subsidizing payrolls as a way of decreasing unemployment but keeping workers’ salaries.  The Senate will hold a hearing next week on unemployment benefits.
  • Yesterday, the Senate passed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (H.R. 7010) which eases restrictions sending the first major overhaul of the program to President Donald Trump for his signature.  Senators gave unanimous consent (UC) for the legislation hours after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) first raised objections to an attempt from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to swiftly pass the measure.  Johnson objected to language that a drafting error could be misinterpreted about the length of the loan application period.  Johnson agreed to a UC after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the leaders of the House and Senate Small Business Committees signed a “letter of intent” clarifying that the application was not intended to be extended to Dec. 31, 2020. The bill also relaxes rules giving borrowers more time to spend the money and use it on a broader set of expenses while still qualifying to have the loans forgiven, a key feature offered in exchange for employers maintaining payrolls.
  • Projections from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities have found state revenue shortfalls combined with new costs from the coronavirus have created a need in excess of $300 billion for schools.  Over 100 House Democrats signed a letter to congressional leaders this week asking for at least $305 billion in additional funds for K-12 public schools in new coronavirus relief legislation.  The HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) passed by the House last month, carried $58 billion for public schools.
  • The White House is working with Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech Moderna Inc., and the University of Oxford in collaboration with AstraZeneca Plc, as well as two other firms, as part of its “Warp Speed” coronavirus vaccine program, including a bet on a rapid-but-unproven genetic technology.  Drug companies and university researchers are investigating more than 130 experimental inoculations, according to the World Health Organization, though fewer than a dozen candidates are currently being assessed in human trials.
  • Brett Giroir, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services who has overseen the administration’s efforts to ramp up testing, said yesterday that the country did about 12 million tests last month. They almost reached their goal of doing about 12.9 million tests in May.  Around 70 U.S. coronavirus testing sites were closed temporarily “due to the threats of violence,” Giroir said.
  • CDC Director Robert Redfield apologized for the “inadequate” response in reporting racial disparities in coronavirus patients when testifying before the House Appropriations Committee today.  Congress required the agency to publish racial data in the last COVID Relief package due to the lack of information hindering the public health directives in communities of color.  Members berated the administration and the four-page report released last week saying it was insufficient and not fulfilling the request from Congress.  The CDC blamed poor reporting on some states not reporting such data.

In the News:

  • U.S. trade in goods and services plunged in April to the lowest level in almost a decade.  Exports declined from the prior month by 20.5 percent, the biggest drop since 1992, to $151.3 billion.  Imports decreased 13.7 percent, also the most since 1992, to $200.7 billion. Combined, the value of U.S. exports and imports decreased to $352 billion, the lowest since May 2010, Commerce Department data released Thursday showed.
  • Stocks slipped Thursday as a new batch of weekly jobless claims briefly interrupted a steady rally for Wall Street.  The dip came an hour after the Department of Labor reported that 1.9 million Americans filed new claims for jobless benefits in the final week of May, lower than previous weeks but higher than economists had expected.  More than a quarter of the U.S. labor force, 42.6 million people have claimed unemployment benefits since the pandemic began.
  • The IRS is facing a handful of obstacles in its efforts to deliver the final batch of coronavirus relief checks.  Tax experts said the IRS faces a tough road ahead in getting payments to everyone who hasn’t received theirs yet, especially for low-income individuals who don’t make enough money to have to file tax returns and also don’t receive certain federal benefits.
  • The World Health Organization will restart its trial of hydroxychloroquine after getting the all-clear from a safety review. A safety monitoring committee looked at death rates in both the WHO’s Solidarity trial and the U.K.’s Recovery trial, which is also studying hydroxychloroquine, to see if they were different among patients taking that drug. The safety committee “recommended that there are no reasons to modify the trial protocol.”
  • More than half, or 56 percent, of college students, say they can no longer afford their tuition tab, according to a survey by OneClass, which polled more than 10,000 current freshmen, sophomores, and juniors from 200-plus colleges and universities across the country.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) made his pitch for the Republican National Convention to move it’s event to Florida this summer, saying it would be a “mistake” to scrap the physical staging of the event over concerns regarding the coronavirus.  President Trump announced Tuesday that the GOP would move the event out of North Carolina in an attempt to accommodate a fuller, in-person conference.  North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) had rejected plans for a full convention, saying only a smaller event that followed health protocols due to COVID-10 would be possible.