What Now?! – March 5, 2020

The House passed the $8.3 billion coronavirus response spending bill Wednesday in a nearly unanimous vote, 415-2, in line with the $8.5 billion House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer proposed last week when the White House was asking for just $1.25 billion in new spending.

The spending bill includes $3 billion for research and development on diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines, including $300 million for the government to purchase such drugs from manufacturers at “fair and reasonable” prices to distribute them to those who can’t pay for them. It also provides more than $2 billion for federal, state, and local government preparation and response, including an additional $300 million for the Centers for Disease Control’s rapid response fund. It adds $1.3 billion for overseas spending to combat the virus. It designates $350 million to help states like Washington that have become “hot spots” to procure medical supplies and prepare; $500 million for drugs, masks, syringes and other supplies to state and local governments and hospitals, and $100 million to community health centers. It also earmarks $500 million to Medicare for patients to have remote “telehealth” consultations and treatment, so sick people who aren’t so unwell they don’t have to be hospitalized don’t have to visit the doctor in person.

The original provision the Democrats wanted to allow the federal government to purchase large quantities of the testing, treatment, and vaccine responses and provide them to the public without cost was rejected. But the “fair and reasonable price” standards they demanded stayed in. The bill also gives the Department of Health and Human Services authority to make sure that treatments are “affordable in the commercial market” provided that that doesn’t delay product development.

The Senate seems to be ready to act, and to not try to mess around with the bill by doing something like attaching the FISA reauthorization as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was threatening to do last week. 

New York Times: Trump blamed Obama for making it harder for his administration to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. While it’s not entirely clear what “decision” Trump was referring to, he called it “very detrimental” and claimed that it hampered his ability to enact widespread testing for the virus. Health experts and government officials during Obama’s presidency, however, said they were unaware of any policy or rule that would have affected the way the FDA approves tests related to the current crisis.

“Senate Republicans are sharpening their investigations involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s work at a Ukrainian energy company, just as the former vice president surges in the Democratic presidential race and reemerges as the front-runner for his party’s nomination,” CNN  reports.

“While Republicans publicly insist their efforts have nothing to do with Biden’s campaign, and there is no evidence of wrongdoing involving Biden, they are using their powers in the Senate to look into a host of matters that they believe could shine negative light on the former vice president — and help President Trump as the race heads into a crucial period.”

“In a rare rebuke of a sitting member of Congress, Supreme Court Chef Justice John Roberts criticized Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) over remarks made from the steps outside the high court Wednesday that Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch would ‘pay the price’ for a vote against reproductive rights,” the Washington Postreports.

Said Roberts: “Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”

Schumer’s team hits back at the partisan Chief Justice. “For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when Trump attacked Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes.” Good.

“Coronavirus is throwing a small wrinkle into Washington’s primary,” Fox 13 reports.

“In an effort to stave off the spread of the virus, the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t want voters to lick their ballots to seal primary election envelopes. Officials with the Washington Secretary of State’s office said voters should use a sponge to moisten their ballot envelopes instead.”

“The coronavirus outbreak has brought parts of the world’s shipping industry to the brink of paralysis, with disruption that began in China hitting shipping lanes on the other side of the world with no obvious correlation,” the Financial Times reports.

“The sudden stop in economic activity has sent freight rates plunging on some lines, while rates on other lines have soared due to equipment shortages caused by the disruption.”

“The United States conducted an airstrike against Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan Wednesday just days after the two sides signed a peace deal,” the Washington Post reports.

“The strike comes just hours after President Trump spoke to senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar by phone Tuesday. Trump said he had ‘a very good talk’ with the militant’s senior political leader and said the two men agreed on ‘no violence, we don’t want violence.’”

“The 10-year US Treasury yield dropped below 1 per cent for the first time on Tuesday, after the Federal Reserve delivered its first emergency rate cut since the financial crisis in order to stave off the long-term economic impact from the spread of the coronavirus,” the Financial Times reports.

Bloomberg: “It is hard to exaggerate the historic significance of Tuesday’s events in the bond market… According to historical work by Robert Shiller, the Nobel laureate economist at Yale University who has reconstructed the 10-year interest rates available in the U.S. back to 1871, it has never before dropped this low. Many momentous events have shaken the U.S. since Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency, but none of them were sufficient to drive long-term money down to such cheap levels.”

“Finance ministers from the richest nations and their central bankers held a rare conference call early Tuesday. They pledged to do whatever it takes to support a global economy under acute threat from the coronavirus,” Bloomberg reports.

“When they hung up the phone, only a single institution sprang into action. The U.S. Federal Reserve cut its benchmark interest rate by a half-point — the biggest reduction, and the first one outside of scheduled meetings, since the crisis year of 2008.”

Politico: A coalition of 19 states are suing to block the Trump administration’s diversion of $3.8 billion from the Pentagon to the border wall. The states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin – argue that redirecting money already allocated by lawmakers violates Congress’ appropriation powers. The states also argue that diverting billions from defense programs “will cause damage to their economies, harming their proprietary interests.”

The Justice Department has created an office to focus on stripping citizenship rights from naturalized citizens. The Denaturalization Section is nominally committed to sniffing out “terrorists, war criminals, sex offenders and other fraudsters who illegally obtained naturalization.” In actuality, it will terrify immigrants who haven’t committed any crime with the threat of denaturalization lawsuits, and could be used to strip their citizenship rights. The administration’s increasing use of denaturalization promotes the idea that naturalized citizens have fewer rights than those born in the U.S., and means that even immigrants who have attained citizenship have to live in fear of deportation. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) announced that the state would require health insurers to waive cost sharing for coronavirus testing. Patients worried they have COVID-19 will be able to visit emergency rooms and urgent care centers to get tested without a financial obstacle, a crucial step towards containing the virus. New Yorkers receiving Medicaid coverage will also have their costs covered. Democrats have said they’ll propose legislation to make testing and treatment for the coronavirus free to all patients, but in the meantime it’s up to the states to get a head start and set some ground rules.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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