Week Ending December 4, 2020

Congress Rushing to Finish Federal Funding and Pandemic Aid Deal

  • Pandemic Relief Deal Still Possible
  • Fiscal Year 2021 Spending Bills Pending With Only One Week Remaining
  • SCOTUS Oral Arguments on 2020 Census Count
  • Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly Sworn In as New Senator

Pandemic Relief Deal Still Possible

Despite no action for several months, talks have started up again in Congress on new pandemic relief efforts with the hope of passing an emergency package before the end of the year. Further action is desperately needed to respond to the expanding pandemic, the economic fallout impacting states and localities, and the impending loss of emergency pandemic unemployment benefits on Dec. 26. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have both called for immediate stimulus talks and say a bipartisan proposal that was unveiled could be the foundation for negotiations, although the proposal may not be large enough to meet current needs.

  • Bipartisan Group Offers $908 Billion Compromise Plan – A bipartisan group of  House and Senate members unveiled a four month (Jan.-April), $908 billion emergency coronavirus aid framework in an effort to break a monthslong partisan impasse over emergency federal relief. The plan is far short of the more comprehensive and longer lasting $3 trillion Heroes Act and other multibillion plans passed by the House. The effort is led by a group that includes Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah),  and others,  as well as Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and other House members. Although the specific details are not all clear, the broad outline would provide $908 billion in aid, including $160 billion in state and local aid, $82 billion for education, $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance, $288 billion for small businesses, and more. It would also include a temporary liability shield for businesses to allow states to develop their own liability reforms, and would provide more money for the Paycheck Protection Program and other small business and industry relief. See the outline of the plan here.
  • Pelosi and Schumer see Plan as Basis for Larger Deal – Pelosi said the bipartisan framework should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. “Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement,” said Pelosi. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continued to press for an even smaller plan without any state and local aid like he has been doing for months. It’s unclear where the Trump administration comes down, but Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin both reiterated the need for an immediate fiscal stimulus. Powell pointed out that the pace of economic improvement has slowed in recent months.

What You Need to Know: Time is running out for Congress to pass a COVID-19 stimulus bill before the end of the year that delivers badly needed relief to families and communities nationwide. For several months, AFSCME has been lobbying aggressively for a bill that includes, among many other things, robust aid to states, cities, towns and schools. This aid is essential to maintaining vital public services and health care jobs. (Ed Jayne – ejayne@afscme.org)

Additional State and Local Aid Is Still Needed

We urgently need you to call your senator. Time is running out for Congress to provide aid before state and local governments lay off more workers. So far, 1.2 million public employees have already been given pink slips. Front-line public service workers like you are critical to fighting this pandemic and reopening our economy. America can’t do either without you.

Call the Senate: 1-888-981-9704

Tell your senator that it’s urgent to fund the front lines NOW with at least $1 trillion for states, counties and cities – including more Medicaid and education funding – for essential public services to fight COVID and re-open our economy. For more ways to take action, visit the AFSCME COVID-19 webpage.

Fiscal Year 2021 Spending Bills Pending with Only One Week Remaining

With one week before the current stopgap funding bill expires on Dec. 11, Congress continues to work on finalizing the 12 annual government funding bills. If the yearlong bills aren’t finalized by the middle of next week, Congress would likely vote to extend current funding by another week to allow more time for negotiations. Congress will need to wrap this up as soon as possible and the rush to adjourn for the holidays will likely force negotiations. This year the stakes are even higher, as this package could become the vehicle for potential COVID aid and other last-minute lame duck issues.

  • What's the Problem – Politics, as usual, is mostly holding things up. Negotiators have already agreed to slightly increase the overall spending caps this year, but there isn’t much room for significant increases. President Donald Trump, for his part, has stated his opposition to $12.5 billion in emergency-designated funding for the Veterans’ Administration, a provision that has bipartisan support from both the House and Senate. The president and congressional Republicans also continue to press for funding for a controversial border wall. But it's unclear if the president would veto the final package and threaten a shutdown just before the holidays.

What You Need to Know: The final package of individual spending bills, known as an “omnibus,” or another stopgap measure, either for a full year or into early next year, are options on the table. It could also be a hybrid with a combination of some final bills combined with stopgaps for the more controversial bills. And the spending deal could also include further urgently needed COVID relief. (Becky Levin – blevin@afscme.org)

SCOTUS Oral Arguments on 2020 Census Count 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments about a lower court’s ruling in September that halted Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census apportionment. Congress is watching this issue closely. An accurate population count is critical to determine the amount of aid and resources given to state and local governments, as well as apportionment for the nation's 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

  • The Review – Since 2019, the Trump administration made several efforts to undermine the accuracy of the 2020 Census. Among them was a push for a new citizenship question, which a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York blocked from appearing on the 2020 Census. The administration appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the court ruled 5 to 4 that the lower court’s decision should stand. After being rejected twice, the administration issued a memo on July 21, 2020, to exclude undocumented immigrants from final counting.

What You Need to Know: We expect a ruling about the memo to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count in Trump v. New York at the end of this year. The highly anticipated decision is fueling much speculation about how the high court will rule with the unprecedented confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett just two months ago, shortly before national elections. Her lifetime appointment establishes a 6 to 3 conservative majority, which could favor the Trump administration. (Katie Smith – ksmith@afscme.org)

Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly Sworn In as New Senator

Sen.-elect Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) was sworn in as the newest member of the Senate, bringing the GOP majority down to 52-48.

  • AFSCME-Endorsed Candidate Wins Handily – Kelly was endorsed by AFSCME and sworn in ahead of other newly elected senators since he won in a special election to represent Arizona. Kelly will serve the remainder of the late GOP Sen. John McCain’s final two years, and is expected to run again for reelection in 2022. He defeated Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who had been appointed to serve for the rest of McCain’s term. Kelly can now participate in all Senate proceedings in the lame duck session that is underway to complete end of the year business. 

What You Need to Know: Party control of the Senate in the new 117th Congress that convenes in January is still up for grabs and will not be determined until the runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, 2021, that involve both incumbent Republican senators. If they are both defeated there will be a 50-50 tie in the Senate. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to break any tied votes in favor of the Democrats. (Ed Jayne – ejayne@afscme.org)

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