House

House Energy and Commerce Committee to Investigate Health, Dental Insurers Over Record Profits
On Aug. 6, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced an investigation into health and dental insurers’ business practices as companies reported record-setting second quarter profits. Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) is concerned that companies are profiting from patients’ forgoing care. In addition he questions why insurers are denying coverage for COVID-19 testing, while accumulating large cash reserves. He will ask companies whether they are covering tests cost-free as required by law and how they intend to use their profits to help Americans during the crisis. The committee has yet to say which companies will be investigated. Find more information here.

House Ways & Means Committee: COVID-19 Nursing Home Data Missing, Unreliable
On Aug. 5, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) wrote to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma that his committee has found large gaps in the COVID-19 data nursing homes report to CMS. Rep. Neal announced that the incomplete data is making it difficult to accurately assess death rates and staffing needs and to allocate provider relief funds. The committee wants to know by Aug. 21 how CMS will fix the data collection problems. Find more information here.

Senate

Wyden Introduces Legislation to Prevent Vaccine Manufacturers From Hiking Prices Post-Pandemic
On Aug. 7, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced legislation to maintain lower prices for a COVID-19 vaccine for all vaccines developed with government funds. The Vaccine and Coverage Certainty Act caps increases on prices the drug manufacturers offer the federal government during the pandemic. The inflation rebates proposed in the bill apply to Medicare and Medicaid. The legislation would also provide more federal Medicaid funding to states that expanded Medicaid coverage after 2014, ensure migrants have access to Medicaid, and protect people who are experiencing job and health insurance instability during the pandemic and associated economic concerns. Find the bill here.

Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

This week: FCC requests comment on social media order as White House withdraws O’Rielly nomination; U.S. Justice Department asks court to block California net neutrality law; FTC Commissioners testify before Senate Commerce on Section 230, antitrust; Congress voices support for Open Technology Fund; National Institutes of Health announces new COVID-19 testing technologies.

FCC Requests Comment on Social Media Order as White House Withdraws O’Rielly Nomination

On July 27, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) related to President Trump’s May Executive Order on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Monday the agency would collect public comment on the petition; initial comments are due by September 2 and reply comments are due by September 17. The Petition would have the FCC create regulations to clarify the scope of the liability protections afforded under Section 230 for third party users.

Also on Monday, President Trump withdrew Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s renomination to another five year term. O’Rielly has been a member of the FCC since 2013 and was confirmed for a second term in January 2015. His reappointment would have been retroactive to June 30, 2019 and would conclude in 2024, but now he must step down at year’s end.

Although President Trump has not commented on rescinding O’Rielly’s renomination, reports indicate the decision might have to do with the Commissioner’s reservations regarding the President’s Executive Order to clarify the scope of Section 230, and in particular whether the FCC has proper authority to limit social media companies’ legal protections. He expressed his concern in remarks last week before The Media Institute, whose primary mission is to promote freedom of speech. The decision could also relate to O’Rielly’s support for Ligado Network’s plan to use L-Band spectrum to support 5G and other Internet of Things services. Just last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) placed a hold on O’Rielly’s renomination over the FCC’s Ligado order.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

Hearings

Senate Committee on Finance: Part 1: Protecting the Reliability of the U.S. Medical Supply Chain During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Tuesday, July 28, 2020: The Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the U.S. medical supply chain in a two-part series. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) argued that the main concerns around PPE and medical equipment are the fault of the U.S.’s major supplier, China. Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) believes that the concerns revolve around a lack of organization and oversight by the Trump administration and its agencies. Members agreed that increased domestic production was a first step toward solving the supply chain concerns.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce: Improving Access to Care: Legislation to Reauthorize Key Public Health Programs
Wednesday, July 29, 2020: The Subcommittee of Health on the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to discuss the following legislation:

  • H.R. 2075, the “School-Based Health Centers Reauthorization Act of 2019”
  • H.R. 4078, the “EARLY Act Reauthorization of 2019”
  • H.R. 4439, the “Creating Hope Reauthorization Act”
  • H.R. 4764, the “Timely Reauthorization of Necessary Stem-cell Programs Lends Access to Needed Therapies Act of 2019” or the “TRANSPLANT Act of 2019”
  • H.R. 5373, the “United States Anti-Doping Agency Reauthorization Act of 2019”

Find more details on the hearing here.

Senate Committee on Finance: Part 2: Protecting the Reliability of the U.S. Medical Supply Chain During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Thursday, July 30, 2020: The Senate Committee on Finance held a second hearing on the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the U.S. medical supply chain, in a two-part series. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: The witnesses across the supply chain agreed that more oversight by the agencies of the Trump administration, and more transparent allocation and bidding could help lessen the counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE) and price gouging.

House

House Approves $1.3 Trillion Spending Package for 2021
On July 31, the House approved a $1.3 trillion appropriations package for the 2021 fiscal year, 217-197. The package included the spending bills for Defense; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; Commerce, Justice and Science; Energy and Water; Financial Services and general government; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

House Republicans Accuse States of Not Using CARES Act Funds
On July 30, the House Ways & Means Republicans said a recently released Treasury Inspector General (IG) report proves states do not need extra COVID-19 funds, as several states have not even spent half of their CARES Act allocations. House Ways & Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) pointed out that the IG report shows while Michigan and New Jersey’s governors have specifically asked for more relief, they have spent 3 percent and 2.1 percent respectively of their CARES Act funds from March 1 through June 30. The Senate GOP proposal gives states greater flexibility in spending their CARES Act funds instead of sending them more money.

Senate

Senate GOP Proposal Includes Liability Limits, Telehealth Waiver Extensions

On July 27, Senate Republicans unveiled their proposal for the next COVID-19 response bill. The draft includes a provision that would keep Medicare Part B premiums in place for next year instead of increasing the premium. The idea is to protect Medicare’s 62.5 million beneficiaries from a spike in the Part B premium which is anticipated because of less money flowing into the program in the midst of the pandemic. However, beneficiaries would pay an average of $3 a month extra until the shortfall caused by freezing the premiums is recouped. In addition, the proposal would delay providers’ repayment of Medicare funds they received as part of the initial COVID-19 response. Repayment would be delayed until Jan. 1, 2021. Find the proposal here.

Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

This week: A tech-focused week in review, big tech testifies at House Antitrust hearing, Senate Commerce holds a hearing on the PACT Act as calls for Section 230 reform grow.

A Technology-Focused Week in Review

Amidst frenzied efforts to enact a COVID-19 relief bill to extend unemployment benefits during global pandemic and address issues such as state and local funding needs, PPE and testing needs nationwide and liability protections for employers, Congress briefly turned its attention to the technology sector.  In two hearings in particular, Congress set its sights on scrutinizing whether this critical sector of our economy has sufficient competition or is dominated by a few key companies and whether statutory protections that have allowed the sector to offer consumers a diverse array of content should remain intact or if they are in need of updating.

The Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held its sixth hearing in its series “Online Platforms and Market Power,” but it was the first time it heard directly from the CEOs of the four largest technology companies: Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook. For more than five hours, the Antitrust Subcommittee members probed questions on the role of these companies in today’s economy and whether they have used their position in the market to further extend their market power. The areas of concern range from online search and advertising, app store policies for developers, and e-commerce. Content moderation focused on political speech and alleged bias against conservative voices was also an issue of debate at the hearing.  The law under which these and other online companies moderate their content, Section 230, was the subject of a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing earlier in the week, in which Chairman Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Schatz (D-HI) heard from expert witnesses on whether Section 230 should be updated to reflect current market conditions.

Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) sent a petition for rulemaking to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking the FCC to seek public comment on rules to constrain the applicability of Section 230. The NTIA petition was prepared pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order issued on May 28, 2020 and seeks the adoption of regulations by the FCC to define certain statutory terms and clarify what practices are outside the scope of Section 230’s liability protections.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

Hearings

Senate Committee on Aging: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Seniors: A Look at Racial Health Disparities
Tuesday, July 21, 2020: The Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing on how the COVID-19 pandemic and racial health disparities are affecting the country’s seniors. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Ranking Member Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) highlighted how challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have erected barriers between communities of color and accessible health care, and how this has exacerbated the deadly impact of the virus for older Americans of color.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Pathway to a Vaccine: Efforts to Develop a Safe, Effective and Accessible COVID-19 Vaccine
Tuesday, July 21, 2020: The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to cover ongoing efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Operation Warp Speed finalists testified on whether the rapid pace of vaccine development could lead to approvals of vaccines that are not up to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) historical standards. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna and Pfizer testified at the hearing. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Leaders of the companies working on COVID-19 vaccines predict they should have shots available by early 2021, but said they will rely on the federal government to determine how to distribute them.

House

House Passes First Set of Appropriations Bills
On July 24, the House approved a $259.5 billion spending package in a 224-189 vote. The four-bill minibus adds to the budgets at the departments of State, Interior, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and other agencies. The package is the first of two fiscal 2021 funding bundles that House Democrats plan to pass by the end of the month. The House will take up a seven-bill, $1.4 trillion package this week that would fund the Pentagon and the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Energy and more.

Appropriations Committee Urges Domestic Production of Drugs, Domestic Production of Influenza Vaccine
On July 23, the House Appropriations Committee urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to boost domestic production of drugs and drug ingredients and to make more influenza vaccine than usual to gear up for a second wave of coronavirus infections colliding with flu season. The committee added that Medicare can hopefully improve vaccination rates among seniors by figuring out how to make vaccines free in Part D, similar to coverage in Part B. The proposals were included in the HHS spending bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee last week, with a 30-22 vote.

Senate

Senate GOP to Unveil COVID-19 Aid Bill, After Delay
On July 23, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced a delay in the Senate Republicans’ counteroffer to the Democratic $3.4 trillion coronavirus bill. The bill is expected to be released today. The delay put in jeopardy a bipartisan goal of getting a bill done by July 31 in jeopardy. The Republican $1 trillion bill will include $105 billion in support for school reopening, a liability shield for businesses that reopen, a reduced boost in federal unemployment insurance down to 70 percent of pre-pandemic pay and a possible second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses. A side-package will propose more direct payments to individuals, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Republican Senators Call for Grassley Drug Pricing Bill to be put in COVID-19 Relief Plan
On July 22, Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) gave floor speeches in support of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 (S. 2543), Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) drug pricing bill. Sen. Grassley wrote a bipartisan bill with Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), which was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Grassley, in seeking support for the bill, made changes to the bipartisan bill with no Democrats supporting. Find the bill here.

Senate Refuses to Vote on Bill That Would Require Trump to Invoke DPA
On July 22, the Senate rejected Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) request to pass by unanimous consent a bill that would require President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to provide states with medical equipment, such as tests, respirators, gowns and gloves. During a Senate floor debate, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) objected to Murphy and Baldwin’s bill, the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act (S. 3627), arguing that the two senators were trying to bypass the committee of jurisdiction. The House included its version of the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act as part of its COVID-19 relief package, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, which passed the House on May 15.

Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

With the Senate back in session this week, Republican leaders were expected to unveil their Phase 4 coronavirus relief proposal, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) announced this evening that while Republicans have reached “an agreement in principle with the Administration,” he will not bring legislation to the floor until next week. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) yesterday, marking the beginning of what are expected to be contentious negotiations. However, the White House and congressional Republicans and Democrats are united in their goal to pass a Phase 4 bill before Congress leaves for the August recess.

Today, the House began consideration of H.R. 7608, a “minibus” FY21 appropriations package consisting of the State and Foreign Operations, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and Interior and Environment spending bills. Floor action for the second minibus is scheduled for next week, though leaders are under pressure to pull the Homeland Security bill from the package. This week, the House also passed the $750.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395) in a veto-proof 295-125 vote. Today, the Senate approved its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 in an 86-14 vote. The President has threatened to veto it if it includes directives to rename military installations named after people associated with the Confederacy, among other provisions.

Both chambers continue to hold hearings examining various COVID-19-related issues, including its impact on certain sectors and communities and the federal government response. This week, committees looked at issues ranging from protecting Americans from COVID-19 scamsefforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccinea look at racial health disparities, seniors and COVID-19getting veterans back to work after COVID-19the State Department’s COVID-19 responseexamining the national response to the worsening pandemic:capital access for small minority businessesproviding for economic recovery from COVID-19how to safely reopen public schools, and FEMA’s preparedness and response efforts during the pandemic.

Also this week, the Treasury Department published Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lender application forms for 1) federally insured depository institutions, federally insured credit unions, and farm credit system institutions and 2) non-bank and non-insured depository institution lenders and the Small Business Administration (SBA) updated its summary of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Round 2 data.

What’s Next

With text now not expected until Monday at the earliest, there will be a race to find consensus on a Phase 4 COVID relief package that can pass both chambers – and that the President will sign – before Congress aims to leave Washington the first week of August for recess.

In the meantime, Senate and House committees have scheduled a number of COVID-19-related hearings next week on topics including oversight of COVID-19 financial relief packages, a review of private sector telework policiesprotecting the reliability of the US medical supply chainreducing uncertainty and restoring confidence, and kick starting entrepreneurship and main street economic recovery.

Elsewhere, while the House is moving forward with FY21 appropriations, the Senate has not yet begun the process, all but guaranteeing Congress will have just a handful of legislative days in September to avert a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year.

Relevant Resources

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

House

House to Consider Four-Bill Appropriations Minibus this Week
On July 16, in advance of House floor consideration, the House Appropriations Committee released the first minibus of fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills. The House is expected to consider the legislation, H.R. 7608, this week. The package includes four FY 2021 spending bills: State-Foreign Operations, Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies bill funds THE Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For FY 2021, total discretionary funding in the legislation is $23.98 billion, an increase of $487 million above the FY 2020 enacted level. In total, the bill allows for $153 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $331 million above the FY 2020 enacted level. The bill prioritizes important agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development, farm services, agricultural trade, financial marketplace oversight and nutrition programs, both domestic and international. Find more details here.

Bipartisan House Members Introduce the “Protecting Access to Post COVID-19 Telehealth Act”
On July 16, Rep. David Schweikert (AZ-06), co-chair of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus, along with caucus co-chairs Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), and caucus member Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), announced the introduction of the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act. This bipartisan bill will continue the expanded use of telehealth beyond the coronavirus pandemic by eliminating restrictions on the use in Medicare, providing a bridge for patients currently using the practices because of the crisis and requiring a study on the use of telehealth during COVID-19. Find more details here.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Neal Releases Report Examining Inequities in American Health System
On July 14, the House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) released a staff report, titled “Left Out: Barriers to Health Equity for Rural and Underserved Communities,” that analyzes the barriers to health care in underserved communities and discusses the challenges associated with scalable and sustainable solutions. From massive geographic coverage deficiencies to structural environmental factors, the report examines the realities millions of Americans face that adversely affect their health. The report also takes a close look at how these challenges are biproducts of systemic racism and economic inequality. Disparities and inequalities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report says. For example, telehealth and other technology have been helpful during the pandemic for some, but it will not help if individuals do not have access to smartphones or broadband. Find the report here.

Energy and Commerce Committee Sends 4 FDA Drug, Device and Labeling Policy Bills to House Floor
On July 15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed four bipartisan Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy bills that would increase the FDA’s authority over imported counterfeit medical devices, stop gaming of certain orphan drug exclusivity provisions, boost use of continuous manufacturing and empower the FDA to require labeling updates for generic drugs. All bills cleared the committee by voice vote.

  • The Fairness in Orphan Drug Exclusivity Act (H.R. 4712), by Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Buddy Carter (R-GA) and David McKinley (R-WV), would amend the cost recovery prong pathway under the Orphan Drug Act to require drug makers seeking orphan drug designations to demonstrate they do not expect to recoup development costs.
  • The National Centers of Excellence in Continuous Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Act (H.R. 4866), by Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), would direct FDA to designate National Centers of Excellence in Continuous Pharmaceutical Manufacturing (NCEs) with the aim of increasing use of continuous manufacturing in drug development. NCEs would work with FDA and industry to craft a national framework for continuous manufacturing. The bill would authorize $80 million to be appropriated for NCEs each year from fiscals 2021 through 2025.
  • The Making Objective Drug Evidence Revisions for New (MODERN) Labeling Act (H.R. 5668), by Reps. Guthrie (R-KY) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), would give FDA authority to make drug companies update generic drug labeling.
  • The Safeguarding Therapeutics Act (H.R. 5663), by Reps. Guthrie (R-KY) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), would allow FDA to seize and destroy counterfeit medical devices that are refused admission at the border, if the devices are valued at an amount less than $2,500 or any higher amount set by the Department of the Treasury.

Find more details here.

Senate

Sen. Casey Says Republican Senators Should Increase Medicaid in Next COVID-19 Bill
On July 16, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) asked for provisions in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that would bump the federal Medicaid match rate for states a second time to be included in the next coronavirus stimulus package. He said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not include enough state aid in his proposal for the upcoming package. H.R. 6800, already passed in the House, would bump the Medicaid match to 14 percent starting July 1 through June 2021. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act initially bumped the match up by 6 percent.

Sen. Grassley Introduces the Updated Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2020
On July 2, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) reintroduced bipartisan legislation co-authored by Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2020, which originally passed out of the committee on a bipartisan 19-9 vote. All provisions of this updated legislation have bipartisan support. Joining Grassley in introducing the bipartisan legislation as original co-sponsors are Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Mike Braun (R-ID), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Find the legislation here.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

While the Senate remains in recess until July 20, the House is continuing to hold hearings examining various COVID-19-related issues, including its impact on certain sectors and communities and the federal government response. This week, committees looked at issues ranging from increased risks to consumers during the pandemicexamining the national response to the pandemicexposure notification and contact tracing: how AI helps localities reopen safely and researchers find a cure, challenges for women- and minority-owned businesses accessing capital and financial services during the pandemic and confronting the unequal impacts of COVID-19.

The Administration was focused this week on encouraging schools to reopen for in-person instruction this fall. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos suggested on Tuesday that schools that do not reopen will not be eligible for federal funding, a sentiment President Trump echoed on Wednesday on Twitter. The President also hosted a roundtable on school reopening on Tuesday. In the meantime, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.

Elsewhere, the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) released Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan-level data on the 4.9 million loans made to date. The data includes specific data such as business names and addresses for loans over $150,000 and overall statistics on loan dollars per state and distribution by industry, among other data points. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston also announced the Main Street Lending Program is fully operational and ready to purchase qualifying loans.

As coronavirus cases continue to spike in dozens of states, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week that the current status of the pandemic in the United States is “really not good” and that the country is still “knee-deep in the first wave.” The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched ‘surge’ COVID-19 testing in hotspot jurisdictions in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas as HHS and the Department of Defense (DOD) announced a $1.6 billion agreement with Novavax to demonstrate commercial-scale manufacturing of the company’s COVID-19 investigational vaccine. HHS and DOD also announced a similar agreement with Regeneron for its investigational anti-viral antibody treatment.

What’s Next

The Senate returns to Washington the week of July 20 and Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) is expected to unveil Senate Republicans’ proposal for Phase 4 coronavirus response legislation shortly thereafter with limited floor time remaining before Congress is scheduled to recess for most of August. Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short reiterated this week that the White House wants Congress to send the President legislation to sign before the recess.

The bill will differ significantly from the House Democrats’ $3 trillion HEROES Act. McConnell has maintained that the package will not exceed $1 trillion, a figure echoed this week by Short. It will also center on liability protections for businesses as the economy continues to reopen. Chief among the disagreements between Republicans and Democrats will be whether to extend the temporary $600/week pandemic unemployment benefits authorized by the CARES Act. Most Republicans oppose this relief as a disincentive to return to work.

The Senate will be in recess next week, but House committees have scheduled a number of COVID-19-related hearings on topics including ICE contractors’ response to the pandemiccapital markets and worker protectionsDepartment of Energy oversight, and federal and state pandemic supply preparedness and responsethe importance of transatlantic cooperation during the pandemicfederal investments in technology, and long-lasting solutions for small business recovery.

Relevant Resources

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

Hearings

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP): “COVID-19: Update on Progress Toward Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School”
Tuesday, June 30, 2020: The Senate HELP committee held hearing in its continuing series on Americans returning to work and school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) suggested during the hearing that either states or Congress pay for COVID-19 tests to encourage people to return to work and cover the testing cost for students returning to school. In addition, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci added that surveillance testing is going to be very important to not only understand the current occurrence of the virus and society, but where it is going.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce: High Anxiety and Stress: Legislation to Improve Mental Health During Crisis
Tuesday, June 30, 2020:The Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to discuss 22 pieces of legislation, a response to mental health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Mental health experts testifying before the committee said the social isolation, job loss and even the coronavirus’ attacks on the human brain has led to a surge of suicides, depression, anxiety and other mental health ills.

Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: Review of Operation Warp Speed – Researching, Manufacturing, & Distributing a Safe & Effective Coronavirus Vaccine
Thursday, July 2, 2020: The Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of the Senate Committee on Appropriations held a hearing to discuss the progress of Operation Warp Speed, continuing efforts to provide a COVID-19 vaccine. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: As of the morning of this hearing, 128,000 Americans have died and nearly 2.7 million have tested positive for COVID-19. The hearing addressed where the vaccine development process stands, with estimates at the end of this year, or start of 2021.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis: The Administration’s Efforts to Procure, Stockpile, And Distribute Critical Supplies
Thursday, July 2, 2020: The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing to examine the Trump Administration’s efforts to procure needed personal protective equipment, testing media, and other medical supplies in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  The hearing also covered the federal government’s plans to coordinate the distribution of supplies to states and local communities and to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile to meet current and future demand. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Major suppliers, manufacturers and distributors to hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes expressed concern to the subcommittee that obtaining personal protective equipment for U.S. medical personnel and patients under current conditions is “not sustainable.” The companies shared requests to the White House Supply Chain Task Force for a coordinated federal response, saying they lack the data to obtain the best prices and prioritize supplies.

House

House Passes ACA Enhancement, Drug Pricing Bill
On June 29, the House passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, 234-179. The bill by House Democrats is meant to enhance the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by boosting the law’s tax credits, reversing the Trump administration rules seen as undermining the law and encourage states to take up Medicaid expansion. The bill also includes drug-pricing provisions as an offset. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score for the legislation, if the 14 states that have yet to take up the Medicaid expansion would do so, another 4 million people could gain coverage. Find the legislation here.

Pallone Requests HHS Release State COVID-19 Testing Strategies
On June 26, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), requesting it send all state and local COVID-19 testing plans to Congress by July 6. In a letter, Rep. Pallone outlined how each state, locality, territory and tribe receiving Paycheck Protection Program funding is required to send HHS their plans for COVID-19 testing and goals for the rest of the year. He said since the Trump Administration is delegating the testing strategy to states and localities, those plans should become public. Find the full letter here.

House Energy and Commerce Chair, Others Request HHS to Explain Canceled Coronavirus Research Grant
On June 26, Chairs of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair and others, the House Science Committee and their investigations subcommittees asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar for a briefing on the April decision to cancel the grant to the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance. The group was studying how coronaviruses spread from bats to people. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) ended its grant after reports linked the work to a Wuhan, China lab at the center of conspiracy theories about the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Bill Foster (D-IL) sent a letter requesting details about White House and other federal agencies’ involvement in the decision, whether other grants have been canceled and any analysis indicating that funds from the EcoHealth grant improperly went to the Wuhan lab. Find the letter here.

Senate

Senate Democrats Introduce Resolution, Demand Trump Administration Defend ACA
On June 30, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced a resolution requesting the Trump Administration halt efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and instead defend the law against the constitutional challenge as they say the Department of Justice is required. The resolution points out that if the Supreme Court case that could invalidate the ACA were successful, millions of people would lose access to Medicaid coverage, subsidies to purchase individual market plans, the exchanges and consumer protections. Consumer would face coverage denials and discrimination based on health status as well. Find the resolution here.

Grassley, Walden Request Investigation into COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths

On June 29, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting the OIG initiate an investigation into whether or not five states – California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – violated federal guidance in pressuring nursing home facilities to accept patients who tested positive for COVID-19. The letter cites guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), suggesting state officials that pressured COVID-positive patients back into nursing homes may have risked their health and safety. Find the letter here.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

House and Senate committees are continuing to hold hearings examining various COVID-19-related issues, including its impact on certain sectors and communities and the federal government response. This week, committees looked at issues ranging from the 2020 tax filing season and IRS COVID-19 recoverysafely getting back to work and schooloversight of the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s pandemic responseinfrastructure development opportunities to drive economic recoverythe Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and the Administration’s efforts to procure, stockpile, and distribute critical supplies.

This week the House and Senate passed a bill that extends the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) until August 8. About $130 billion in PPP funds remains uncommitted. The bill now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Also this week, the Treasury Department published its second Small Business Administration (SBA) PPP Loan Report and updated its Payroll Support Program FAQs. The SBA issued an interim final rule providing additional PPP guidance on eligible payroll costs. The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) announced the deployment of $10 million in CARES Act funding to the network of MBDA Business Centers and national minority chambers of commerce.

Elsewhere, the White House and federal agencies continue to take other steps to respond to the outbreak, including, but not limited to:

  • The Vice President Pence hosted a call with governors to discuss local, state, and federal COVID-19 response efforts.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it will extend partnerships with national pharmacy and grocery retail chains to provide access to COVID-19 testing.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published interim considerations for COVID-10 testing in homeless shelters and encampments and issued guidance for “Visiting Beaches and Pools.”
  • The Federal Communications Commission increased funding for its Rural Health Care Program to $802.74 million, the most in the Program’s history.
  • Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced nearly $800 million in grants to 347 airports in 46 States and 4 Territories.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published guidance on the development and licensure of vaccines to prevent COVID-19.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual Technology Transfer Report, which highlights agricultural innovations from scientists and researchers.
  • The Department of Education announced the creation of the Rural Tech Project, a competition for high schools and local educational agencies to develop “student-centered technology education” that can be used in rural communities impacted by the coronavirus.
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoske announced the agency’s “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure” campaign to contain the spread of COVID-19 and support healthy and secure summer travel.

A complete overview of both congressional and Administrative response efforts is available here and updated daily.

What’s Next

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance fiercely debated legislation aimed at preventing online sexual exploitation of children, the so-called EARN IT Act, S. 3398. The bill, as revised by a manager’s amendment, would remove technology companies of liability protections when users knowingly share child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on their platforms.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate will focus on a Phase 4 coronavirus relief package when it returns from its two-week recess on July 20, with the aim of finishing before the House and Senate depart for their August break. Over recess, staff is expected to begin drafting the next round of relief which is expected to include liability protections as entities continue to reopen.

Following Independence Day, the weeks of July 6 and 13 in the House will be devoted to remote committee work. On July 7, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment will hold a hearing on examining the impact of COVID-19 on the future of higher education.  The same day, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy will hold a hearing entitled, “Paycheck Security: Economic Perspectives on Alternative Approaches to Protecting Workers’ Pay During COVID-19.”

Relevant Resources

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.