- The Senate is waiting for the House of Representatives to finish up details on an economic relief bill that would provide support to millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus.
- The House passed that bill early Saturday morning, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are reportedly working to make “technical corrections.”
- While there has been plans for the House to unanimously pass the bill before the corrections were finished, a lone representative has objected, keeping that bill in the House until it is done.
- There were also conflicting reports about Democrats and Republicans trying to sneak abortion legislation into the bill, though it is unknown how much truth is behind those reports.
When Will the Senate Vote on a Coronavirus Bill?
Texas Representative Louie Gohmert is insisting on reading a series of “technical corrections” made to a bill poised to provide economic relief to Americans affected by the coronavirus. In short, that could keep the bill out of the Senate even longer.
At around 1 a.m. Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed that bill 360-40 in a bipartisan effort.
Further details of the bill, which was designed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are still being hashed out by Pelosi and Mnuchin. This is because there are reportedly “major differences” between the White House and Democrats over what gets adopted and what needs to be changed.
Still, the Senate, which announced last week that it would be canceling its scheduled recess, is expected to vote on the bill soon.
“Senators on both sides are carefully reviewing the details and are eager to act swiftly to help American workers, families, and small businesses navigate this challenging time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
However, that process is now snagged with Gohmert’s hold up.
“We still do not have a final draft of the negotiated changes being called ‘technical corrections’ and some of us believe that the newly worded laws should be finished before we pass them,” Gohmert said on Twitter.
Essentially, the House would have voted to pass the corrections before they were finalized, but it would have needed unanimous consent. With Gohmert’s objection, that means a vote will have to wait until he’s read the changes.
Once in the Senate, one of the big questions regarding the bill is if senators will pass it in one go. While lawmakers will no doubt try to expedite the legislation as swiftly as possible, there is a fair chance that the Senate will amend some of the bill’s provisions and send it back to the House.
“Most of the measures in this bill are something that the senators will support, I believe,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said on Fox & Friends. “But we worry that the bill setting up a new and complicated system relying on businesses giving paid sick leave and then getting a refundable tax credit that won’t move quickly enough and could put pressure on those businesses to lay workers off.”
What’s in the Bill?
The bill, which was supported by President Donald Trump, provides a series of measures including sick leave, free testing, boosted unemployment insurance, and food programs for children, the elderly, and U.S. territories like Puerto Rico.
Notably, it does not include Trump’s original plan of payroll tax cuts; however, that’s not necessarily off the table. Both Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have indicated that there will likely be more relief measures. It’s possible payroll tax cuts could end up being put in those.
“This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers,” Trump said in a series of Tweets supporting the bill nonetheless. “I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES! I will always put the health and well-being of American families FIRST. Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!”
….the health and well-being of American families FIRST. Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 14, 2020
The bill has received some criticism for its policies around sick leave.
As it stands, it would ensure that employers provide 14 days of paid sick leave at 100% of a person’s pay, as well as up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at no less than 67% of a person’s normal pay.
The caveat, however, is that it does not include all workers and pertains mainly to businesses with less than 500 employees.
The bill makes no mention of large companies with more than 500 employees, largely because both Pelosi and Mnuchin said they didn’t want to give those companies taxpayer subsidies.
“U.S. taxpayer money subsidizing corporations to provide benefits to workers that they should already be providing,” Pelosi said on Twitter.
On Sunday, Mnuchin echoed her thoughts by saying “big companies can afford these things.”
That means employees of those businesses have to rely on company policy, and different companies do things differently. Just because they can pay for it doesn’t mean they will, and that has been a major argument driving the criticism around this measure.
For example, Uber is offering two weeks of paid sick leave, but it is unclear how that will be calculated. Olive Garden is also offering sick leave to its hourly employees, but it’s only giving them 40 hours, which is notably less than what other companies will need to grant under this House bill.
Was Abortion Legislation Wrapped Up in the House Bill?
The House bill also reportedly hit another snag as Pelosi and Mnuchin were trying to reach a deal before its introduction.
Oddly enough, the debate was seemingly over abortion.
On Thursday, conservative news outlet the Daily Caller reported that “Pelosi sought to include a potential way to guarantee federal funding for abortion into the coronavirus economic stimulus plan, according to multiple senior White House officials.”
However, Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez painted a much different story.
“Right now, we are hearing that some of the fights and some of the gridlock is because people are trying to put pro-life provisions into this,” she told Brett Baier on Fox News.
Obviously, those are two very different testimonies, and as Snopes puts it, since the specifics of those negotiations are unknown, it’s hard to “untangle these competing narratives.”
However, “The hold-up appeared to have concerned the inclusion — or lack of inclusion — of what is known as Hyde Amendment language.”
The Hyde Amendment prohibits the federal government from funding abortions except in rare cases.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (Snopes)
Trump Signs Order Allowing Former Troops to Be Called Upon for Coronavirus Fight
- President Trump signed an executive order that allows for former troops to be brought back to active duty to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
- This is not an immediate order to call former service members back, but it is typically used when the military is in need of specific skill sets, like persons with high demand medical capabilities.
- Officials are still reviewing who might be activated.
- The order comes just days after the Army called upon former service members to voluntarily rejoin and help in the military’s response efforts. Over 14,000 have expressed interest as of Friday.
Trump Signs Executive Order
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday that allows the Pentagon to bring former U.S. troops and members of the National Gaurd and reserve back to active duty to help those already battling the county’s coronavirus outbreaks.
During his press conference Friday night, Trump said the decision allows the federal government “to mobilize medical, disaster and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus by activating thousands of experienced service members including retirees.”
“We have a lot of people, retirees, great military people — they’re coming back in,” Trump added.
What This Means
The executive order released by the White House states that anyone recalled can remain on active duty for up to 24 months straight. It provides the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security the authority to order as many as 1 million individuals at one time, however, it is not an order to do so.
According to Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman, the order applies to units and individual members in the National Guard and Reserves and certain Individual Ready Reserve members who are normally in an inactive status.
Hoffman said that decisions about who may be activated are still being reviewed, but he added, “Generally, these members will be persons in Headquarters units and persons with high demand medical capabilities whose call-up would not adversely affect their civilian communities.”
As of now, the Individual Ready Reserve contains 224,841 members, according to the Department of Defense, and nearly 11,000 of those members “have medical capabilities.”
“This is a dynamic situation, we do not currently have a projected number of expected activations, but the Department is now fully authorized to make activations as needed,” Hoffman said.
He also stressed that the departments would consult with state officials before using any National Gaurd Reserve Component units under the executive order.
Earlier this week, the Army called upon former service members to voluntarily rejoin and help in the military’s pandemic response efforts. The Army said the initial response has been positive, with at least 14,6000 people expressing interest as of Friday.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (CNN) (Fox News)
FDA Authorizes Portable Test Kit That Can Detect COVID-19 in 5 Minutes
- The FDA has approved the use of a new coronavirus test kit that can give positive results in as little as 5 minutes and negative results in 13, leaps faster than the hours and sometimes days laboratory tests normally take.
- The tests are run on a lightweight and small portable device that can be used in emergency rooms, urgent care clinics, and even outside hospital walls.
- Abbott, the medical device company that makes the kits, plans to send out 50,000 tests a day starting next week.
New Test Approved
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave Emergency Use Authorization to the medical device company Abbott for a new coronavirus test kit that gives results within minutes.
Abbott announced the news in a Friday press release, saying it plans to start delivering 50,000 tests a day beginning next week. The tests run on the company’s ID NOW platform, a portable device about the size of a small toaster than weights only 6.6 pounds.
Its portability means it can be used directly in an emergency room or urgent care clinic and even, “outside the traditional four walls of a hospital in outbreak hotspots.”
The company called it “the fastest available molecular point-of-care test for the detection of novel coronavirus(COVID-19), delivering positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes.”
Second Rapid Test to Be Approved by FDA
The approval from federal health officials means that regulators were satisfied with the test’s validation data and are confident that its benefits outweigh any risk, like false positives or negatives.
The FDA’s approval marks the seconds time it has green-lit a fast working test that could accelerate testing across the country. Last week, it approved a 45-minute rapid point of care test by the molecular diagnostics company Cepheid. However, that test is primarily intended for emergency rooms and hospitals, not doctors’ officers or urgent care clinics.
Still, those turnaround times are leaps faster than the hours to days it takes most laboratory tests to bring results.
Medical Shortages Still Cause Concern
The approval of the Abbott test comes as cities across the nation battle with numbers of potential patients that surpass available tests and resources. Even with insufficient testing, the United States became the country with the largest number of reported cases of coronavirus on Thursday, exceeding China and Italy. By Friday, the U.S. hit more than 100,000 cases.
Many fear that shortages of other critical medical equipment, like masks and swabs, could stifle the new rapid test’s impact. That’s because the kit requires a swab sample collected from patients, and many health care facilities are running desperately low on the tools needed to safely collect those samples.
The Center for Disease Control issued guidance Tuesday that allows some patients to collect their own nasal swabs in health care facilities, in an effort to reduce the amount of protective equipment needed for health care workers.
On the opposite end, however, others note that fast and efficient testing can help medical professionals determine how much protective equipment they actually need to wear when interacting with a patient, as well as what kind of care to provide. Since this test can be done in a doctor’s office, it could even potentially help diagnose patients with mild or asymptomatic cases of the virus and help stop them from unknowingly spreading it.
Experts also say drastically increasing testing capacity can help get the economy back on track sooner. With increased testing, measures like keeping everyone at home could be replaced with more targeted identification and isolation of those infected.
EPA Limits Environmental Regulations During Coronavirus Crisis
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is scaling back its enforcement of environmental rules during the coronavirus emergency as businesses face challenges like layoffs and accessibility issues.
- The temporary policy allows companies to monitor their own compliance with environmental laws, and the EPA said it will not issue penalties for violations of certain reporting requirements.
- Many critics slammed the move, arguing that it opens doors to excess pollution and does not prioritize the health and safety of people and wildlife.
- The EPA defended the policy, saying it has reserved its authorities for situations other than routine monitoring and reporting and will consider the pandemic’s impacts on a “case-to-case basis.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will limit the enforcement of certain regulations as the coronavirus pandemic continues, leaving companies in charge of monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws.
The agency unveiled the temporary policy on Thursday, arguing that businesses are running into obstacles like layoffs and accessibility issues as the virus alters normal life across the nation.
“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
Under normal circumstances, companies must report when their facilities release a certain amount of pollution into the air or water. Now, that requirement will be put on hold for the time being.
“In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request,” the policy states.
The agency also said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules. It noted that the policy does not apply to criminal violations or hundreds of the country’s most toxic waste sites that fall under the Superfund act. The EPA also said it expects public water systems to maintain high standards.
“Public water systems have a heightened responsibility to protect public health because unsafe drinking water can lead to serious illnesses and access to clean water for drinking and handwashing is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the policy says.
The memo said that the changes will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, with no set end date indicated.
Criticism of New Policy
Some, including people in the oil industry, had been asking for these regulations to be loosened, but others slammed the EPA’s choice, claiming it is too broad and lax.
Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under the Obama administration and is now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the policy an “open license to pollute.”
Some called the changes “outrageous” and “evil,” accusing the EPA of prioritizing businesses over the health of individuals and wildlife.
Prominent figures in the climate change fight slammed the move as well.
“The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment,” teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted. “This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for.”
Others pointed out the irony of suspending rules that preserve air quality while a respiratory disease makes its rounds across the country.
“What part of, ‘air pollution increases our vulnerability to respiratory diseases LIKE CORONAVIRUS,’ is not clear, EPA?” one Twitter user wrote.
Defense of Policy
The EPA stood behind their move and did not agree with its classification as a dismissal of regulations.
“It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” Andrea Woods, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “For situations outside of routine monitoring and reporting, the agency has reserved its authorities and will take the pandemic into account on a case-by-case basis.”
Susan Parker Bodine, the EPA official who issued the policy, said that it does not excuse organizations from consequences if they do committ environmental violations.
“If you do have violations of your permit, you’re still obligated to meet your permit limits, you’re supposed to do everything possible,” Bodine told ABC. “And after the fact the agency will take that all into consideration but there isn’t a promise of no penalties in those kinds of situations.”
“If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat … the facility has to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or come into the agency,” she added. “And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping these facilities safe keeping communities safe.”