Legislative update

Insights & Analysis

federal legislative update

February 22, 2021

Overview

Following the January 6th insurrection, the nation's attention was largely focused on the impeachment process that ended in the acquittal of former President Trump. With Congress once more free to focus on the Biden Administration agenda, the budget framework for a $1.9 trillion COVID response bill is headed for passage with a simple majority in the coming days. The annual appropriations process is also underway, with each congressional office setting its own submission deadline for somewhere between now and the end of March. It looks like earmarks may return, though only for nonprofits. G2G has continued to participate in numerous calls and meetings – all virtually – this year and expect to continue to do so throughout most of the year.

ECONOMY—COVID Response and Economic Stimulus Plan

On February 8th, House Democrats unveiled the first version of President Biden’s COVID-19 relief stimulus bill. Democrats would like to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and make another round of stimulus payments, however, the former looks unlikely. A total of 12 committees have met to assemble the stimulus bill for a House floor vote during the week of February 22nd. Once the bill goes to the Senate, it is designed to be passed with just 50 members (plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris) using the special budget reconciliation procedure.

Under Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), the House Ways and Means Committee’s draft measures would send $1,400 payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 or couples making $150,000. Those payments would phase out so that singles earning more than $100,000 or married taxpayers making $200,000 and up would not receive a check. Eligibility would be based on 2019 or 2020 income. The bill would also send $1,400 payments to adult and child dependents in households that qualify. The Ways and Means Committee’s plan also includes an extension and expansion of unemployment benefits, which are currently scheduled to run out in mid-March. The bill would increase the weekly federal benefit to $400 from $300 and extend it through the end of August. Benefits for self-employed individuals and gig workers, as well as those who have exhausted their regular jobless benefits, would also be extended. Paid-leave benefits for workers are another highlight of the relief package, which include tax credits for employers with fewer than 500 employees to reimburse them for the cost of the leave, as is an increase in the annual child credit to $3,600 a year for children 5 and younger and $3,000 for those six and up.  

Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott’s (D-VA) draft bill includes Biden’s minimum-wage proposal, which also phases out the below-minimum wage for tipped workers. The committee estimates that 27 million workers would see a pay increase under the provision by 2025, if passed. Additionally, the Education and Labor panel’s language also includes $130 billion for kindergarten through 12th grade school reopening support, $40 billion for higher-education institutions, $39 billion for childcare businesses, $5 billion for extended pandemic food benefits, $4 billion for expanded home-heating assistance, and $1.4 billion for senior-care services.

Under the terms of the 2021 budget adopted earlier this month by Congress, the Financial Services Committee, headed by Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), is charged with drafting legislation totaling $75 billion in deficit increases due to the increased spending. The Waters panel’s draft language includes $10 billion to use the Defense Production Act to produce masks and other Covid-19 equipment, $25 billion for rental assistance (largely administered through the Treasury Department), $5 billion in assistance for the homeless, $10 billion for direct assistance to homeowners for mortgage payments, property taxes and utility costs, and $14 billion in payroll assistance to airlines, with $1 billion for their contractors.

As for the Transportation Committee led by Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the draft text includes: $50 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deal with the COVID-19 disaster, $30 billion for transit, $8 billion for airports, and $1.5 billion for Amtrak.

DEFENSE—Pentagon and Congressional Updates

Lloyd J. Austin III was sworn in as the 28th Secretary of Defense on January 22, 2021. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with more than four decades in uniform, Austin is retiring as a four-star Army general after three years as commander of U.S. Central Command. The Senate and the House first had to waive the requirement that a defense secretary must have been retired seven years before assuming the position, prompting Austin to assure congressional leaders that he fully supports civilian control of the U.S. military and voicing a commitment to “rebalance” collaboration and coordination between the joint staff and the civilian staff “to ensure civilian input is integrated at every level of the process.”

Austin has made fighting the COVID-19 pandemic a priority, and on Friday February 5th, he approved FEMA’s request for more than 1,000 active-duty troops to support vaccination sites across the country. Austin also made it clear that foreign nations such as China, Iran, and North Korea still pose a threat to the security of the United States.  

On February 17th on Capitol Hill, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) led the House Armed Services Committee in a hearing on the Department of Defense’s Evolving Roles and Mission in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. DoD witnesses confirmed deployment is not stalled by lack of vaccines, and efforts to increase testing and appropriate quarantine protocols are being implemented.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees reorganized due to some retirements of senior members and new Democratic control. In the House, Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) decided to create a new subcommittee to be led by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI). It will be a new, seventh subcommittee called

HEALTH – COVID

The White House COVID response team lead by Jeff Zients has been making steady progress over the past few weeks, increasing vaccine supply with a purchase of 600 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna, accelerating distribution and creating more places to get vaccinated. The Administration appears to be on track to meet the President’s goal of delivering 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said, “We have yet to control this pandemic. The three waves of infection last year showed that the virus does rebound when people are more mobile.” Walensky said she would discourage any idea or move that would relax restrictions on social distancing. While the nation is coming down from the wave of infections that began in November and crested in January, she says the background level of cases remains dangerously high.

In Congress, there are dozens of bills pending on COVID response issues, ranging from vaccine supply chain resiliency to increasing the ability of nursing facilities to access telehealth services, to providing assistance for school re-openings. The House Energy and Commerce committee, Senate HELP committee, and the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis are all key committees pushing legislation regarding the coronavirus pandemic. In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) delivered opening remarks at a full committee markup on legislative recommendations for its budget reconciliation instructions. Pallone stressed the committee’s top priority is to combat the virus, provide relief to struggling families, and to rebuild the economy. Pallone introduced four committee plans which invest billions of dollars in defeating the pandemic and helping American families, including:

• $14 billion to speed up the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines across the country

• $46 billion in a national testing strategy, with funding for rapid tests, community-based testing sites and expanding lab capacity

• $7 billion for the mobilization of a public health jobs program to support the pandemic response

• $25 billion in addressing health disparities and protecting vulnerable populations

The Committee is also working on other critical funding needs during this pandemic, including mental health, environmental health, and consumer protection provisions.

EARMARKS ARE BACK

In 2010, Congress issued a moratorium on earmarks. In 2021, they may be coming back to a Congress where more than half of the lawmakers have never worked with earmarks before. On February 16, Appropriations Chairs Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced they will allow earmarks in FY2022 appropriations bills, as long as they are directed toward nonprofits. There are specific accounts that work for programming, capital expenses and research. G2G has secured millions of dollars in earmarks for clients, knows the accounts and system for including them in the appropriations bills, and is pleased to see them return. Many worthy causes have been addressed over the years, thanks to earmarks. If you are interested in submitting, you will need to move quickly. If you are interested in learning more, please send me an email.

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