Good Morning from Washington, D.C.,

There are just 55 days until Election Day, and 11 days of Congressional Legislative Session before the end of the Federal Fiscal Year on September 30th when the country faces a fiscal cliff and possible government shutdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. CapitolThe United States Senate returns to Washington from their summer recess today and the House of Representatives will return next week, September 14. A fifth economic relief package has been elusive for most of the summer, as Democrats and Republicans have been unable to agree on the size and scope of the stimulus. Since the stalemate on the package remains, discussions on government funding and COVID relief will be happening simultaneously. The House has passed 10 of the 12 annual spending bills, but those were not negotiated with Republicans and are dead on arrival in the Senate. The Senate has yet to approve any of its spending bills, even at the committee level.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, have agreed to pursue a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) (clean meaning no additional provisions would be added to the spending bill) that would extend funding for agencies until at least after Election Day. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that his expectation is that this so-called “continuing resolution” would extend government funding into December, which would allow lawmakers to return to the Capitol for a “lame-duck” session following the election and complete spending legislation for the 2021 fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1. Republican Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby has also signaled his support for this approach. Appropriations Committee staff are now beginning their traditional “CR drills,” preparing draft legislative text and engaging in conversations with federal government agencies about specific anomalies, or legislative provisions they would need to continue operations.

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on the Republican’s roughly $500 billion “skinny” Covid relief bill. The GOP is optingSenator Chuck Schumer to call the bill “targeted”; while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling it “emaciated”. Whatever its nickname, the measure is a pared-down version of the $1 trillion HEALS Act proposed by the Republicans as a follow up to the CARES Act passed in March. It would address areas including extra unemployment insurance, new small business loans, money for schools and funding for Covid-19 testing, treatment and vaccines, but does not currently include direct payment checks, funding for rental assistance, nutrition assistance, state and local services, or the census. This bill, like the Democrats’ $3 trillion HEROES Act, which Democrats are now open to reducing about $1 trillion, is not meant to become law, but serves as a marker of where the Senate Republicans stand and possibly as a re-start for stalled negotiations.

In the past weeks, the White House (and Congressional Republicans) have continued to disagree with Democrats on a price tag for the bill. The Trump Administration has repeatedly said it will not meet Democrats’ demands to increase the cost of its roughly $1.3 trillion relief plan to $2.2 trillion. The question of how much aid to send to state and local governments, in particular, has tripped up talks. Democrats want more than $900 billion in relief for states and municipalities. The Trump Administration has proposed $150 billion in new funding.

    President Trump and Joe BidenWhile the unprecedented fiscal situation and intensely partisan discussion unfolds, Democrat Joe Biden holds a 10-point lead over President Donald Trump with just about two months until the November 3 election, with support for each candidate getting more solid as voting day approaches, a new CBS News poll shows. However, Trump can take solace in the longstanding maxim “that campaigns really begin on Labor Day.” He could join the likes of Harry Truman and others mounting a fall comeback.  The final months of the presidential race also come as Trump continues to cast doubt on mail-in voting as an unprecedented number of Americans are expected to vote by mail and there are increasing concerns of a delay in vote-counting on Election Day. The Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled three debates in the next two months between Trump and Biden (September 29, October 15, and October 22) and one between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (October 7).

    Republicans are also fighting to maintain control of the United States Senate, while Democrats are fighting to finish the job they started in 2018 and make New York’s Chuck Schumer into the Majority Leader. While election season began with the parties on defense, protecting their incumbent senators, it has shifted to a decidedly lopsided Senate map. Delays on a Coronavirus relief package and Trump’s summer slump have deeply hurt Republican incumbents in Colorado, Montana, Arizona, Iowa, and Georgia, while only one Democrat, Senator Doug Jones, appears seriously at risk of defeat, running in the state of Alabama where Trump is more popular than almost anywhere else. Republicans hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate. That means they could afford to lose two or three seats, while Democrats would need to pick up three or four for a working majority. If either party has 50 seats, the Vice-President is able to break any ties.

    Thanks for staying tuned. 


    O’Donnell & Associates welcomes Michael Cinquanti as Senior Vice President and Counsel to our solutions-focused government relations team. Michael brings over a decade of experience advocating for clients at the highest levels of government. An experienced advocate in New York State politics, Michael manages the government relations program of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council and will be helping the O’Donnell & Associates team make New York work for our clients.

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