Weekly Report from Washington 03/23/20
The Senate will come back Monday and stay in session long enough to pass the third coronavirus emergency bill. Then the House will likely come back to vote through the third coronavirus emergency bill.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOThe House was in recess last week.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House is in recess this week, but will likely come back to vote through the third coronavirus emergency bill, if they ever come to agreement.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate returned to work on Monday, and immediately took up S. 3501, a 77-day extension of FISA authorities. By unanimous consent, the Senate agreed to the extension. At a time to be determined, likely in May, H.R. 6172, the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, will be taken up, with 10 hours of debate overall, and one hour of debate on each of three amendments:
- An amendment from Sen. Mike Lee on amicus reforms and exculpatory evidence
- An amendment from Sen. Rand Paul on the rights of Americans
- An amendment from Sen. Steve Daines on a Section 215 web browser/search history data collection prohibition
Then the Senate waited for the House to send over H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. That was the bill that passed at 12:50 AM on Saturday, March 14. It was so hastily drafted that the 110-page bill had to have what’s called a “technical corrections” bill passed after it, to clean up the mess. And the technical corrections bill was 46 pages, almost half again as long as the original bill itself.
Texas Republican Louie Gohmert wanted to make sure the technical corrections were really nothing more than technical corrections, so he stayed in Washington. And he read the 46 pages when they were presented, and he insisted on having the 46 pages read out loud to the House chamber before he allowed the unanimous consent request.
So … it took some time before the Senate could get the bill.
Consequently, it was Wednesday before the Senate could start voting. The Senate took up three amendments to the bill, but defeated all three of them. Then the Senate took up the bill itself, and passed it by a vote of 90-8.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on the Motion To Proceed to H.R. 748, which will serve as the legislative for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate returned to work today, with a vote to invoke cloture on the Motion To Proceed to the third coronavirus response package. That vote failed to achieve cloture, with the vote ending in a 47-47 tie, as Democrats refused to agree to what was in the shell bill.
That bill is still under construction as we have this conversation, so I cannot tell you with certainty what is in it. Suffice it to say that in terms of a dollar amount, it is the largest single piece of legislation ever considered by the Congress of the United States. It will likely end up totaling somewhere between $1.4 and $2 trillion. That includes:
- $250 billion expansion of Unemployment Insurance
- $46 billion in emergency funding for COVID-19 response and preparedness
- $350 billion for small business
- $250 billion in $1,000 direct tax rebates
- Payroll tax holiday for small business
But I’m not at all sure right now that all of this money will come in the form of grants – for example, Sen. Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania and a former president of the Club for Growth, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this morning that, “The vast majority of this is going to be and has to be, under law, a broad base credit facility that will be available across categories, across sectors and industries. And it’s, and it’s, has to be repaid. None of this is grant money. None of this is free money. This is all going to be liquidity that is provided to fundamentally solvent companies to get them through this time.” He’s not talking about the entire bill there, he’s talking about the money that will be made available to help businesses stay open.
Meanwhile, we can expect a huge increase in spending on unemployment insurance, and the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans are pushing strongly for direct payments from the IRS to individual taxpayers who make up to $99,000 per year.
Negotiations in the Senate were supposed to be conducted and concluded Friday. Friday night came and went without a successful conclusion to the negotiations, so they came back Saturday and picked up where they left off, hoping they could conclude Saturday night. Saturday night came and went, too, so negotiations continued today.
But as of Sunday afternoon, Speaker Pelosi was saying she would have the House begin working on its own bill. That could complicate things, as the House is not in session, and no one knows exactly how they could conduct a vote with 435 people, anyway. Perhaps they would leave the vote open for days, and minimize the number of Members and staff on the floor at any given time.
At this point, the situation is very fluid. Stay tuned.
Two weeks ago, I boldly predicted that with all that Congress had on its plate, it would be likely that both houses would get together to pass a 30- or 45-day clean reauthorization of the expiring portions of the USA FREEDOM Act, to make sure that those sections of the law did not expire while they continued to negotiate.
As I acknowledged last week, I was wrong. House leadership on both sides, apparently having been dissatisfied with the work done by the committee chairmen and ranking members, had decided to take matters into their own hands to work out a deal. And they had gotten it done – Wednesday afternoon, the House had voted to pass the bill and send it to the Senate.
But it turns out I was right after all, because the Senate was not at all ready to consider an extension of the expiring surveillance authorities in a rush, especially not when they had decided that the Senate’s response to the coronavirus emergency was far more important.
So the Senate passed a 77-day extension of the expiring provisions, and we will revisit the issue at a later date to be determined, most likely in May.
Joe Biden won Democratic presidential primary elections in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona on Tuesday. The governor postponed the primary in Ohio. Seven states have now postponed their Democratic presidential primary elections.
NBC News: House Sends Coronavirus Relief Bill To Senate After Delay By Rep. Gohmert