Update From Washington, D.C.
House and Senate Democrats Take First Steps on Budget Reconciliation; Administration Seeks to Increase Supply, Availability of COVID-19 Vaccines; Lawmakers Introduce Bill Extending Payroll Tax Credits to Public Agencies; Biden Issues New Executive Orders
February 4, 2021
House and Senate Democrats Take First Steps on Budget Reconciliation
In an effort to forge a bipartisan compromise on a COVID-19 relief bill, a group of 10 Senate Republicans met with President Biden at the White House this week to present their framework for a $618 billion package. While the GOP offer is the first opportunity for both sides to begin negotiations, it is far short of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal and does not include any funding for state and local fiscal relief. In addition to the lack of funding for local governments, the GOP counteroffer proposes less generous unemployment benefits and smaller, more targeted economic stimulus payments.
As bipartisan talks are expected to continue, House and Senate Democrats this week took their first steps in the budget reconciliation process – a fast-track budget procedure that could allow portions of President Biden’s COVID-19-relief proposal to pass Congress without GOP support. On February 3, the House advanced a fiscal year 2021 budget resolution (H Con Res 11) on a narrow 218 to 212 vote, while the Senate is expect to clear its resolution (S Con Res 5) later this week. According to instructions in the budget measures, congressional committees would have until February 16 to craft a bill that would increase the deficit by as much as $1.9 trillion over 10 years — giving Democratic leaders an option for advancing a COVID-19 relief package.
While Democrats have not closed the door on a bipartisan stimulus deal, this action would give them additional leverage in ongoing negotiations. If talks do break down, they would be able to quickly switch gears to pass their own proposal, though not all elements of Biden’s plan would qualify under the reconciliation rules..
Administration Seeks to Increase Supply, Availability of COVID-19 Vaccines
This week, the Biden administration announced an additional five percent increase in vaccine supply, bringing the weekly vaccine distribution to 10.5 million doses. This would be on top of the 16 percent increase announced one week earlier. Additionally, and in an effort to provide more certainty for states, the administration has committed to keeping vaccine distribution at this level or higher for the next three weeks.
The White House is also launching the first phase of a federal retail pharmacy program for vaccinations. Beginning on February 11, the administration will ship roughly one million doses per week directly to a limited number of pharmacies nationwide (approximately 6,500 locations). As more supply becomes available, the program will ramp up and eventually include up to 40,000 pharmacies.
Finally, the Biden team announced on February 3 that the federal government will partner with California to launch two new community vaccination centers: one in Alameda County at the Oakland Coliseum and the second in Los Angeles County on the campus of California State University-Los Angeles. Both centers, which will be open to eligible residents beginning on February 16, will be staffed primarily by federal employees from agencies such as FEMA, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Each site will be able to administer up to 5,000 doses a day. More details on this effort will become available in the coming days.
Lawmakers Introduce Bill Extending Payroll Tax Credits to Public Agencies
This week, Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL) will reintroduce CSAC-endorsed legislation – the Supporting State and Local Leaders Act – that would allow state and local governments to access the payroll tax credits first authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA; PL 116-127). The FFCRA required employers to provide expanded paid sick leave and family and medical leave, but only private sector employers were eligible to receive the benefit. Incidentally, the tax credits were extended as part of the latest COVID-19 relief package, but the bill did not extend the employer mandate. A companion bill will be introduced in the upper chamber by Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Biden Issues New Executive Orders on Immigration
President Biden signed three executive orders (EO) this week related to immigration. The first order creates a task force – chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security – that aims to reunify parents and children that were separated under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. The EO can be read in its entirety here. Another, which can be accessed here, develops a strategy to address the root causes of Central American migration and seeks to improve the asylum system. The final order, which is available here, calls for a review of the former administration’s immigration policies, including a review of the ‘public charge’ policy which had the effect of suppressing eligible immigrants’ willingness to access federal benefits.