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Capitol Hill Update: September 8, 2020

09/08/2020

Schedule:

The Senate is in session this week. The House is in recess.

Senate:

The Senate will return today at 3:00 pm to resume consideration of the nomination of Brett H. Ludwig to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. A vote on the cloture motion for Ludwig’s nomination is expected around 5:30 pm. Cloture on Ludwig’s nomination was filed before the Senate adjourned for the recess on August 13. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also filed cloture on four other nominees, who are listed below.

  • Christy Criswell Wiegand to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
  • Hala Y. Jarbou to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan
  • Thomas T. Cullen to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia
  • Diane Gujarati to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

McConnell may bring a trimmed down, dare we say “skinny,” version of COVID-19 legislation to the floor at some point this week, scrapping the $1+ trillion bill, the HEALS Act, unveiled in July. “Today, the Senate Republican majority is introducing a new targeted proposal, focused on some of the very most urgent healthcare, education, and economic issues. It does not contain every idea our party likes. I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation,” McConnell said in a release on Tuesday. “I will be moving immediately today to set up a floor vote as soon as this week.”

What exactly will be in this slimmed-down COVID-19 bill is unclear, but Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has said that the bill will be “focused on getting people back to work, getting kids back to school.” So, expect money for schools, some sort of extension of unemployment insurance benefits, perhaps a liability shield, and possibly more money for the Paycheck Protection Program. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already dismissed the bill. In a letter, Schumer wrote, “With no money for rental assistance, no money for nutrition assistance, and no money for state and local services, the census, or safe elections, Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans would be making another unacceptable and ineffective attempt at providing relief.” Any bill will need 60 votes for a cloture motion on a motion to proceed. Schumer’s letter suggests that Democrats will block any procedural motion, not allowing the bill to move forward. But the real point of the bill isn’t passage. It’s a vote to give vulnerable Republicans cover, as well as to cast Democrats as unreasonable.

Negotiations over a larger COVID-19 bill haven’t really progressed much. The two sides are still far apart. The White House upped its price tag to $1.3 trillion, previously $1 trillion, and are focusing on areas of agreement, such as extending unemployment benefits and another round of stimulus checks. Democrats want a package with a price tag of $2.2 trillion. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said last week that progress had been made, but he added that “probably the biggest stumbling block that remains is the amount of money that would go to state and local help.” That continued to be the case through the three-day weekend. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute recently noted that state and local governments aren’t in the dire straits that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer make them out to be, losing only 3 percent of revenues between the first and second quarters of the year.

The fiscal year ends on September 30 and a new one begins on October 1. Congress hasn’t passed any of the 12 regular appropriations bills for FY 2021. Based on FY 2019 figures, these bills represent 30 percent of all federal spending. Mandatory spending, which includes entitlement programs, and interest payments on the share of the debt held by the public are on autopilot, not subject to congressional appropriation. The House has passed 11 of the 12 bills (Legislative Branch appropriations is the only one that hasn’t been considered), but those bills were dead on arrival in the Senate. The Senate didn’t even markup any appropriations bills. There’s apparently an agreement between Mnuchin and Pelosi on a continuing resolution (CR). We can only speculate at the length of the CR, although three months is likely. COVID-19 provisions may be included if a deal is reached. The timing of votes on the CR in the House and Senate also isn’t clear.

The full Senate committee schedule for the week is here.

House:

The House will return on Monday, September 14 and is currently scheduled to be in session through Friday, October 2. Both chambers will recess for all but two days of October, ahead of the election. The bills on the floor during the week of September 14 will include the Strength in Diversity Act, H.R. 2639; the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, H.R. 2574; the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act, H.R. 2694; and a condemnation of all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19, H. Res. 908. Additional legislation is possible, if not likely.

The full House committee schedule for the week can be found here.