Washington D.C. Update: Congressional Stalemate Continues on Covid-19 Relief

Sep 28, 2020 | Insights

Heading into the 2020 elections, Congress is not any closer to reaching a deal on the next Covid-19 relief package. After coming back from August recess, the September work session produced several significant events, but each one led to no further action.  

When Congress came back into session, there was hope that the White House and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives could negotiate a deal on additional Covid-19 relief. The White House offered a $1 trillion package, House Democrats would not go below $2.2 trillion.  These negotiations stalled.

Next, U.S. Senate Republicans sought to pass a skinny version of their HEALs Act. This $500 billion, skinny act was far short of the $3.3 trillion “Heroes Act” passed by House Democrats in May, and still short of the $1 trillion supported by the White House and the $2.2 trillion offered by House Democrats in negotiations.

Most importantly, the skinny HEALs did not include additional CARES Act Covid-19 Relief Funding for tribal, state, and local governments. This is the CARES Act funding that tribal governments have been using to maintain essential functions and keep tribal members safe during the pandemic. The skinny HEALs Act could not get the 60 votes needed to move forward in the Senate.  

After the skinny HEALs Act failed to make progress, moderate House Republicans and Democrats put forward a $1.5 trillion Covid-19 relief proposal. While this proposal included many popular items—for example, federal unemployment insurance benefits, stimulus checks, and funding for tribal, state, and local governments—House Democratic leadership determined that a $1.5 trillion package was too small to have a meaningful impact on the Covid-19 pandemic.  They are holding out for a larger package, around $2 trillion, to create a positive impact for government services and the economy.  

To put pressure on negotiators, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would stay in session during October until an agreement is reached on a Covid-19 relief package.  Normally, the House would go out of session in October so that members could return to their districts to campaign for re-election. 

President Trump also weighed in, announcing that he would support a large Covid-19 relief package. The president did not include any details in his announcement, but he undercut Senate Republicans who are expressing concerns with additional spending.  

Any political pressure from these announcements was not enough to change the minds of Senate Republicans who are now focused on the President’s Supreme Court nominee.  Also reducing pressure for action on COVID-19, the White House and House Democrats agreed on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the Federal government through December 11th.  The Senate hoped to quickly vote on the CR, but it’s likely that a final vote will not come until Wednesday, Sept. 30. The CR is expected to pass.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are attempting to keep the pressure on providing Covid-19 relief by passing a scaled back version of their HEROs Act.  The package will include popular relief programs, address new and continuing impacts of Covid-19 on the economy and total around $2.2 trillion.  

Once this is passed, the House will be in standby in case a deal emerges, but members will mostly be back in their districts to campaign.  This package is unlikely to change the dynamic as it merely reflects the Democrats $2.2 trillion negotiating position and is still more than $1 trillion above what the White House and Senate Republicans are willing to agree to.

While Covid-19 relief is going nowhere in Congress, federal agencies are continuing to roll out new grants and programs using existing funds. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently released a comprehensive summary report of these grants and programs. The report, which includes deadlines that have passed and recent announcements, is available here.

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP has offices in Louisville, Colorado, and Washington, DC. To learn more, visit nativelawgroup.com. 

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP is dedicated to the representation of American Indian tribes, tribal entities, and individual Indians across the United States. Our mission is to support and advance the sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and self-governance of our tribal clients. We take time to listen to, and fully understand, our clients’ concerns so we can develop responsive and appropriate solutions.