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The U.S. Capitol building as seen on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. (Geoff Livingston/Courtesy under Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; https://flic.kr/p/SCLbyg)

Back from summer recess, the Senate last week failed to advance a $300 billion GOP-drafted pandemic relief bill as Democrats and Republicans remained at odds over how much aid to provide and in what areas.

The House held committee hearings last week, but no roll call votes on the floor.

The Senate GOP aid bill was doomed even before it was released Wednesday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the bill, before its unveiling, one “which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere.”

None of the 47 Democrats voted for the measure, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen, denying the legislation the 60 votes needed to advance. A majority of Republicans, 52, voted for the proposal. Democrats support a $3 trillion package, the HEROES Act, passed by the House in May.

After the bill failed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on Fox News and accused Democrats of wanting to “play games” with the pandemic relief in the hopes of gaining an advantage in the November election. 

McConnell added that the HEROES Act was a “$3 trillion wishlist of liberal items.”

Chances for a deal before the election seemed even more unlikely given that Pelosi and the White House recently agreed to enact a stopgap spending bill to not let the government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year, September 30. Pelosi noted last week that there was no chance that any COVID relief would be included in the short-term spending measure. 

GOP’s “skinny” COVID relief bill  

At $300 billion, a significant reduction from the $1 trillion package Senate Republicans released in late July, the latest Senate measure was known as the GOP’s “skinny” bill. 

Cortez Masto argued that it was Republicans and McConnell who are playing games. She criticized the bill for excluding funds for state and local governments—the HEROES Act provided $1 trillion—and aid to help people stay in their homes. 

“Senator McConnell held up action on vital coronavirus relief legislation all summer,” Cortez Masto said in a release. “Rather than negotiate a bipartisan bill to help all Nevadans, he offered a slimmed-down package that does nothing to provide relief for renters and homeowners facing eviction, nor support state, local and tribal governments as they face greater budget deficits as a result of their efforts to keep communities safe during this crisis.”

Rosen echoed the need for a bigger bill.

“The American people need relief that matches the urgency of this crisis,” Rosen said in a statement. “We need to do much more to support our workers and small businesses, and invest in health care and education. While the GOP skinny bill touches on those subjects, we need a much stronger bill to help the people who have lost their jobs and the businesses that are in danger of closing their doors.” 

The GOP’s measure included a $300-a-week bonus payment for those getting unemployment insurance, liability protections for businesses and hospitals as well as language that would forgive the Postal Service’s $10 billion loan provided in a previous aid package.

Democrats are at odds with those provisions. They have called for reinstating the full $600-a-week payment, which expired in August, to those getting unemployment insurance benefits through the end of the year. The House bill did not provide liability protection and, last month, House Democrats approved legislation to provide the Postal Service with $25 billion and reverse cost-cutting measures imposed by the postmaster general that have resulted in late mail delivery.   

The GOP measure would provide $105 billion for education, which is more than the $90 billion provided in the HEROES Act. But the Republican bill also included a proposal from GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to provide tax credits for donations to organizations that provide scholarships to needy families to send their kids to private schools. The provision is opposed by teachers' unions that tend to support Democrats and argue that it siphons tax dollars away from public school systems.

The GOP bill also would provide a second round of emergency loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protect Program and included $20 billion for farmers and ranchers.

Committees

Members of the state’s congressional delegation took part in several hearings last week. At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the pandemic, Rosen questioned National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins about getting a COVID-19 vaccine to rural areas. 

“I have communities that have no hospital, no physician offices, and no pharmacies, and closest medical services potentially a hundred miles away,” Rosen said. “What is the national plan to deploy this vaccine across our states?”

Collins said it will take coordination between the federal government, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the states. 

“We're going to need to do this in a priority way so that the most vulnerable people get the doses first,” Collins said. “That means thinking about rural communities and all the ways that can happen, but it's going to be working with the states, and CDC is already deeply engaged in that.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who also appeared before the committee, said that there is work afoot to try to anticipate any problems “before we get a vaccine.”

Rosen noted that vaccinations were down in Nevada by 64 percent. Collins called the overall decline in vaccinations “a crisis right now.”

Rep. Susie Lee took part Thursday in a House hearing on the policies pursued by the Trump administration that have a gender bias and undermine protections for the LGBQ community.

Lee pointed to a recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, that interpreted the 1964 Civil Rights Act as protecting the community from discrimination. But, she said, the administration does not agree that the law protects against discrimination based on sexual preference and gender identity. 

“Simply put, this is about equality for every student, worker, parent and child,” Lee said.

Lee asked Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, what could be done to force the administration’s hand. Frye predicted that more litigation would be likely.

“They continue to intervene in cases where they have advanced arguments that now the court has said are not valid,” Frye said, adding “across the board they need to rethink how they are interpreting sex discrimination.” 

The hearing comes after the administration sided with three Connecticut students who are suing because the state allows transgender athletes to compete against cisgender athletes. The suit claims the state violated Title IX, the law governing sex-based discrimination.

Miscellany

Rep. Mark Amodei, the only House Republican in the delegation, touted $23 million in federal transportation funds awarded to the state last week for The Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission’s Pyramid Highway Project.

Amodei thanked Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He wrote to Chao in May in support of the funding.

"This investment will ultimately help enable Nevadans to move as safely and efficiently as possible and I thank the Trump Administration for its continued support,” Amodei said.

The project will upgrade 2.4 miles of Pyramid Highway by widening about 1.6 miles between Queen Way to Los Altos Parkway from four-lanes to six-lanes and reconstructing nearly a mile of existing four-lane roadway between Los Altos Parkway to Golden View Drive.

Cortez Masto also welcomed the announcement. “This extensive federal support will benefit the entire community by reducing accidents and congestion, creating good paying jobs, and stimulating the local economy,” she said.

Also last week, Trump added former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke to a list of possible nominees to the Supreme Court.

VanDyke serves on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overseeing Nevada. Confirmed by the Senate in December, his nomination was controversial because the American Bar Association, which vets judicial appointments, deemed him unqualified. The ABA also questioned his impartiality toward members of the LGBTQ community.

At his confirmation hearing, he adamantly denied holding any animus towards LGBT people and pledged to be fair.  

 For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4557 – A bill to support efforts to provide intensive, individualized assistance for enrolling in health care coverage.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. 4545 – A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish the Zero Suicide Initiative pilot program of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4557 – A bill to support efforts to provide intensive, individualized assistance for enrolling in health care coverage.

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