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December 7, 2020

What to Expect in Washington (December 7)

It will be a big week for determining whether Congress and the President can reach a broad agreement on additional coronavirus spending, and perhaps other issues, that can be attached to a year-end omnibus appropriations measure. Government funding expires December 11, but a one-week stopgap continuing resolution affording lawmakers more time is likely. Agreement on a broader coronavirus bill, addressing controversial issues like state and local funding, will be required for pandemic-related tax provisions to advance, and a significant coronavirus agreement is probably required for other issues like expiring tax provisions ("extenders") to be addressed in a year-end bill. "We have a lot of work to do and just a few days to do it," Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said on ABC's This Week.

The focus of coronavirus negotiations is the $908 billion proposal that a group of centrist senators from both parties hope to run up the middle and bridge differences that have long separated Democratic and Republican leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who had been holding out for a $2 trillion bill, said last week the bipartisan framework should be the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dismissed the bill in favor of a more targeted GOP bill with tax provisions appealing to the President, an increasing number of Senate Republicans, including John Cornyn (R-TX), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have welcomed the broader proposal.

Members of the bipartisan group appeared on Sunday political shows to stress that action is necessary. On CNN, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) said lengthy discussions were continuing over the weekend. "There's been a group of eight of us — it's grown to 10 — that have worked over the last two weeks every day, except for Thanksgiving. We're going to have another multi-hour call today," he said.

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who is on the Finance Committee and has long pushed a bipartisan approach to state and local funding, said on Fox News Sunday the group's final language will probably come out early this week and Senator McConnell, President Trump, and others can suggest modifications and determine their support. "But the indications I get, the pain of the American people is driving this, and I'm optimistic that both those leaders will come on board." He said $1,200 stimulus checks likely won't be proposed by the group: "There may be a stimulus check, but that would be part of a different piece of legislation."

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said on NBC's Meet the Press, "It's a deal that must come together. We don't have a choice now. It's one of those things that has to be done." He said of the group, "After the election, we started coalescing around how do we move this forward. And we looked at basically everything that was going to terminate at the end of December. The lifelines that people are depending on. Whether it be food assistance, whether it would be shelter, whether it would be healthcare."

If a year-end package does come together, it may include numerous tax items. The still-fluid bipartisan Senate coronavirus plan doesn't yet identify tax provisions (aside from PPP deductibility) and it's unclear whether the provisions in McConnell's targeted bill, which include a further expanded charitable deduction and 100% deduction for business meals, will be agreed to. Other provisions discussed for a coronavirus bill include expansions of the Employee Retention Tax Credit and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and some state and local tax certainty for employers and employees relating to employees that have been working in 2020 in locations other than their normal place of work.

Below is a brief comparison of the Senate bipartisan and Republican proposals as outlined December 1.

Senate bipartisan proposal ($908b)

Senate Republican targeted proposal (~$500b)

State, Local, and Tribal Governments ($160b)

Not addressed

Additional Unemployment Insurance (UI), understood to be extension of pandemic programs through March plus $300/week add-on ($180b)

Extend pandemic unemployment programs for a month (but not provide a UI add-on)

Support for small businesses including Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), EIDL, restaurants, stages, and deductibility ($288b)

-Second round of the PPP plus a grant program to support shuttered live venues and theaters that have experienced significant revenue losses

-Set-aside for loans made by community lenders ($332.7b)

CDFI/MDI Community Lender Support ($12b)

Transportation (Airlines, Airports, Buses, Transit and Amtrak) ($45b)

Not addressed

-Vaccine Development and Distribution & Testing and Tracing ($16b)

-Healthcare Provider Relief Fund ($35b)

-$16 billion for testing, contact tracing and surveillance in states

-$31 billion for vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic development

Education ($82b)

One-time appropriations funding for scholarship-granting organizations, two years of tax credits for contributions

Student loans ($4b)

Not addressed

Housing (rentals) ($25b)

Nutrition ($26b)

$20 billion of additional farm assistance

Postal Service ($10b)

Forgive USPS $10 billion CARES Act Treasury loan

Childcare ($10b)

Authorizes short-term assistance to help childcare providers reopen and stay open

Broadband ($10b)

Not addressed

Opioid treatment ($5b)

Short term Federal protection from Coronavirus related lawsuits

Liability limitations for COVID-related personal injury claims against businesses, COVID-related medical malpractice claims

No tax provisions (yet) aside from PPP deductibility

-Above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions that taxpayers can claim for 2020 increased to $1,200 for those filing a joint return

-100% deduction for business meals

Tax — The Wall Street Journal this morning reported on prospects for a Biden administration Treasury Department to change global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) rules. Of the GILTI "high-tax exception," Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) was quoted as saying, "These regulations let megacorporations choose how they want to be taxed … They could take the massive tax cut Republicans gave them, or they could take an even bigger tax cut the Treasury Department pulled out of thin air."

Health — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a former 12-term congressman who served on Ways & Means, has been selected by President-elect Joe Biden as his nominee for Secretary of Health & Human Services, the New York Times reported. "A source familiar with the selection said Mr. Becerra would support the president-elect's call for strengthening and preserving the A.C.A. and would not be pushing Medicare for all while in office," the report said.


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Washington Council Ernst & Young
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