September 17, 2020
What to expect in Washington (September 17)
Political posturing over more coronavirus relief continued but the President made some potentially logjam-breaking comments. President Trump tweeted yesterday (September 16): "Democrats are 'heartless'. They don't want to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China. Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) seized on the tweet, saying, "We are encouraged that after months of the Senate Republicans insisting on shortchanging the massive needs of the American people, President Trump is now calling on Republicans to 'go for the much higher numbers' in the next coronavirus relief package." Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone yesterday but there has been no breakthrough yet.
President Trump later said during a news conference, "Some of the Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with that because I like the larger number. I want to see people get money." The comments could be aimed at Senate Republicans, some of whom have advocated frugality in additional coronavirus relief, reflected in a whittling down of previous proposals in a targeted bill put up for an unsuccessful procedural vote last week. Politico reported the Senate GOP as shrugging off the new pressure, with second-ranking Republican John Thune (R-SD) saying the bigger the price tag for any relief package, the more difficult it would be to get members on board.
The Wall Street Journal said Republicans viewed the President's remarks as reflecting a desire to reach a deal during the short congressional pre-election session. The report cited fourth-ranking Senate Republican Roy Blunt (R-MO), known as a keen observer of where things stand in Congress, as saying, "I think there's a deal to be had here. My concern is that the window probably closes around the end of this month."
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on CNBC that he is "probably more optimistic about the potential for a deal in the last 72 hours than I have been in the last 72 days."
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall tonight, after President Trump held a similar ABC town hall Tuesday night. In remarks on the coronavirus in Delaware yesterday, Biden said, "Americans have had to endure President Trump's incompetence and dishonesty when it came to testing and personal protective equipment. We cannot afford a repeat of those fiascos when it comes to a vaccine. The stakes are too high, American families have already suffered and sacrificed far too much. So let me be clear, I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and John Kennedy (R-LA) the Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, to provide tax relief to the individuals, families and small businesses in Presidentially declared disaster areas, including those impacted by the Iowa derecho, the wildfires in California and Oregon, and Hurricanes Laura and Isaias. The bill addresses: early withdrawals from retirement accounts; a tax credit for employee retention during business interruption; suspending deduction limits for charitable contributions; rules for qualified disaster-related personal casualty losses; and allowing low-income workers to use their previous year's income to claim certain tax credits.
The Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) completed its review of Revisions to the Section 168(k) Final Regulations [TCJA] (bonus depreciation).
Speaker Pelosi and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) announced that the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee recommended to the Democratic Caucus the appointment of Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to the Ways and Means Committee. The recommendation goes to a full vote by the Caucus, then the Committee will have an organizational meeting to set subcommittee assignments. Richmond is a former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and is a national co-chairman of the Biden campaign. A former college baseball player, Richmond has been a starting pitcher for Democrats in the Congressional Baseball Game with great success. Former GOP manager Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said of Democrats in the 2016 game, "They have the best player, in my opinion, who's ever played in the game: Cedric Richmond."
CDC Director Robert Redfield told the Senate Appropriations Committee, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee yesterday that masks are "the most important, powerful public health tool we have," maybe more so than a vaccine that may not produce an immune response. He said, in terms of timing for a vaccine, to be "generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of a vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021." During a news conference, President Trump asserted that "the mask is not as important as the vaccine." Redfield later affirmed the importance of a vaccine but maintained that the best defenses available currently are masks, handwashing, social distancing, and being careful about crowds.
Today at noon, the House Ways and Means Committee holds a virtual hearing on the issue of Chinese forced labor in the Xianjing province of the country.