Posted by 17 April 2020
The federal government’s program offering forgivable loans to small businesses affected by coronavirus ran out of money today. Senators are making little progress in resolving differences over legislation that would replenish this fund.
The third coronavirus relief bill contained $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP). The PPP provided forgivable loans to small businesses as long as they kept paying employees and met other conditions. There was such a strong response to this program that the initial $350 billion soon proved inadequate. There were signs soon after its implementation that the program would run out of money in mid-April.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) attempted to pass legislation to provide another $250 billion. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected, meaning that the Democrats would filibuster the attempt. He desired more money for hospitals and state and local governments added to the small business aid. The two sides have been negotiating since last week in an attempt to overcome their differences.
The House of Representatives is likely to follow the lead of the Senate on this issue. Democrats in that body are also supporting the same aid demands as the Senate. However, if the Senate passes a small business aid bill without the additional funding, the House is unlikely to stop it.
There will likely be legislation to provide this small business aid next week. What is unclear at this time is whether it will contain any funding for Democratic priorities.
Do you think that legislation to provide funds for small business loans should also contain money for hospitals and state governments?
Posted by 15 April 2020
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has issued one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the nation in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This week, hundreds of her state’s residents rallied at the state capitol building to protest her actions.
Hundreds of people showed up in Lansing to denounce the governor’s actions and demand that she allow businesses to re-open.
Last week, Gov. Whitmer issued orders to businesses that prevent many from staying open or selling certain items. Many of her critics point out that this order allows the sale of alcohol and lottery tickets, but not items like seeds or plants. She has also asked state residents to refrain from non-essential travel. They say that the governor is overly harsh, taking steps that do little to combat the coronavirus’s spread.
Gov. Whitmer’s order goes beyond the federal guidelines, which are not binding. She defends her order as being necessary to stop the virus’s spread in a state that has the third-highest number of victims.
Many Republicans in the state disagree, however. They point out that other governors have not gone as far as she has done in restricting what businesses can operate or what they can sell. They contend that her orders are damaging the economy and putting people out of work.
The stay-at-home order expires on April 30.
What type of activities and businesses do you think governors should be restricting to deal with the coronavirus?
Posted by 15 April 2020
With many working losing their jobs or seeing their hours cut, some activists and politicians are calling on states and the federal government to suspend or even cancel rent or mortgage payments. Critics, however, say this policy is short-sighted and will cause big problems in the long-run.
Politicians across the political spectrum are proposing that government step in and suspend or cancel rent payments. Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida wants federal action to postpone rent payments for 60 days if a renter has an income under $75,000. The Seattle City Council passed a resolution unanimously asking Washington Governor Jay Inslee and President Trump to cancel payments for rent and mortgage. The city council in Alexandria, Virginia, may also consider a similar resolution.
Under these plans, either the state or federal government would suspend or cancel the payment of rent or mortgages for as long as the coronavirus emergency lasts. There has been no action on these proposals yet, but state and local governments have imposed moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
Supporters argue that with so many people losing jobs, it would be unfair to expect them to pay rent during this time. They say that failing to stop rent payments could lead to a wave of homelessness. They note that many people who are paying rent have lower incomes, so they are especially hard hit by the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis.
There are many people who are pushing back against this idea, however. They point out that there is little legal authority to cancel the payment of either rent or mortgages, even in an emergency. They also note that canceling these payments would cause harm to either the owner or the rental property or the holder of the mortgage, which could have severe ripple effects throughout the economy.
Do you support canceling the payment of rent and mortgages during the coronavirus crisis?
Posted by 14 April 2020
By 2050, Virginia’s utilities must be producing carbon-free energy under a law signed this week by Gov. Ralph Northam.
This legislation requires that Dominion Energy, which serves most of the state, to provide energy to customers that was made without any carbon emissions by 2045. Another utility, which serves a smaller part of the state, must go carbon-free by 2050.
Those who support this measure say it is necessary to help combat climate change. They argue that this transition will create jobs in the clean energy sector and improve the state’s environment. Opponents, however, predict that this will raise energy costs for consumers and businesses. They note that such an outcome will destroy jobs and hurt the state’s economy.
When Virginia voters elected a Democratic majority to the state’s legislature, these legislators ran on an ambitious slate of liberal ideas. This carbon-free mandate was one of those proposals. Republicans had controlled the legislature or the governorship prior to 2019’s elections, and had prevented Democratic legislators’ attempts to pass many of these bills in previous years.
A handful of other states have mandated a switch to no-carbon energy production, but Virginia is the first southern state to do so.
Posted by 13 April 2020
Senators today put off consideration until Thursday of new money for a federal aid fund for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. Partisan differences are standing in the way of quick consideration of a new infusion of federal cash.
The Senate met in a brief session today but conducted no business. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has set Thursday as the day the body will consider an additional $250 billion in funding for the small business loan program. Congress established these loans in the last coronavirus aid bill. This will provide forgivable loans for small businesses that continue to pay employees through June. If these businesses do this, they will not have to repay their loans.
Trump Administration officials warn that the initial $350 billion provided to this loan program will be depleted soon. Some say this could occur as soon as the end of the week.
Sen. McConnell is pushing for a fourth aid bill that would provide another $250 billion for this program and nothing else. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports this additional money, but also wants the bill to include funding for hospitals and state and local governments. Sen. McConnell has said these additional priorities should be discussed in a separate bill.
Neither side is backing down from its demands. With no easy path to enact this bill, Sen. McConnell said that the Senate will reconvene on Thursday to consider the bill. It remains to be seen if it can be passed if Democrats object.
Do you think the Senate should wait until Thursday to provide more funding for loans to small businesses affected by the coronavirus?
Posted by 10 April 2020
The federal government is in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus epidemic. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) wants a commission to look into how well the government prepared for the epidemic and how well it is performing in its response.
Under Rep. Schiff’s legislation, Congress would create bipartisan commission to examine the federal government’s preparedness and response to the coronavirus epidemic. This commission would examine the strengths and weaknesses of these efforts, and make recommendations for future preparedness.
Rep. Schiff says that such a commission is common after major events such as the terrorist attacks on September 11th and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He notes that commissions like this can help prepare the federal government to respond to future incidents. Critics, however, see this as a commission that would be used to embarrass the Trump Administration for political reasons.
Under this proposal, the commission would have a bipartisan mix of experts, including those with a medical background. It would hold hearings and have subpoena power. At its conclusion, it would issue recommendations on how to improve the federal response to future epidemics. This report would not be released until February 2021.
Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats of California, are planning on introducing similar legislation in the Senate.
Do you think Congress should establish a commission to examine the federal response to the coronavirus epidemic?
Posted by 09 April 2020
Rival plans for coronavirus aid failed to advance in the Senate this week.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to advance the Republicans’ version of a fourth coronavirus relief bill. That legislation contained $250 billion in new spending for loans to small businesses affected by the epidemic. These loans would be forgiven if small businesses met certain qualifications, such as keeping their employees hired. The third coronavirus aid bill set up this loan program with $350 billion in funding, but it is in danger of being exhausted by applicants.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objected to the consideration of legislation to provide this new money. Instead, he proposed adding new spending for other areas in this bill. Some of the things that Senate Democrats want included are a $100 billion aid program for hospitals, $150 billion in funding for state and local governments, and a more generous food stamp program.
There is some disagreement about members of Congress and Trump Administration officials about what the federal government should do next to respond to the economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic. Sen. McConnell and the White House are pressing for a quick infusion of cash to the small business loan program, then putting off a larger aid bill for future discussion.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he is not opposed to some of the ideas proposed by Democrats, but does not support enacting them right now. Sen. Schumer says that Congress should not wait to provide money that he says is desperately needed right now.
Do you support including funding for hospitals, state and local governments, and food stamps in a bill that includes more aid for small businesses affected by the coronavirus?
Posted by 08 April 2020
Congressional leaders are looking to advance legislation this week that contains more funding to help small businesses affected by the coronavirus epidemic.
Under the plan being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Congress would appropriate an additional $250 billion for forgivable small business loans. This would not create a new program, but would provide money for the small business aid contained in the previous coronavirus aid legislation. That bill set aside $350 billion for these loans. Many fear this money will quickly run out, however.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants to include other items in this bill, such as funding for hospitals and a federal bonus for front-line workers. Other Democrats are also supporting the inclusion of other relief items. Sen. McConnell is remaining firm that the only thing the bill should focus on is small business aid.
If there is agreement on this new round of funding, the Senate could pass the bill on Thursday and the House could pass it on Friday. If no member objects, both bodies could pass it by unanimous consent. However, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) is indicating he will object to passing the bill in this way, necessitating a return of at least 218 House members to the capitol building.
Do you support Congress providing another $250 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses?
Posted by 07 April 2020
Discussions over what should be in a fourth coronavirus aid bill are occurring in both houses of Congress. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today proposed that such legislation should contain a fund to give front-line workers a bonus for their service during the pandemic.
Under Sen. Schumer’s plan, workers deemed “essential” would qualify for a bonus that could be up to $25,000. These workers include doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, truck drivers, and pharmacists. For those workers who are paid under $200,000 a year, their federal bonus could be no more than $25,000. For workers who are paid more than $200,000 a year, their bonus would be capped at $5,000.
Sen. Schumer labeled his idea the “Heroes Fund.”
Congressional leaders and White House staff have been in discussions about whether there should be another coronavirus aid bill and what should be in this legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that the Senate may work this week on relief legislation. His preference is that the bill contain more aid for small businesses.
There have already been three coronavirus aid bills that have passed Congress and been signed into law by President Trump.
Do you think the federal government should give $25,000 payments to essential workers such as doctors, grocery store clerks, and truck drivers?
Posted by 06 April 2020
Across the nation, governors are shutting down businesses they deem as offering non-essential services. Some states have labeled abortion clinics are being non-essential. Now Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) is saying that more governors should shut down abortion clinics around the nation.
According to Sen. Kennedy, abortions are not a necessity during this time. He also says these clinics are diverting medical professionals from caring for people sick with COVID-19, and that these clinics have medical supplies that could be used elsewhere.
Four states have included restrictions on abortions in their lockdown orders. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued to stop these restrictions, with federal courts mostly siding against the shutdown orders. In Texas, a federal court ruled against the state shutting down abortion clinics, then another court reinstated the shutdown order.
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU argue that women still need abortions during the coronavirus crisis, and shutting down clinics would result in harm to these women. Other critics of these orders say that these governors are using this crisis as a pre-text to advance an anti-abortion agenda.
Do you think that abortion clinics should stay open during the coronavirus epidemic?
Posted by 03 April 2020
Republicans and Democrats are battling over how states should change their election procedures in response to the coronavirus.
In key battleground states, Democrats are pushing to make it easier for people to vote by mail. They argue that the coronavirus epidemic shows the need to give voters more options to cast their ballots. Among the items they are supporting is mailing a ballot to every registered voter or moving elections to exclusively vote-by-mail.
The Trump campaign and Republicans in these states are pushing back on these ideas. They acknowledge that steps need to be taken to deal with election-related consequences of the coronavirus, but they contend that these should not permanently alter election procedures. They also say that some of the moves being pushed by Democrats will open the door to voter fraud.
With a handful of states yet to hold primary elections in the coming months, states are moving to increase the use of mail-in ballots and absentee ballots. It remains to be seen what will happen for the November general election. If the social distancing orders are no longer in place, there will be less urgency to alter election procedures. But if there is still a need to keep people separated to slow the spread of the virus, or if the coronavirus has another outbreak at this time, there will be a strong movement to change how the election is conducted.
What changes, if any, should states make to their election procedures in response to the coronavirus?
Posted by 02 April 2020
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants Congress to pass a fourth coronavirus aid bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expressing skepticism about this idea, however.
Over the past month, Congress has passed three aid bills related to the coronavirus pandemic that has stopped much economic activity across the U.S. and killed thousands. These bills received broad bipartisan support, with Republicans and Democrats in Congress working with the White House to craft bills that the president quickly signed into law.
That consensus is breaking down with the prospect of a fourth aid bill. Speaker Pelosi says it is necessary to boost spending on health centers and housing aid, as well as enact a large infrastructure spending package. President Trump has also signaled his support for passing a bill to pay for a multitude of transportation and infrastructure projects, arguing that interest rates are low so now is the time to build.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that it is too soon to do another aid bill. He said he would rather wait to see how this crisis develops and discuss such legislation later. He also noted the high price tag of already-passed aid bills, saying that the federal government needs to consider the affordability of future action.
If Speaker Pelosi wants to proceed with new coronavirus legislation in the House, she could do so. She has remarked, however, that she prefers to proceed in conjunction with the Senate and White House. It remains to be seen if Sen. McConnell will agree to talks with the House leadership.
Do you think there should be a fourth coronavirus aid bill?
Posted by 01 April 2020
The Department of Transportation today announced that it is changing the federal regulation requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency. Under the new rule, car manufactures must increase fleet fuel efficiency by 1.5% every year. That is a change from the standards set under President Obama, which mandated a 5% yearly fuel efficiency improvement.
This announcement affects the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, a federal mandate on carmakers. Under this requirement, car manufacturers must increase the fuel efficiency of their entire fleet by a certain amount. Not every model of car needs to be more efficient year-after-year, but the average for the fleet must improve.
The Trump Administration defends its actions, pointing out that overall fuel efficiency will still increase, just not by as much as mandated under President Obama. The President notes that this will make cars more affordable, saving consumers money – something he says is especially important given the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
Critics, however, say this is a step backwards in terms of environmental policy. They argue that this will hurt efforts to fight climate change. They also contend that consumers will be worse off, since they will be spending more money on fuel over the long-term.
Environmental groups are preparing to challenge the rule change in court.
Do you support reducing the federal mandate on automakers to produce vehicles that are more fuel efficient?
Posted by 31 March 2020
Most states held their primary elections prior to the onset of social distancing restrictions related to the coronavirus. For states which have yet to conduct their primaries, many are pursuing voting-by-mail as the only viable option in this time when large gatherings are banned.
Currently, five states conduct all their elections by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. In these states, all registered voted receive a ballot and must mail them back by Election Day. There is also limited in-person voting locations where voters can visit during early voting or can drop off their ballots on Election Day.
Many states have enacted bans on large groups gathering in public and have restricted travel outside the home due to the coronavirus. This has put in jeopardy the ability of these states to conduct any primary elections that have yet to occur.
In response, these states are expanding their absentee ballot process to conduct primaries. Under these procedures, people will still have to request an absentee ballot. There will be no in-person voting locations. States conducting primary elections in this way include Ohio and Idaho.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for greater federal aid for states to assist in ramping up vote-by-mail efforts. She says the coronavirus epidemic has shown that states need to move towards allowing this type of voting in more circumstances. President Trump is pushing back, however, arguing that holding elections exclusively by mail will result in more vote fraud.
What do you think of voting by mail?
Posted by 30 March 2020
On Sunday, President Trump announced that the federal guidance on social distancing will remain in place until April 30. This is a departure from his previous statements where he stated that he would like it lifted by Easter.
In a Rose Garden announcement, the president justified his change of heart by noting that deaths will be increasing in coming weeks, probably spiking around Easter. He said that his previous comments about Easter were just an aspiration, and new information has led him to change his mind. He put a new timeline on recovery efforts, saying that by June 1 things should be getting back to normal.
There are currently over 136,000 Americans who are confirmed to have COVID-19, while 2,400 Americans have died of problems related to this virus.
The federal government is recommending that people stay home and distance themselves from others. Governors have taken other steps, such as requiring sheltering-in-place and the quarantining of out-of-state visitors. Many of these governors’ actions have the force of law.
Congress has so far passed three aid bills related to the coronavirus, with the latest receiving unanimous support in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
What do you think of the guidance to stay home and practice social distancing until April 30?
Posted by 27 March 2020
The Senate passed the third coronavirus aid bill unanimously earlier this week. House leadership had hoped the bill could be passed by voice vote in that chamber, which would not necessitate members to return to the Capitol for a vote. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) stood in the way of that plan.
The $2 trillion aid bill has bipartisan support and will easily pass the House of Representatives. When every House member supports a bill, it can be passed without a roll call vote. Instead, the House can reconvene with minimal membership and legislation can pass by a voice vote. This only works so long as no one objects that there is not a quorum of House members to do business.
Rep. Massie suggested that he would object to a voice vote. He noted that the rules require that a quorum be present to vote on legislation, and a bill of this importance should not be considered by the House under a suspension of the rules. To forestall his objection, House leadership has arranged that enough House members would return to Washington, D.C., to have a quorum.
This move has not endeared Rep. Massie to House leadership. They say that it is dangerous to require House members to travel and gather together in a time when health officials say people should be social distancing. They also note that there is no chance this bill will fail in the House, so Rep. Massie is accomplishing nothing by his stand. President Trump has also weighed in, calling Rep. Massie a “grandstander” and asking that the Republican Party expel him.
Do you think House members should have been forced to return to Washington, D.C., to vote on the coronavirus aid bill?
Posted by 26 March 2020
The Senate passed the third coronavirus relief bill by a vote of 96-0 last night, but not without a fight over unemployment insurance.
This aid bill provides for expanded uninsurance benefits for four months as well as increasing the maximum benefit by $600. This $600 boost earned the ire of some Republican senators.
Led by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), these senators pointed out that this could lead to someone receiving more in uninsurance benefits than they received as wages from their job. They suggested this could lead to people preferring to remain on uninsurance rather than seek work, or could even cause some businesses to lay off employees because these workers could make more unemployed.
In response, they offered an amendment that would limit the maximum unemployment benefit to a level that is no greater than the wage paid to that person when he or she was employed. The Senate rejected the amendment 48-48.
Opponents of the measure said that it was targeting workers who had lost their jobs. They also pointed out that each state has a different unemployment insurance system, and the federal government could not impose a broad cap like this on benefits.
In the end, the senators who supported the amendment voted for the final aid package. The House of Representatives is now considering the legislation.
Do you think that unemployment insurance should be limited so that someone’s unemployment benefits cannot be any higher than the wage he or she made while working?
Posted by 25 March 2020
A $2 trillion coronavirus bill is quickly moving its way through Congress.
After days of negotiations, Democrats and Republicans in Congress worked with the White House to craft a bill that contains a multitude of provisions related to coronavirus. Here are some of the things in the legislation:
- Expanded unemployment benefits for 4 months
- A one-time $1,200 payment to Americans whose income is under $75,000
- A $500 billion fund administered by the Federal Reserve to provide liquidity to businesses
- A $367 billion small business loan program
- $130 billion in aid for hospitals
- $150 billion in aid for state and local governments
- A $25 billion aid package for airlines
The Senate will vote on this bill today. It is likely to pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The House of Representatives is out of session, however. If there is unanimous consent to pass the bill, it can move through that chamber with only a short session. However, if a member objects to this, the House will have to be called into a longer session to debate and vote on the bill.
This is the third coronavirus-related bill considered by Congress.
Do you support expanding unemployment befits for four weeks? Should every American household with a income under $75,000 receive a government check for $1,200?
Posted by 24 March 2020
Democrats in the House and Senate are trying to come to agreement on a bipartisan stimulus bill to respond to the coronavirus epidemic. In the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has outlined her view on what the government’s response should be – and Republicans are quick to blast her ideas as well outside the mainstream.
Under Speaker Pelosi’s bill, the federal government would, among other things:
- Send monthly checks to of $2,000 per adult and $1,000 per child to individuals who make under $115,000 (and households with incomes under $230,000)
- Expand the power of unions to organize workers
- Forgive $10,000 in student loans for each borrower
- Mandate family leave for larger companies
- Spend $600 billion in small business assistance
- Spend $100 billion in assistance for low-income renters
- Mandate that businesses receiving money from this bill must pay workers at least $15 an hour
Speaker Pelosi says these provisions are necessary to protect workers and ensure that corporations do not take advantage of government aid. Critics, however, argue that the is using this crisis as a way to enact a liberal wish list that has little to do with the epidemic.
The Senate legislation that is likely to pass today does not contain many of the ideas proposed by Speaker Pelosi. It is unclear what will happen when the Senate bill reaches the House of Representatives. If Speaker Pelosi insists on passing a version of her legislation, it would set up lengthy negotiations with the Senate and the president in order to see this third coronavirus relief legislation enacted.
Do you support mandating a higher minimum wage for workers in companies that accept coronavirus aid? Should a coronavirus relief bill include provisions for federal student loan forgiveness?
Posted by 23 March 2020
Democrats in the Senate yesterday voted to filibuster the third coronavirus aid bill. Today senators and Trump Administration officials are trying to come to agreement on a package that could cost $2 trillion.
There appeared to be agreement over the weekend as senators and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin worked on details over the massive aid package. Then Democrats voted against cloture (ending debate) on the bill. The 47-47 vote prompted anger by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump.
Republicans say the Democrats are filibustering much-needed aid for workers and businesses. Democrats said the bill had too much in it for businesses and not enough protections for workers and aid for health care personnel. They especially objected to a large pool of money authorized by the bill that the Trump Administration could use to provide loans or grants to bigger companies. Republicans countered that Democrats just wanted to add numerous items that they had long-favored but had nothing to do with this emergency.
The Senate is considering the legislation again today, and both sides are hoping for a bipartisan vote in support. There is broad agreement on provisions that would give direct checks to families, expand unemployment insurance, give loans to small businesses, and also provide money to larger companies to keep them from going insolvent.
Do you support passage of a third coronavirus aid bill?