With a full schedule for 2020, Congress had to pause its intended calendar to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest that has necessitated systematic changes across the country. That does not mean that legislative deadlines for important bills involving annual appropriations, national defense authorization, and health care extenders have gone away, so we expect a very busy few months leading up to the end of this legislative session. Below is a summary of some of the key issues that Congress still needs to address:
COVID-19 Economic Relief
Both chambers of Congress have expressed interest in passing another COVID-19 economic relief package. The Administration also supports additional relief, but there is no political consensus on what should be included in the legislation or on how quickly relief is needed.
The Democratic-controlled House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, H.R. 6800, on May 15th. If passed, this Act would provide more stimulus checks and unemployment benefits to individuals, expand relief available to employers and employees, and provide funding for coronavirus testing, housing costs, and food programs. The HEROES Act also addresses several issues on which the ABA has been advocating, including emergency funding for the Legal Services Corporation, funding to expand broadband access in rural communities, and economic relief for 501(c)(6) organizations. More information about HEROES Act provisions of interest to the legal profession can be found here.
The Republican-controlled Senate will not consider another relief bill until it can evaluate the effectiveness of the relief already provided. The Senate intends to draft its own bill, opting not to consider the HEROES Act, and to focus on increased infrastructure spending, liability protections for reopening businesses, reforms to the Paycheck Protection Program, and payroll tax cut. No Senate action is expected before June 30th.
On March 16, 2020, Congress passed a 77-day extension of several surveillance authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including those involving roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance, and the business records exception. The intent of this stopgap measure was to delay debate on surveillance authorities until after the immediate pandemic crisis had passed. Unfortunately, the pandemic has not passed, and meaningful debate is needed now on expired FISA provisions and on other difficult surveillance issues.
Congress’s deadline for annual appropriations bills that will dictate FY 2021 funding levels for federal government programs is September 30, 2020. Hearings have already begun, but the markup of appropriations bills in both chambers was delayed so Congress could initially focus on COVID-19 legislation and now on policing reform efforts in response to recent events.
On June 19, the House Appropriations Committee announced that full committee markups of FY 2021 spending bills will occur on July 9th. Senate markups were planned for this week, but they are delayed because of disagreements over the coronavirus and criminal justice amendments.
Without action, various Medicare and Medicaid policies will expire on November 30, 2020, including the community mental health services demonstration program, funding for the National Health Service Corps, and other public health-related programs.
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2021
This annual reauthorization of federal defense programs establishes top-line budgets for all branches of the military. Like the appropriations bills, impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed House and Senate markups of the FY 2021 NDAA, but the House and Senate Armed Services Committees still hope to pass this year’s authorization act by the October 1st deadline to avoid having to pass a continuing resolution and interrupting defense operations.
Congressional attention to these bills and other legislative matters remains ongoing. For updates on key legislative developments, follow the Governmental Affairs Office on Twitter @ABAGrassroots and LinkedIn.