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August 4, 2020

What to Expect in Washington (August 4)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told Democratic lawmakers after meeting with Administration officials yesterday that she is hopeful a deal on the next coronavirus bill could come together this week but, given that neither side has given any ground on the issue of unemployment benefits — Democrats want to extend the previous $600 amount, Republicans want to reduce it — "probably not until next week," Politico reported.

Following a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Speaker Pelosi said, "We are moving down the track. We still have our differences. We are trying to have clearer understanding of what the needs are." Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, "We are really getting an understanding of each side's position and we're making some progress on certain issues moving closer together. There are a lot of issues that are still outstanding, but I think there is a desire to get something done as soon as we can."

Secretary Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Meadows are set to attend the regular Tuesday Senate Republican lunch, then meet again with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer at 3:30 p.m.

A New York Times story cited senior Senate Republican John Cornyn (R-TX) as saying, "This is just the painful period between people finally deciding, 'OK, we want a deal,' and what that deal ultimately looks like." The report also said "White House officials describe Mr. Trump as interested in the talks, but from a distance," checking in with Chief of Staff Meadows and Republicans he has a relationship with, "but he does not reach out to members of the House he is not personally close with."

CNN reported on the fact that Senator Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) aren't negotiating with one another. Senator McConnell said it is nothing personal, just that "you need the guy with the pen. You cannot make a deal unless you have the President involved. So the two power-centers on legislation are the President and the Democratic majority in the House and a substantial Democratic minority in the Senate."

A Washington Post story said part of the problem is the bipartisan urgency that led to the CARES Act has faded, as has cross-aisle trust between the parties. Some moderate Republicans are urging GOP leaders to act, including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who said, "Congress has to rise to the crisis. It is too serious." Failure to reach a deal is a possibility, the story said. "I don't even want to fathom that; it's unimaginable that we wouldn't, given the needs that the country has," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). "It would just be so bad if we didn't that ultimately you would hope that … the fever would break."

During a news conference yesterday, President Trump said he can suspend the collection of payroll taxes through an executive order, "So we'll be talking about that," confirming reports that executive action to achieve a payroll tax cut pushed strongly by conservatives is being considered. The President pointed not to unemployment benefits as the main dispute with Democrats but to their call for $875 billion-plus for state and local government funding. "They want to bail out cities and states that have been in trouble for years of bad management, in all cases Democrat run cities. And we don't think that's fair," the President said.

Also yesterday, the President signed an executive order on Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access requiring HHS to develop a new model "to test innovative payment mechanisms in order to ensure that rural healthcare providers are able to provide the necessary level and quality of care" and "develop and implement a strategy to improve rural health by improving the physical and communications healthcare infrastructure available to rural Americans."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tweeted last night on President Trump questioning some of his health experts' assessment of the coronavirus in the US: "Just saw on tV that President took exception to some interview Dr Birx said abt status of pandemic. I hope President knows she is a scientist not politician President said he likes to hear all sides So u heard DrBirx/ U might disagree/ use LOVE not anger."

The global EY Tax COVID-19 Response Tracker is updated through July 31.

On Friday, August 7 (at 12:00 p.m. ET) is the EY Webcast, "Tax in the time of COVID-19." Events like the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the resulting economic crisis have made managing tax positions and tax functions much more difficult. To get the information your company needs to know now, join our panelists for a conversation about operating the tax function in these difficult times. Registration information is forthcoming.


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