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East front of the U.S. Capitol. June 22, 2018. Photo by Humberto Sanchez

Senate Democrats voted against advancing a $500 billion Republican pandemic aid bill last week, effectively killing it, as talks on a larger relief package crept forward. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been negotiating with the White House on a larger measure, cautioned that a deal before the election was unlikely, but she also did not rule it out. Election Day is a little over a week away.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Pelosi said she’s pleased with negotiations, and added that several factors would need to come together, including support from President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans. 

“He wants a bill,” Pelosi, in her Thursday press conference, said of the president noting that he has pressed Senate Republicans to embrace a larger package after previously seeking to break off talks.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky urged Trump not to strike a deal before the election, but the president has recently signaled his desire to act in the immediate future, Pelosi said that even if a deal is struck soon, it would take time for legislative language to be written and for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to go through the bill to determine its effect on the deficit.

The House did not hold any roll call votes last week. The Senate considered a judicial nomination and a series of procedural votes in connection with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. 

Talks on COVID relief came as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to send the Barrett nomination to the full Senate. Democrats boycotted the committee vote, in protest against the nomination, which they contend comes too close to the presidential election. 

The full Senate began consideration of the Barrett nomination Friday, including disposing of a series of Democratic protest votes. The chamber will remain in session through the weekend, which will allow for a vote to cut off debate on the nomination Sunday and a final vote to confirm Monday. Barrett is expected to be confirmed. Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen said they will oppose the nomination over concerns that she will invalidate the Affordable Care Act in a pending Supreme Court case. 

COVID aid

As prospects for a stimulus deal slowly rose, Rep. Susie Lee signed on to a letter to President Donald Trump, Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging them to continue to press for an agreement as soon as possible. 

“The bottom line: our families, businesses, and local communities don't have the luxury of time so Washington can continue its partisan games,” said the letter, signed by 28 members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “We must do our job and do it now.”

The Problem Solvers Caucus is a group of 50 congressional centrists split evenly between 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans. Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, is a member of the group but did not sign the letter. Only eight Republicans signed on. 

The group helped jumpstart negotiations when they released a $1.5 trillion proposal last month that won praise from Trump. 

Pelosi said that differences remain, including how much funding to provide state and local governments and language to provide liability protection to businesses and schools.

She, nevertheless, remained optimistic. “Help is on the way,” Pelosi reiterated. “It will be bigger, it will be safer and it will be retroactive.” 

Pelosi also said that much of the progress made last week had been on developing a strategic plan to “crush the virus,” including testing and contact tracing.

“We are so long overdue to have a national strategic plan based on science, funded adequately in order to get the job done,” she said.

Pelosi underscored the need for the bill to have bipartisan support to ensure its passage in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

When asked whether she is concerned about a lack of Senate GOP support for the bill, she said it's up to Trump to wrangle the Republican votes. “That’s a conversation for the president and the majority leader,” Pelosi said.

Most Republicans are skeptical of the bill that is being worked out between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the number two GOP member in the Senate, told reporters last week. The package is expected to cost between $1.9 and $2.4 trillion.  

Even if all 45 Democrats and two independents vote for the package, there are likely not 13 Republicans to win the 60 votes needed to advance the measure.

Also, McConnell does not want to pass an aid bill that cannot win a majority of Senate Republicans, Thune indicated.

No Democrats voted for the GOP-drafted $500 billion relief bill, which included another round of funding for the emergency small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program, schools and a provision shielding businesses from liability associated with the virus.

Miscellany 

Sen. Jacky Rosen highlighted a report released last week by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) inspector general, which confirmed that cost-cutting measures implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy hurt mail delivery.  

“The USPS Inspector General has confirmed what we all knew: the operational changes made by Postmaster General DeJoy caused confusion and mail delays nationwide,” Rosen said on Twitter.

USPS initiated various significant cost reduction strategies on top of three initiatives the DeJoy launched to achieve cost savings, according to the report.  

“No analysis of the service impacts of these various changes was conducted and documentation and guidance to the field for these strategies was very limited and almost exclusively oral,” the report said. “The resulting confusion and inconsistency in operations at postal facilities compounded the significant negative service impacts across the country.” 

Rep. Dina Titus helped announce that the Library of Congress will use the term “Armenian Genocide” as a subject heading rather than “Armenian Massacres,” which the library previously used.

“The use of the term ‘Armenian Genocide’ is necessary to paint an accurate picture of history and rightly honor the victims of this atrocity,” Titus wrote on Twitter. “I'm grateful that the @librarycongress listened to us and will no longer conceal the truth. The Trump Administration should do the same.”

Titus was among a group of six members of Congress who wrote to the library in September asking for the policy change.

Congress approved nonbinding resolutions last year acknowledging the atrocity as genocide, an orchestrated state action to exterminate a population. 

Citing a desire not to antagonize Turkey, where the U.S. maintains a military base, the Trump administration said it would not change the federal government’s position, which does not call the killing of about 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I and in subsequent years, a genocide.

Rep. Steven Horsford participated in a Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday on access to health insurance. Horsford focused on the president’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act and how that would affect Nevadans, including 1.2 million Silver State residents with pre-existing and 371,000 who are covered due to expansion of Medicaid.

“Instead of focusing on cutting health care to Americans, we ought to be improving access and coverage because NOW is the time that Americans need it most,” Horsford said. 

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 sponsored:

S. 4807 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to create a refundable tax credit for travel expenditures, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4840 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to require the inclusion of certain audio-only diagnoses in the determination of risk adjustment for Medicare Advantage plans, and for other purposes.

S. 4818 – A bill to provide assistance to small businesses affected by COVID-19, and for other purposes.

S. 4809 – A bill to direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish a new Tribal priority window for the 2.5 gigahertz band, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 4836 – A bill to prevent efforts of the Department of Justice to advocate courts that an individual exercising the authority of the head of an agency for more than a year, regardless of their title, is not in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998.

S. 4818 – A bill to provide assistance to small businesses affected by COVID-19, and for other purposes.

S. 4809 – A bill to direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish a new Tribal priority window for the 2.5 gigahertz band, and for other purposes.

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