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Senate Democrats Want Hazard Pay for Front-Line Workers

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?

Some States Shutting Down Abortions as Non-Essential Services

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?

Coronavirus Causes Controversy over Election Procedures

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?

McConnell Rejects Pelosi Plea for New Coronavirus Aid Bill

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?

Trump Administration Alters Obama Fuel Efficiency Rule

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?

States Moving to Vote-By-Mail During Epidemic

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?



Trump Says Social Distancing Goes Until April 30

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?

Rep. Massie Forces House to Convene to Vote on Coronavirus Bill

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?

Senate Rejects Cap on Uninsurance Benefits

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?

Congress, President Agree on Coronavirus Aid Bill

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?

Pelosi Unveils Her Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

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?

Third Coronavirus Aid Bill Stalls in Senate

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?

Education Department Suspends Standardized Tests, Postpones Loans

The federal Department of Education today announced two moves in response to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic: federal standardized test mandates will not apply this year and federal student loan borrowers will be able to postpone their payments temporarily.


Under the federal elementary and secondary education legislation, the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” schools must measure student progress in certain grades every year. This is to meet accountability measures in that law.


With schools being canceled, however, officials at the federal Department of Education decided that it made little sense to impose that requirement this year. Many states and school districts have closed schools in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Some of these closures are only scheduled to last for weeks, while others are on an indefinite break.


Higher education students who have taken federal loans will also get a break. Over the next 60 days, they can now request that their lenders postpone their payments. Everyone with a federal student loan will have their interest frozen.


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that people should not be worrying about paying student loans right now, but should be concentrating on being safe.


Do you support postponing student loan repayments during the coronavirus outbreak?

President Trump Signs Coronavirus Aid Bill

On Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation aimed at offsetting the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.


The House voted 363-40 to pass HR 6201 on Saturday. The Senate followed suit on Wednesday by a vote of 90-8. Among other things, this legislation includes:

  • A paid sick leave mandate that covers businesses with fewer than 500 employees
  • Waivers for health insurers to provide cost-free testing
  • An increase in federal Medicaid payments
  • More funding for federal food programs
  • A ban on tougher work requirements for food stamps
  • $1 billion in additional unemployment insurance funding for the states


In the House of Representatives, some members objected that they did not know what they were voting on and complaints about being forced to vote too quickly on a massive aid bill. While the House of Representatives is on recess this week, it did convene a brief session on Monday to approve legislation that contained dozens of pages of technical corrections to the original bill.


In the Senate, Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment that would end military activities in Afghanistan and make permanent a federal requirement to provide a Social Security number to claim the child tax credit. He argued these could help offset the cost of the bill. Senators voted down his amendment on a 3-95 vote. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) also attempted to amend the bill by removing the federal sick leave mandate and replacing it with a state grant program. While this amendment received a vote of 50-48, it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass.


Those who voted in favor of it said it was necessary to aid in an economic meltdown that is happening in response to the coronavirus. However, some conservative members of the House said that the bill was considered too quickly and contained things that were unrelated to the coronavirus.


This was the second bill dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate is now considering an even larger aid package that will likely be voted on next week.


What do you think the federal government should do to respond to the coronavirus pandemic?


Senate Considers How to Structure Coronavirus Aid

The House of Representatives passed an economic stimulus bill on Saturday. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to tackle the issue of trying to alleviate the fallout from the coronavirus. Senators are rushing to come up with ideas that can achieve bipartisan support.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled the scheduled recess in order to allow the Senate to consider coronavirus aid legislation this week. However, given the complexity of the issues involved, negotiations over the legislation’s details may move into next week.


Senators are considering how to deal with the issues of the public health response, tax policy, aid to small businesses, and aid to major industries. Among the ideas being discussed are:

  • Direct payments to Americans of between $1,000 and $2,000, and additional money for each child
  • A $50 billion loan fund for airlines
  • A $250 billion fund for small businesses
  • Incentives for businesses to manufacture more medical equipment


The Senate could add these ideas to the bill passed by the House, which would then lead to a conference committee to work out differences. Or it could pass the House relief legislation and then another bill of its own aid ideas. It is unclear how the Senate will structure its bill.


While there are differences between Republicans and Democrats over details of the stimulus, there is broad support for some kind of federal help. While some Republicans are balking at the price tag of the bill, there is unlikely to be much opposition once it is formulated.


The total aid package being promoted by the White House and considered by senators could cost as much as $1 trillion.


Do you support spending $1 trillion in federal aid to stimulate the economy in the wake of the coronavirus?

Coronovirus Relief May Include Cash Payments to All Americans

The Trump Administration and members of Congress are scrambling to put together policy proposals aimed at alleviating an economic crisis due to the coronavirus. One idea with growing support is direct cash payments.


On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the Trump Administration was seriously considering sending checks to Americans within the next two weeks. He did not specify what the amount of these checks would be or the details of how they would be sent.


Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) had floated the idea of sending every American $1,000 to stimulate the economy and help blunt the economic decline that the coronavirus has caused. Sen. Romney and Secretary Mnuchin had discussed this idea on Monday night, and it seems to have gained favor in the White House.


President Trump had previously endorsed a payroll tax cut as a way to get more money into the economy. Secretary Mnuchin now says that this may take too long to have an effect. These payments would be part of an aid package that would have a total cost of around $850 billion.


Democrats in Congress have also expressed support for this type of aid payment to Americans.


Do you think the federal government should send Americans $1,000 to stimulate the economy?

House Passes Coronavirus Aid Bill

Early Saturday morning, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation aimed at offsetting the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.


The House voted 363-40 to pass HR 6201. Among other things, this legislation includes:

  • A paid sick leave mandate that covers businesses with fewer than 500 employees
  • Waivers for health insurers to provide cost-free testing
  • An increase in federal Medicaid payments
  • More funding for federal food programs
  • A ban on tougher work requirements for food stamps
  • $1 billion in additional unemployment insurance funding for the states


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked with the White House to develop the details of this bill and then rushed it to the House floor. This led to objections from some House members that they did not know what they were voting on and complaints about being forced to vote too quickly on a massive aid bill. The Congressional Budget Office could not provide an estimate for the cost of the bill due to not having enough time to analyze it.


This legislation received bipartisan support and President Trump has indicated he will sign it. Those who voted in favor of it said it was necessary to aid in an economic meltdown that is happening in response to the coronavirus. However, some conservative members of the House said that the bill was considered too quickly and contained things that were unrelated to the coronavirus.


The Senate will consider this legislation in the coming days.


Do you support the coronavirus aid legislation?

President Trump Declares Coronavirus Emergency

Today President Trump declared a national emergency to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.


In a news conference, President Trump said he had signed an emergency declaration that is aimed at allowing better coordination to combat the coronavirus. Doing this allows the federal government to distribute up to $50 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments. The president has also allowed a relaxation of federal rules regarding health care workers in an attempt to provide them with more flexibility.


This emergency declaration follows criticism from Democrats in Congress and in state offices that the president had downplayed the risk of the coronavirus. They have urged the federal government to do more to combat the crisis. The president has pushed back, saying he is taking steps that are appropriate for the level of the pandemic.


Congress is also working on legislation to address the economic fallout from the virus’s spread. States have begun shutting down school systems and taking other steps to restrict public gatherings. Many businesses are closing, too. There is bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done to help the economy, but there is still disagreement on what the details should be.


Do you support declaring a national emergency over the coronavirus?

Republicans, Democrats Fight over Coronavirus Legislation

House Democrats have unveiled a coronavirus aid bill and are pushing for a quick vote. Republicans, however, disagree that the measures in this bill are the best way to deal with the pandemic’s effects.


The House Democrats are proposing a variety of initiatives to deal with the coronavirus fallout. These include:

  • $2 billion for state unemployment programs
  • $1 billion in spending on nutrition
  • Medicaid expansion
  • A federal sick-leave program for those affected by business closures


Republicans in the House said that they would not vote to support such measures. They want to see relief legislation more along the lines of what President Trump proposed, which included payroll tax cuts.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is negotiating with White House officials on a bipartisan relief package. Their hope is that they can come up with legislation that is acceptable to both sides. If this occurs, it would likely include both spending increases as favored by the Democrats and tax cuts as favored by the Republicans.


The House is scheduled to vote Friday on whatever relief legislation emerges.

What do you think should be in coronavirus relief legislation?

Virginia Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Possessing small amounts of marijuana in Virginia will no longer be a criminal offense.


Under a bill passed by Virginia legislators this week, someone is caught with less than an ounce of marijuana or marijuana products will face a civil fine of $25. The bill also puts convictions for this level of drug possession under seal so they would not be available to employers or others.


This new penalty is in contrast to the criminal penalties under current law. Right now, marijuana possession is punishable by a fine of $500 or 30 days in jail.


Supporters of the bill say that current drug laws disproportionately affect minorities, giving them a criminal record that makes it difficult to obtain employment. They note that many other states are undertaking similar reductions in penalties for simple marijuana possession.


This bill does not legalize marijuana possession and use, as a handful of states have done. However, legislators approved a bill that would study full legalization in the state.


Both Democratic and Republican legislators supported the decriminalization bill. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has said he would sign the legislation.


Do you think that marijuana possession should be decriminalized?

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