With election results still pending throughout the nation, the landscape in Washington for the lame-duck session and the next two years remains unclear. Right now, it is projected that Democrats will retain a majority of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, although likely by a narrower margin than they currently hold. In the Senate, Republicans are likely to maintain their majority, although by a narrower margin than the 53 seats they currently hold. In the race for the White House, former Vice President Joe Biden has now secured 264 electoral votes, according to projections from the Associated Press, leaving him just six electoral votes away from the 270 needed to win the White House. President Trump has secured 214 electoral votes thus far. AP has not yet made projections for Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, or Alaska, but additional calls are expected to be made today.
The outcome of the election results will directly impact legislative items that Congress will consider in the upcoming lame-duck session in November and December, including a coronavirus relief package. Reversing course, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said yesterday Congress needs to pass another coronavirus relief package by the end of the year, contradicting earlier statements that Congress should wait until early next year to move another relief package. (See the Capitol Hill section for more details.)
AP reports the U.S. is averaging 86,000 coronavirus cases per day, setting all-time highs that have led to record hospitalization rates. Today again, the U.S. confirmed 102,831 new cases, setting another new single-day record. Over the last two weeks, coronavirus cases have increased 45 percent, and data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows deaths are up 15 percent, to an average of 846 deaths every day.
Capitol Hill. Leader McConnell said on Wednesday he wants to pass a coronavirus aid package in the winter lame duck session, stating that Americans “need another rescue package” for the coronavirus and should pass one before the end of the year. He maintained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) HEROES 2.0 package, which the House passed on October 1 and which totals more than $2 trillion, is too expensive and includes too many measures not directly related to the virus. “I laid on the Senate floor not once but twice a half trillion dollars,” McConnell said. “We can all remember when that was a lot of money.” McConnell also did not rule out that more state and local aid could end up being in a final agreement, but signaled that Republicans still believe a smaller package is the way to go.
McConnell said on the Hugh Hewitt show before the election he expected another coronavirus stimulus in January, not in the lame duck session. But prospects for a lame duck deal may have brightened due to the likelihood of a divided government, rather than a Democratic sweep of the House, Senate and presidency. “Hopefully the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election,” McConnell said.
Lawmakers also must fund the government by Friday, December 11 in order to avert a shutdown. McConnell and Pelosi have agreed to try to pass a FY 2021 omnibus appropriations package in early December rather than relying on another stopgap measure.
Administration. The Department of Labor announced there were 751,000 initial unemployment insurance claims last week – a decrease of 7,000 from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 787,000, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous week's revised average. The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 5.0 percent for the week ending October 24, a decrease of 0.3 percentage point from the previous week.
The Federal Reserve Board adjusted the terms of the Main Street Lending Program in two important ways to support smaller businesses that employ millions of workers and are facing continued revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic. Notably, the minimum loan size for three Main Street facilities available to for-profit and non-profit borrowers has been reduced from $250,000 to $100,000 and the fees have been adjusted downward.
SBA’s Inspector General released a report on fraud related to Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). The IG found “SBA, in its effort to provide billions of dollars of capital to small businesses quickly, “lowered the guardrails” or relaxed internal controls, which significantly increased the risk of program fraud. The unprecedented demand for COVID-19 EIDLs and the equally unprecedented challenges SBA had in responding to this pandemic combined with lowered controls resulted in billions of dollars in potentially fraudulent loans and loans to potentially ineligible businesses.” Bloomberg also reported on the IG report.
The Food and Nutrition Service (USDA) issued a final rule to add regulations that will ensure the integrity of the supplemental allotments for households with children who would have otherwise received free or reduced price school meals but for school closures or reduction in the number of days or hours that students attend school in response to COVID-19.
The Small Business Administration began circulating a “loan necessity questionnaire” to businesses borrowing over $2 million. According to SBA, the Administration is “reviewing these loans to maximize program integrity and protect taxpayer resources. The information collected will be used to inform SBA’s review of your good-faith certification that economic uncertainty made your loan request necessary to support your ongoing operations.”
The Department of Education is collecting data from colleges and universities to ensure funds received under the Higher Education Emergency Education Relief Fund (HEER Fund) are being used properly. The CARES Act allows colleges and universities to use a portion of federal funds received to cover costs associated with the significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to COVID-19.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a Request for Information (RFI) to gather broad public input on the NIH Strategic Plan for COVID–19 Research. The RFI invites stakeholders throughout the scientific research, advocacy, and clinical practice communities, as well as the general public to comment on the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for COVID–19 Research.
The Federal Communications Commission will open its Connected Care Pilot Program tomorrow to provide up to $100 million from the Universal Service Fund to provide connected care services. The application window will remain open through December 7.
As reported yesterday in TFG’s Transportation Notes, CDC issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order that introduces a phased approach for the safe and responsible resumption of passenger cruises. Also, a summary from CDC regarding what the agency is doing for cruise travelers is here.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports it has cited 144 establishments for violations relating to coronavirus, resulting in proposed penalties totaling $2,025,431. OSHA also issued respiratory protection guidance focused on protecting workers in nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities.
According to Roll Call, health officials in some states say they are beginning to offer testing to students and teachers, but they are still figuring out how to determine who should be tested and how frequently testing should occur. The CDC has not recommended that schools test all students or faculty. The Rockefeller Foundation is studying how schools in five areas – Louisville, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Tulsa, and Rhode Island – are using rapid tests in schools.
United Airlines will offer free COVID-19 rapid tests to passengers between the New York area and London as part of a four-week trial program. The testing will run from November 16 through December 11 on select dates for 12 flights from Newark Liberty International Airport to London Heathrow Airport.
Pfizer Inc., has publicly reported the demographics of test participants. The data may fall short in terms of diversity and information on age groups. While COVID-19 cases affect people of all ages, nearly 95 percent of deaths were people aged 50 or older.
Due to rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide, some state and local governments are reintroducing restrictions like those from the spring, causing a spike in Americans making large grocery store runs and stockpiling essential goods. According to a recent poll, more than half of Americas (52%) said they planned to stockpile goods in October.
A WHO official stated airline, airport, and international efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus have resulted in a “relatively safe” travel environment. The WHO health emergencies chief Mike Ryan said there is a low risk of being exposed to the virus during travel. However, authorities must figure out how to integrate travelers into health surveillance systems once they arrive at their destination, he said.
Boeing announced plans for thousands of additional job cuts in the next year. Boeing CEO David Calhoun told staff in a memo the company plans to have 130,000 employees at the end of 2021, down from 160,000 at the beginning of 2020.
England has re-entered a national lockdown, following other European nations which have taken drastic steps to counter a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths across the continent. The restrictions, effective today, will close restaurants, bars and non-essential businesses until December 2.
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