Good morning from home…

As we wrestle with these new challenges, the O’Donnell Team remains committed to bringing you political intelligence and government insights to help you and your business navigate through these troubled times, and hopefully to identify some opportunities along the way.

Our new normal includes daily briefings from Governor Andrew Cuomo. The briefings have elicited some interesting responses (read about the crushes and critics) and usually Executive Orders, as well. Read all the Executive Orders here. One of the most recent orders—released on Saturday—requires all nonessential businesses to keep 100% of their workforce home (guidance on which businesses are considered essential can be found here) and covers mandatory social distancing procedures for everyone.

Last week began with Legislative Session being cancelled, but not until most lawmakers (and plenty of lobbyists) were en route to Albany. The decision to postpone voting on paid sick/quarantine leave and changes to the state’s primary petitioning rules came as Albany was reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak and to the news that two Assembly Members tested positive with coronavirus (since then, a third Member has tested positive). The decision was also driven by a dispute between the Legislature and the Governor

Session did convene on Wednesday in a near-empty Capitol, closed to the public and most staff members. Aside from the handful of legislators in the respective Chambers, most members watched Session from their offices, entering in groups to cast their votes. 

By the end of the day, the Senate and Assembly had passed three bills. One provides paid sick leave for individuals who are quarantined, another clarifies how ballot access will work now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suspended the collection of petitions, and the third was the Debt Service budget bill, authorizing the state to pay principal and interest on the various debts it owes. This is almost always the first bill in the ritual of the state budget.

If the briefings, Executive Orders, and warnings on cable news did not make it clear, this week revealed the fiscal toll on New York State from this crisis. First, the State Comptroller issued an updated revenue forecast showing a $4 billion to $7 billion delta from the proposed Executive Budget.

The Medicaid Redesign Team II held its final meeting and voted to approve the package of recommendations, an estimated $1.6 billion in projected savings through proposals like capping enrollment in managed long-term care plans and changing eligibility requirements for personal care services. However, State Budget Director Robert Mujica said that the new federal law will prevent some of the recommendations from the MRT from being implemented.  

In Washington, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers. Cuomo continues to be critical of a clause in the bill that makes billions in federal aid contingent on states not shifting Medicaid costs onto localities, calling out New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey by name.

Regarding that requirement, Cuomo said, “If I can’t change that, we can’t do a budget.” Nonetheless, Cuomo took time out last week to meet with stakeholders regarding bail reform. We still expect an on-time budget before April 1, likely with extensive power given to the Governor and the Budget Director to make mid-year changes as the financial picture becomes more clear. That said, any final New York budget deal will await resolution—and hopefully billions in aid—from the CARES Act.

This weekend, Senate Republicans continued to take steps to advance the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is Phase Three in Capitol Hill’s response, including releasing legislative text on the $1 trillion-plus package and scheduling procedural votes on it. Yesterday a procedural vote failed, pushing an agreement further out of reach.

CARES Division A consists of the over $1.5 trillion in economic stimulus and stabilization programs. CARES Division B is comprised of an additional estimated $48 billion in appropriations for federal departments and agencies for coronavirus response efforts based on an emergency supplemental request by the Trump Administration earlier this week. 

Optimism that had grown overnight about reaching a final deal yesterday ebbed after a meeting between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Instead of sealing a deal, Speaker Pelosi reported afterward that insufficient progress had been made and that House Democrats would proceed with drafting their own Phase Three bill, which they dubbed the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families legislation. It remains to be seen whether the move is intended to intensify negotiations on the Senate package or whether the House will, in fact, proceed separately from the Senate.


Jack O’Donnell

Here’s Every Law and Regulation Cuomo Had Suspended During Coronavirus Crisis

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis on March 7, he gained extraordinary powers over the everyday lives of the state’s 19.5 million residents. Thanks in part to a statutory change which the Legislature approved at the beginning of March, Cuomo’s declaration means he can change or suspend laws unilaterally, so long as doing so assists the state in its disaster response. [Read more.]

Rand Paul Tests Positive for Covid-19, Fueling Anxiety in the Capitol

Senate Republicans were struggling to salvage a more than $1 trillion economic rescue package to respond to the coronavirus crisis when they got the message on Sunday afternoon: One of their own had been walking around the Capitol with Covid-19 for days as they debated how best to confront the rapidly spreading pandemic. [Read more.]

Mayor Resisted Drastic Steps on Virus – Then Came a Backlash From His Aides

For most of last week, as Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to urge New Yorkers to mostly go about their daily lives — sending their children to school, frequenting the city’s businesses — some of his top aides were furiously trying to change the mayor’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak. [Read more.]

Biden’s Running Mate? Party Leaders Favor Female Ex-Rivals

With former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. now holding an all but insurmountable lead over Senator Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary contest, many Democrats have shifted their attention to a favorite quadrennial parlor game: the vice-presidential search. Mr. Biden has shown his hand in a big and unusual way for a front-runner, saying he would pick a woman as a running mate. That has opened the path for Democratic officials to start picking favorites — from a socially safe distance. [Read more.]

Danny Meyer’s Restaurant Group Lays Off 2,000 Workers

The Union Square Hospitality Group, one of the nation’s most prestigious restaurant companies, laid off 2,000 employees on Wednesday morning “due to a near-complete elimination of revenue,” the company said in a statement. That number represents 80 percent of the company’s total staff, at 18 restaurants in New York City, two in Washington and its corporate office in Manhattan. [Read more.]

How It All Came Apart for Bernie Sanders

In mid-January, a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Senator Bernie Sanders’s pollster offered a stark prognosis for the campaign: Mr. Sanders was on track to finish strong in the first three nominating states, but Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s powerful support from older African-Americans could make him a resilient foe in South Carolina and beyond. [Read more.]

House Members, Senate Aides Traded Stocks in Early Days of Coronavirus

While Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) sought on Friday to explain sales of stock made at a time when they were reassuring the public about the coronavirus threat, they weren’t the only elected officials to buy and sell stocks at key moments in the unfolding crisis. [Read more.]

What Counts as ‘Essential’ During a Coronavirus Lockdown? Fries in Belgium, Wine in France

There’s nothing like a pandemic to help a society sort out what it really values in life. In the case of Belgium, that turns out to be french fries. People are generally allowed to go out to buy groceries. They can visit the doctor and the pharmacy. But, beyond that, what’s considered essential varies from country to country, and many have allowed culturally flavored exceptions. [Read more.]