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

President Donald Trump last week signed into law the second legislative package approved by Congress to combat the pandemic, as Senate Republicans took the lead on a third package to help cushion the economic blow from the measures states like Nevada have taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

“For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you,” Trump wrote on Twitter early Wednesday morning. 

The Senate voted 90 to 8 Wednesday evening to send the measure to Trump for his signature. He signed it shortly after the vote. The House last week was not in session and is not expected to return unless it has to vote on the third package, dubbed phase three by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

McConnell unveiled his phase three package, estimated to cost $1 trillion, Thursday and hopes to hold the first vote on the package as soon as Saturday. Senate Republicans are working on a deal with Senate Democrats as well as House leaders and committee chairmen.

The Senate leader wants the chamber to pass the measure by Monday. The House could pass the package by unanimous consent, to avoid coming back and possibly spreading the virus. But all House lawmakers would have to be on board.

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen praised the Senate passage of the second package, which included free coronavirus testing, emergency paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment benefits, enhanced food aid for people affected by the outbreak and a temporary 6.2 percent increase in the federal Medicaid match for states.

“While more needs to be done to help small businesses and the workers in Nevada’s hardest-hit industries, @SenCortezMasto and I are pleased that Congress has acted quickly and in a bipartisan manner to address the threat of coronavirus,” Rosen wrote on Twitter after passage of the bill.

Phase three

At least seven Democratic votes will be needed to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster of the package, which gives Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his Democratic colleagues leverage in negotiations with McConnell and the White House. The proposal would also need to get through the Democratic-run House.

After the package was unveiled, both Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised concerns about helping businesses over workers.

“We are beginning to review Senator McConnell’s proposal and on first reading, it is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers.” 

Pelosi later called the bill a “non starter” as currently written.

The package would provide $200 billion in loans to large businesses hit by the crisis, such as the airline and hotel industries.

Schumer and Pelosi are concerned that those funds could be used for other initiatives like compensating executives or stock buybacks rather than passing it through to workers.

McConnell’s package comes as Nevada lawmakers and business leaders have urged Congress to include funding for hotels and casinos.

On Friday, the Nevada Resort Association  sounded the alarm for federal aid in a letter to congressional representatives arguing that the state is “the national epicenter of economic devastation” in the coronavirus outbreak and could see unemployment shoot above 30 percent — twice the levels seen in the Great Recession.

Also on Friday, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Henderson Mayor Debra March and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve signed onto a letter with 300 other mayors from 48 states asking for $250 billion for localities to fight the coronavirus, maintain city services and protect families and local businesses from the economic fallout of this crisis.

“Direct fiscal assistance to cities will ensure that mayors can continue to provide vital public services (including public safety, water, sewer, solid waste, and municipal electricity) and that local governments are not forced to make cuts that further exacerbate the economic impact of this crisis.” the U.S. Conference of Mayors letter said. 

On Thursday, Gov. Steve Sisolak participated in a call Trump held with the nation’s governors in which Sisolak urged the president to consider the state’s hospitality industry in any recovery package approved by the federal government to counter the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier last week, Sisolak called for a 30-day closure of all nonessential businesses in the state, including casinos, to avoid further spread of the virus.

On Wednesday, the entire Nevada congressional delegation wrote to House and Senate Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to underscore the crisis’ effect on the state’s tourism industry.

“We need to be looking out for everybody: our small businesses, Nevada’s vital gaming, tourism and outdoor recreation industries, and most importantly, our workers, especially those in the hospitality industry, who are the lifeblood of the Silver State,” the letter said. “We need to work together to assuage the concerns of so many Americans whose livelihood depends on travel and tourism and who take pride and rely on the positive image of our nation, both at home and abroad.”

On Tuesday, MGM Chief Jim Murren, along with other tourism industry executives, visited the White House to discuss the crisis’s impact on their businesses. Murren discussed how MGM voluntarily closed its Las Vegas properties.

“That’s 70,000 people we are now putting on a furlough,” Murren told Trump. “I want to retain those employees.  I want to bring them back as soon as possible.”

“I also represent the 2 million jobs of the gaming industry in the United States,” Murren continued. “And, as you know, many of those casinos are in cities that rely upon them for their tax revenue.  So I appreciate your efforts, and I stand by to help you in any way I can.”

Rep. Dina Titus, who is co-chair of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus also wrote a letter last week, signed by 49 other House members, to House leaders and top appropriators calling for support. Reps. Mark Amodei, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford also signed the letter.

“One of every ten jobs in this country is tied to the travel and tourism industry,” Horsford said in a release. “In my home state of Nevada, that statistic is much higher.”

“I’m calling on leadership in both branches of Congress and asking them to consider Nevada’s vital gaming, tourism and outdoor recreation industries, and most importantly, our workers, especially those in the hospitality industry, who keep our state the fantastic place it is to live, work, and visit,” he continued.

The proposal includes the government paying individuals up to $1,200 and up to $2,400 for couples plus an extra $500 for each child. Those amounts would be reduced for people making more than $75,000 a year and households making more than $150,000. Individuals making more than $99,000 and couples making more than $198,000 would be ineligible for payments.

That provision has gotten some pushback from Republicans, including Sen. Lindsay Graham, a close advisor to Trump, who has urged the president to reverse course on the provision. But his opposition appeared to have softened. He tweeted that he’s willing to “pay 75 percent of people’s income up to $80,000 to get us through” the next six to eight weeks.

The bill would also provide $300 billion in loans to small businesses, defined as those with less than 500 employees. The loans would be forgiven if the funds are used to maintain their payroll. 

The measure would also move the traditional April 15 tax filing deadline to July 15 and allows individuals required to make estimated tax payments to postpone them until October 15th. It waives penalties for early withdrawal from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes of up to $100,000, allows the Secretary of Education to defer student loan payments and allows students who were forced to drop out of school due to coronavirus to keep their Pell grants.

Coronavirus in the Capitol

The first two members of Congress were diagnosed last week with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. They are Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, a Republican from Florida, and Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat from Utah.

The offices of Titus, Amodei and Lee all said that none of those lawmakers had any contact with either and are continuing their work in their districts. They all are heeding the advice of national health experts. Horsford’s office did not immediately respond.

According to an update from Congress’ Attending Physician, “instances where the affected Members may have briefly come into contact with other colleagues on the House Floor would be considered to be low risk exposures and no additional measures are required other than for them to report any illness should they become ill.”

Like most of the nation’s places of work, the U.S. Capitol building is now sparsely populated with members taking precautions, as best as possible.

Cortez Masto continues to maintain a regular schedule and is taking meetings over the phone and via video conference, according to her office. Staff in her Nevada and Washington, D.C. offices are teleworking until further notice. 

Rosen is also using skeleton staff with the rest teleworking. She, too, is taking meetings via teleconference and video conference.

“Our offices remain open and ready to assist all Nevadans,” Rosen spokeswoman Ivana Brancaccio said.

On the House side, Nevada’s lawmakers are also using video and phone conferences and reduced staff.

Titus canceled her annual event that offers free tax filing services for constituents.

“We encourage those who planned to attend our event to contact the Nevada Free Taxes Coalition to make alternative accommodations,” her spokesman, Kevin Gerson, said.

Amodei’s office in D.C. normally has 10 staffers, including an intern, but they have switched to no more than three people in the office at any one time. 

The Nevada Republican will make accommodations if an in-person meeting is needed out of his Elko or Reno offices, which have one and four staffers under normal circumstances.

“Yes, Congressman Amodei is continuing to have meetings and any rescheduled meetings are being handled on a case by case basis,” said Amodei’s spokeswoman Logan Ramsey. “Some of those requests have been rescheduled for an in-person meeting date down the road, and some have opted for an over the phone meeting.”


Also last week, Cortez Masto and Rosen wrote several coronavirus-related letters, including one arguing for enhancing or extending renewable energy tax breaks in the phase three bill or future economic aid packages.

“Providing support to the clean energy industry will give much-needed certainty and confidence for those workers that they will be able to keep their paychecks and their jobs in this critical industry,” the senators also said.

The Nevada delegation has been pushing to preserve a generous tax credit for residential and commercial solar projects. The credit dropped from 30 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020 and will phase out completely in 2022 for residential users, plateauing at 10 percent for commercial users. More than 6,600 Nevadans worked in the solar industry as of fall 2019, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association

They wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Matthew T. Albence, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan seeking information about the policies and procedures their agencies have in place to prepare for and manage a potential spread of the coronavirus among detainees and staff in DHS facilities.

“Given the spread of the virus in the U.S.—and the particular vulnerability of individuals in immigration detention and staff—it is critical that DHS, ICE, and CBP have plans to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus at DHS facilities and to protect detained persons, facility staff, and the general public,” the letter said.

There are about 39,000 individuals in immigration detention and the agency has requested capacity to detain 60,000 for fiscal year 2021, according to the letter.

The two also wrote to Vice President Mike Pence, who is head of the White House’s virus task force, to allow agencies to be lenient about staffing requirements in connection with receiving health care grants.  

“In order to qualify for many of the federal grants that support Nevada’s public health initiatives, recipient agencies are required to track the hours and personnel working on grant funded projects,” the letter said.

The senators want federal agencies to relax those requirements to keep health care workers on the task of fighting the virus as opposed to filling out paperwork. 

“Our state and local health agencies should not be forced to forfeit much-needed federal dollars for public health initiatives that were vital to our communities before the coronavirus outbreak, and will be needed long after the outbreak is contained by our tireless health care workers and first responders,” the senators said. “We ask that [the administration] direct relevant federal agency heads to provide grant recipients with reasonable leniency in utilizing previously-awarded federal health care grant funding to respond to COVID-19 in their communities.”

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.


Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3544 – A bill to assist older Americans and people with disabilities affected by COVID-19.

S. 3535 – A bill to extend the due date for the return and payment of Federal income taxes to July 15, 2020, for taxable year 2019.

S. 3531 – A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land to Lander County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S. 3503 – A bill to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to treat certain programs of education converted to distance learning by reason of emergencies and health-related situations in the same manner as programs of education pursued at educational institutions, and for other purposes.


Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3544 – A bill to assist older Americans and people with disabilities affected by COVID-19.

S. 3535 – A bill to extend the due date for the return and payment of Federal income taxes to July 15, 2020, for taxable year 2019.

S. 3503 – A bill to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to treat certain programs of education converted to distance learning by reason of emergencies and health-related situations in the same manner as programs of education pursued at educational institutions, and for other purposes.

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