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BPAA Federal Policy Update - November 13, 2020

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Election Update


  • Senate Control in Limbo as Two Georgia Races Head to Runoffs Both of Georgia’s Senate races are going to runoffs, leaving control of the Senate in limbo until January. Incumbent GOP Senator David Perdue was just shy of the 50% vote threshold needed to claim the seat outright, with most of THE ballots counted. He will once again face off against Democrat Jon Ossoff, who trailed in the race by about 97,988 votes out of about 4.9 million cast as of Thursday.  “A vote for Jon Ossoff is a vote to hand power to Chuck Schumer and the radical Democrats in Washington,” Perdue said in a statement Friday. “Georgians won’t let that happen.” Ossoff said the state’s changing demographics will carry him through in the head-to-head contest on Jan. 5.
    • With Georgia‘s other Republican senator, Kelly Loeffler, already headed to a Jan. 5 rematch against Democrat Raphael Warnock, Democrats still have a narrow, if unlikely, path to win control of the Senate by winning both Georgia seats. That sets up an epic national battle over the state as outside groups and both parties pour money and other resources into swaying the vote. It also would prolong partisan rancor over the Senate races, alongside potential legal fights in the presidential contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden The Senate totals from Tuesday’s election now stand at 48 Republicans to 48 senators who align with Democrats. In addition to the two Georgia races, Republican incumbents in North Carolina and Alaska are leading as the final votes are counted.
    • Tie-Breaker: If Biden wins the presidency and Democrats win both of Georgia’s runoffs, the tie-breaking vote in the Senate would be held by Kamala Harris, as vice president. This would give Democrats full control of government -- albeit by the slimmest of margins -- since they also managed to hang on to control of the House.
    • GA Senate Runoff: A poll from GOP firm Remington Research Group (Nov. 8-9; 1,450 LVs; +/-2.6%) showed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) leading Rev. Raphael Warnock (D), 49%-48%, in the special election runoff. In the regular election runoff, Sen. David Perdue (R) led 2017 GA-06 candidate Jon Ossoff (D), 50%-46%. Read more at Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


  • Battle For The Senate: Former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D) called Sen. Thom Tillis (R) Tuesday to concede the NC Senate election. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan won reelection in Alaska, brushing aside a challenge from independent Al Gross, who was backed by Democrats. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were both reelected to lead their parties in the Senate. Because control of the Senate is still undetermined, their titles of majority and minority leader are not yet set. Read more at Politico.
    • On the Republican side, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota was reelected as whip and Barrasso as conference chairman. Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri stayed on as policy committee chair and Joni Ernst of Iowa remained vice chair of the GOP conference.
    • For Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois will serve as whip again, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington as assistant Democratic leader and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan as chair of the policy and communications committee.
      • Schumer also added Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada to his leadership team, as vice chair of the policy and communications committee and vice chair of outreach.
      • Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mark Warner of Virginia will stay on as vice chairs of the conference, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as chair of the steering committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont as chair of outreach, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as vice chair of the policy and communications committee, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin as secretary of the conference.
      • Democrats did not select a chair of their campaign arm, though newly elected Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) is a possible candidate.


  • Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) was elected to lead the NRSC on Tuesday. “Scott is often listed among potential presidential hopefuls in 2024, and his stint as head of the NRSC would expand his political résumé. … Scott faces a difficult Senate map in 2022, when Republicans will largely be on defense. If ... Loeffler holds on to her seat in the Jan. 5 runoff, Republicans will be defending 21 Senate seats compared with 13 for the Democrats.” Read more at Roll Call


  • Leadership Elections; Lame-Duck Agenda: House lawmakers will elect their leaders for the 117th Congress next week, as both chambers move toward action on the year’s final must-pass legislative priorities. Elections playing out inside the Capitol next week will help illuminate the future of the most static leadership team in Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.) are all expected to remain in House Democrats’ top three positions, where they’ve been for more than a decade. But all three are in their early 80s, and there is pent up ambition in droves in the caucus — and potentially more after a tough election, Emily Wilkins reports. Pelosi suggested to colleagues she won’t serve as speaker beyond 2023, allowing a new generation of Democrats to assume leadership. She has said she will seek the post for the next two-year session. In December, the House will be “focused on an omnibus appropriations measure to fund the government for the remainder of FY2021 and prevent a government shutdown on December 11, when the current continuing resolution expires,” Hoyer said in the letter.


COVID-19 Relief & Budget Update


  • Pelosi Calls for Stimulus Talks Without Offering New Proposals House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called again for negotiations with Republicans on a fiscal-stimulus package, saying the spike in Covid-19 cases is a “red alert,” while stopping short of offering new proposals for a compromise.
    • “Our focus in the lame duck continues to be on Covid relief -- this is a red alert,” Pelosi said at a press briefing Friday at the Capitol, referring to the congressional session preceding the installation of the new administration in January. “I urge Republicans to acknowledge the crisis and come to the table to work on Covid relief.”
    • The House returns to session next week, with no public schedule for any renewal in stimulus negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on whom the White House this week effectively placed in charge of representing the Republican side on the issue, underscored Thursday his opposition to a package of the size Pelosi wants.
    • Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer Thursday reiterated that their $2.4 trillion proposal needs to be the starting point for talks. McConnell has advocated for about $500 billion, a top-line number well below the Trump administration’s roughly $1.9 trillion negotiating position before Election Day.


  • Democrats And Republicans Are Still Far Apart On Economic Stimulus Deal As Coronavirus Infections Surge The top Democrats in Congress said Thursday that a record surge in U.S. coronavirus infections raises the urgency for a new relief bill. The part of the process that has confounded Washington for months — crafting a bill backed by both Democrats and Republicans — has become no less of a challenge since Election Day. Speaking to reporters in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she still supports legislation to inject at least $2.2 trillion into the American health-care system and economy. The California Democrat, who will see her party’s majority shrink by at least six seats after the 2020 election, cited Wednesday’s record 143,231 new Covid-19 infections as reason to stick to a spending demand the GOP has seen as unreasonable. “We’re at the same place, even more so with the pandemic,” she said. “Because look at those numbers!” Her comments reflect a fundamental disagreement with Republicans over what the U.S. needs to recover from the pandemic. The gulf has lingered throughout start-and-stop talks between Pelosi and the White House. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged the need for another aid package but said it should resemble the GOP’s $500 billion proposal that Senate Democrats blocked before the election. Read More at CNBC


  • Bloomberg reports, Virus Aid Fight Creates Rift in House, Senate Funding Bill Talks Senate Republicans would omit emergency coronavirus funds in their annual spending bills and provide nearly $2 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall, two sticking points as negotiations ramp up on funding the government ahead of a Dec. 11 deadline. GOP appropriators released a $1.4 trillion package of all 12 spending bills Tuesday morning, as bicameral talks begin to pass an omnibus measure in the next month. The bills serve as Senate Republicans’ starting offer, countering the 12 bills House Democrats worked on this summer. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said they want to strike a full government funding deal, rather than relying on another stopgap measure to avert a shutdown on Dec. 12. Coronavirus funds could be one of the biggest hurdles for negotiators to overcome.


Tax Policy Update

  • Bloomberg Government reports, Stimulus and McConnell Will Likely Inhibit Biden’s Tax Hike Plan President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to repeal President Donald Trump‘s tax cuts as soon as he is inaugurated, but the ongoing financial crisis and the prospect of a Republican-controlled Senate could waylay that proposal for the foreseeable future. Biden will likely soon send a deficit-financed economic recovery bill to Congress, delaying any progress on a tax-increase plan for at least a couple of months, despite his pledge to work to reverse the tax cuts on day one of his presidency. Biden would find a receptive audience for his plans in the House. But if Republicans continue to control the Senate -- which depends on the outcome of January runoffs for both Georgia seats -- they have the power to block his tax agenda.
    • A Republican-controlled Senate would be Biden’s biggest roadblock to passing any tax increases. Republicans, many of whom have signed Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge to oppose tax hikes, are also eager to defend Trump’s tax cut, which they say is his key legislative achievement.
    • House Democrats are likely to use the two years until the 2022 midterm elections to pass a series of symbolic tax-increase bills that could die in the Senate. Democrats can use Senate inaction as a campaign cry.
    • Biden’s Tax Plan:
      • Biden is relying on a series of tax increases mostly on corporations and individuals earning at least $400,000 a year to pay for trillions of dollars for infrastructure investment, child care access and programs to curb the cost of college degrees.
      • Businesses of all sizes are concerned that a Biden win would mean that their taxes could increase -- perhaps drastically. Biden has proposed raising corporate rates to 28% from 21%, repealing a valuable tax break for many small business owners and raising the top tax rate for those earning at least $400,000 to 39.6% from 37%.
      • Biden would also implement new payroll taxes on those earning at least $400,000 and limit tax breaks for those high earners. He has also proposed to effectively double the tax on income from capital-gains -- profits from the sale of securities, real estate or business interests -- for those earning at least $1 million.


  • Committees Charting Plans - Tax Writers’ Goals: With control of the Senate to be decided in a pair of January runoff elections in Georgia, either Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) or Wyden (D-Oregon) stands to be the likely leader of the Senate Finance Committee depending on the outcome. As chairman, either would be expected to focus on health policy, and could play a key role in negotiations for another stimulus package.
    • Small Business: Pandemic relief for struggling businesses is a top priority for the Senate Small Business Committee, no matter who ends up in charge. Republicans are likely to push for another round of funding for, and more oversight of, the Paycheck Protection Program. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has served as the committee’s chairman since 2019, could become leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, opening up the position to either Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.).


  • Neal Highlights 2021 Ways and Means Priorities House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) spoke with Bloomberg Tax on Monday to discuss his plans for the next Congress, which include pandemic relief, infrastructure, and continuing an effort to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax documents from the Treasury Department. Neal also expressed optimism about the outlook for a recently released bipartisan retirement bill (H.R. 8696). “The most important issue facing the country is what to do about defeating the pandemic. And you’re not going to get the full economic recovery until you successfully address the pandemic.”
    • “You’re going to need a short term—perhaps until the end of January—relief measure that should be modeled after the CARES Act and the HEROES Act. There was an acknowledgment, as recently as the last couple of days, Senator McConnell has also said ‘You’re going to need to have a relief bill.’ “If they continue, you know, to talk about some tax relief, it ought to be directed toward the earned income tax credit, more expansive or refundable child credit. And let’s expand the dependent care credit as well.”


  • IRS Update: Paycheck Protection Program: IRS officials are weighing whether to provide more guidance on forgiveness of emergency loans to support businesses in the pandemic, as they rush to wrap up rules for the 2017 tax law, said the agency’s chief counsel. The IRS has come under fire for barring businesses seeking forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program loans from writing off expenses paid for with the relief funds.
    • Asked about this criticism and whether the IRS intends to change its stance, Chief Counsel Michael Desmond said the agency has “gotten a lot of questions on that, and we are certainly considering those questions.”
    • Desmond, during an American Bar Association tax conference, added that the IRS is focused on the forgiveness of the loans, which aren’t included in businesses’ taxable income, “and giving some consideration as to whether guidance can be issued on that.”


Labor & OSHA Update


  • U.S. Department of Labor Issues Guidance Alerting Employers to Frequently Cited Standards Related to COVID-19 Inspections The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidance and an accompanying one-pager to help employers understand which standards are most frequently cited during coronavirus-related inspections. OSHA based these documents on data from citations issued, many of which were the result of complaints, referrals and fatalities in industries such as hospitals and healthcare, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and meat/poultry processing plants. The one-pager and guidance document provide available resources that address the most frequently cited standards, including Respiratory ProtectionRecording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and IllnessesPersonal Protective Equipment and the General Duty Clause. The one-pager provides examples of requirements employers must follow, such as:
    • Provide a medical evaluation before a worker is fit-tested or uses a respirator.
    • Establish, implement, and update a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures.
    • Train workers to safely use respirators and/or other PPE in the workplace, and retrain workers about changes in the workplace that might make previous training obsolete.
    • Store respirators and other PPE properly in a way to protect them from damage, contamination, and, where applicable, deformation of the facepiece and exhalation valve.
    • Keep required records of work-related fatalities, injuries, and illness.

OSHA is providing the guidance to help employers protect workers and increase compliance with OSHA requirements. Read more at the DOL’s News Release.


  • Bernie Sanders Confirms Interest In Becoming Biden's Labor Secretary Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Wednesday that, if asked, he would accept the position of Labor secretary in President-elect Joe Biden's administration. "I want to do everything I can to protect the working families of this country who are under tremendous duress right now and whether that is in the Senate, whether that's in the Biden administration, who knows? Let's see how that unfolds," Sanders said during an interview with CNN when asked if he was eyeing a position in Biden's Cabinet. "If I had a portfolio that allowed me to stand up and fight for working families, would I do it? Yes, I would," Sanders said when pressed if he would accept a job as Labor secretary. Progressives are pushing for Biden to pick Sanders, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, for a Cabinet position as they try to get the incoming administration to embrace policies pushed by the party's left flank. Read More at The Hill


  • Biden Taps Obama-Era Officials for Review Team President-elect Joe Biden sent a strong signal that he plans a robust first-year labor agenda by picking a 23-person transition landing team marked by vast collective experience in executive branch workplace policy. Big Names: Biden’s agency review team for the U.S. Labor Department, NLRB, and EEOC is packed with senior labor and employment personnel from the Obama years. Former DOL Deputy Secretary Chris Lu will lead the team, joined by Obama alums Seth Harris (former DOL deputy and acting secretary); Patricia Smith (former DOL solicitor); Jenny Yang (former EEOC chair); and Jennifer Abruzzo (former deputy and acting NLRB general counsel). Bigger Strategy? Others on the list may not be as widely known to the labor and employment bar. The group’s membership suggests the Biden administration will work to reorient the agencies aggressively in workers’ direction following President Donald Trump’s emphasis on deregulation and pro-management moves. Read More at Bloomberg
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