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Capitol Hill Update: March 23, 2020

03/23/2020

Schedule:

The Senate is in session. The House may or may not be in recess.

Senate:

The Senate stayed in session over the weekend as negotiations continued over the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The vehicle for the CARES Act is H.R. 748. For those who aren’t familiar with the process, the way this will work is that the text of the CARES Act will be presented in the form of an amendment in the nature of a substitute. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed the cloture motion on Friday on the motion to proceed to H.R. 748. That cloture motion ripened on Sunday. The Senate, however, rejected the motion by a vote of 47 to 47.

Democrats were unhappy with the final product, complaining that it’s too generous to business and doesn’t do enough for employees. McConnell voted no to reserve a motion to reconsider at a later time. The cloture motion on the motion to proceed was a procedural motion to limit debate to 30 hours divided equally between both sides ahead of the vote on the motion to proceed, which simply allows the Senate to “get on the bill.” The 30 hours could’ve been waived by unanimous consent. There would’ve been other procedural motions and votes as the debate progressed.

Immediately after the vote, McConnell blasted Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “I want to explain what just happened. Our good friends on the other side would not be disadvantaged one bit if this vote succeeded. Because it would have required potentially 30 more hours of discussion. During which, these seemingly endlessly negotiations could go on as long as they would like. Now the build-up to this, so everybody fully understands, is that we had a high level of bipartisanship in five different working groups over the last 48 hours. Where members who were participating were reaching agreement,” said McConnell. “[W]e’ll have this cloture vote again at some point of my choosing, and hopefully, some adults will show up on the other side of the room and understand the gravity of the situation. The need to act before the markets go down further and the American people become even more depressed about our lack of ability to come together under the most extraordinary circumstances – we’ve never been confronted with anything like this before.”

McConnell announced late last night on the floor that the Senate will vote again this morning at 9:45 am. The vote would’ve been scheduled 15 minutes after the stock market opens for trading to, as McConnell put it, “see if there’s a change of heart” from Democrats. When McConnell made the unanimous consent request for the Senate to come into session at 9:00 am, Schumer objected. Negotiations continued into the night. The Senate will come back into session today at 12:00 pm. The first vote the Senate will take will be on the cloture motion for the motion to reconsider the previous vote and the actual vote on the motion to reconsider. These votes require a simple majority.

As of Sunday, the page count of the CARES Act had roughly doubled in size. The version we got on Thursday was 247 pages. The text we got on Sunday was 580 pages between two documents. The main aspects of the CARES Act are $500 billion in loans and loan guarantees for distressed industries, $349 billion for the 7(a) loan program run by the Small Business Administration, $250 billion for expanded unemployment benefits, checks to Americans under certain income thresholds, and $242 billion in supplemental appropriations. There are also several tax-related provisions designed to boost business liquidity and healthcare-related provisions designed to increase access. The total price tag is rumored to be in the ballpark of $2 trillion. The $500 billion for distressed industries is the biggest point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats also want to increase the supplemental appropriations to $450 billion. There’s also a mad rush for additions to the CARES Act.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tested positive for COVID-19. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) had been in contact with Paul, so the two Utah senators have self-quarantined. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) had already self-quarantined after meeting with individuals who tested positive. With five senators quarantined, Republicans have a 48-seat majority.

House:

In light of the criticism of the CARES Act, Pelosi said that House Democrats would begin writing their own bill. “Today, we are finalizing our Take Responsibility for Workers and Families legislation. As we do so, the Senate continues to engage in negotiation,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats. “There is at this time a big difference between the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act and what the Senate Republicans are proposing. As the Senate continues to talk, we must continue to act For The People.”

When the Senate does this “Phase III” bill, the CARES Act, the House will still need to approve it. Votes in the House this week were canceled, although that’s subject to change pending the passage of the CARES Act. Members would have 24-hours notice to get to Washington, DC for a vote. It’s also possible that the CARES Act could be approved by unanimous consent. There has been some discussion of remote voting, but that doesn’t appear likely right now. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that the House will take steps to ensure social distancing. Some have speculated that the vote could even be left open for a long period of time to allow members to get to DC to vote in small groups.