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January 19, 2021

What to expect in Washington (January 19)

President-elect Joe Biden is planning a series of executive actions on Inauguration Day and the days following to, according to a memo from incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain reported on January 16, combat the four crises of COVID-19, the economy, the climate, and racial equity, plus "restore humanity to our immigration system" and "make government function for the people." To paraphrase Klain's memo, following is a timeline of some of what is expected.

On Inauguration Day, President-elect Biden will sign roughly a dozen actions including to:

  • extend the existing pause on student loan payments and interest;
  • re-join the Paris climate agreement;
  • reverse the Muslim travel ban;
  • mandate mask-wearing on federal property and inter-state travel; and
  • extend nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures.

January 21 - Executive actions to safely re-open schools and businesses, including by expanding testing, protecting workers, and establishing clear public health standards.

January 22 - Biden will direct his Cabinet agencies to take immediate action to deliver economic relief to working families bearing the brunt of this crisis.

January 25 and February 1 - Additional executive actions, memos, and directives on:

  • Buy American provisions;
  • equity and support for communities of color and other underserved communities;
  • criminal justice system reform;
  • additional executive actions to address the climate crisis;
  • expanding access to health care including for low-income women and women of color;
  • restoring dignity to the immigration system and border policies; and
  • starting the work of reuniting families separated at the border.

Nominations — Today (at 10 a.m.), the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Janet Yellen to be Treasury Secretary and she is expected to call for action on Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal.

Both the New York Times (NYT) and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) suggested the hearing will focus on pandemic economic recovery and that Yellen will tell the Committee, "Neither the President-elect, nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country's debt burden. But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big." The NYT additionally said Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) have spoken favorably of Yellen, suggested there will be renewed interest in oversight of financial firms, and said, "She will likely face questions about America's economic relationship with China, her position on sanctions policy as it relates to Iran and her thoughts on tax policy."

The WSJ previously reported that Yellen will make clear "the U.S. doesn't seek a weaker dollar for competitive advantage," representing a return to the hands-off approach to the dollar dating back to the Clinton administration, "which President Trump had deviated from by often publicly calling for a lower dollar." There are also plans for a return to the norm under which only the Secretary discusses the dollar, not any other cabinet officials or White House staff.

Senator Grassley tweeted on Friday that he spoke with Yellen and expressed hope for bipartisanship and his view that tax hikes could slow job growth and economic recovery.

Congress — Senator Grassley could be presiding over what is likely his last Finance hearing as chairman, 20 years since first serving in that capacity. Senate Republican Conference rules limit members from serving more than 6 years as chairman and 6 years as ranking member (depending on who controls the Senate). Senator Grassley stepped away from the top spot on Finance to serve as ranking member on the Judiciary Committee from January 2011 to January 2015, then as chairman of that committee through 2018 before returning to Finance as chairman. He will return to Judiciary as ranking member.

Punchbowl News reported that a Senate power-sharing agreement given the 50-50 split (+ VP-elect Harris breaking ties) could come this week, and Senators Schumer and McConnell are meeting today. Former Senators Lott and Daschle published an article in the Sunday Washington Post on the 2001 agreement, saying issues to be decided include an organizing resolution; committee sizes and party ratios; committee budgets, staff, and office space; moving to the floor bills that are subject to ties in Committee; and safety measures. They said, "The circumstances are more complicated today: The country is more polarized."

VP-elect Kamala Harris resigned her Senate seat yesterday, and CA Sec. of State Alex Padilla will likely be sworn in as her replacement on Wednesday. She will return to the Senate to cast tiebreaking votes.

The House has one less Democratic member, with the ratio 221 Democrats/211 Republicans, after Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) resigned Friday. He is joining the Biden administration. There is another LA vacancy on the Republican side due to the passing of Rep.-elect Luke Letlow. Both seats will be vacant until at least March 20, the day Gov. Edwards set for the special elections for both seats. The run-offs, if nobody gets 50% on March 20 in either district, would be April 24. (Also, Brindisi v. Tenney in NY remains undecided.)

This Friday, January 22 (12:00 p.m. ET), is the EY Webcast, "Tax in the time of COVID-19." The coronavirus (COVID-19) and the resulting economic crisis — all occurring in an election year — have made reacting to tax and trade developments more complicated and more difficult. Panelists will provide updates on: (i) Elections, US economy and tax policy; (ii) What's happening at the IRS; and (iii) Breaking developments. Register.


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For additional information concerning this Alert, please contact:
Washington Council Ernst & Young
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   • Gary Gasper (
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   • Kurt Ritterpusch (