By Mark Valentini, Director of Legislative Affairs
Last month, PHCC reported that mid-recess legislative activity in both the House and Senate was sending a signal that negotiations may restart on a COVID relief package that could result in a bill being passed around Labor Day. Since then, White House negotiators, including the President’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, have indicated that a deal may not come until “after September.” The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg means the Senate is expected to take up the nomination of her successor, thereby further relegating COVID relief to the back burner.
Earlier this month, the Senate attempted to bring to a vote the Republican “skinny bill” (that is, a pared-down version of their HEALS Act introduced last month), which would have extended the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), protected businesses from COVID-related torts, and provided $300 of weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). S.178, the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act, retains provisions that would protect small business from COVID-related lawsuits and include eligibility for 501(c)6 non-profits to participate in the PPP, demonstrating that this continues to be a legislative priority for which PHCC has been vociferously advocating. Nonetheless, S.178 did not have the 60 votes needed to bring the bill up for debate and an up-or-down vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded that she would not support less than the comprehensive relief that continues $600 FPUC, $1 trillion in emergency funding for states, and stimulus payments for Americans. Last month she proposed reducing the cost of her party’s HEROES Act by $1 trillion dollars and urged Republicans to meet her in the middle.
But how are the Senate and House proposals different? The House bill takes a much more holistic approach in its 2,000+-page bill providing additional funding for most federal agencies and $1 trillion for state and local governments, while the Senate takes a more targeted approach.
- Funding.The starkest difference is funding. The HEROES Act is a multi-trillion dollar bill, while S.178 is a $640 billion bill.
- PPP Extension and 501(c)6 Eligibility. Each bill includes PHCC policy priorities such as an extension of the PPP through at least the end of the year and includes 501(c)6 organizations for eligibility.
- Liability Protection. The Senate bill has provisions protecting small businesses from COVID liability, while the House bill includes presumption for workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19.
- Tax-Free PPP. The House bill reverses April 30 guidance issued by the IRS prohibiting deductions for qualified expenses paid with PPP funds, while the Senate bill does not address the issue.
- PPP Second Draw Loans. This is a new proposal that arose when Senate Republicans drafted the HEALS Act, so it is not in the HEROES Act. PPP Second Draw loans would be available to small businesses that can demonstrate that, even after receiving a PPP loan, their revenues are 50% or less compared to the same time period from the previous year. Those businesses would be eligible to receive another PPP loan (up to $2 million) to keep employees on the payroll and pay necessary expenses to stay afloat.
- Stimulus Payments. The House bill includes another round of $1,200 for qualified individuals ($2,400 for qualified couples) and an additional $500 for each child dependent. The Senate bill does not include stimulus.
- FPUC. The Senate is proposing $300 per week in federal unemployment assistance, while the House proposes a continuation of $600 per week into next spring.
House moderates have introduced a $1.5 trillion bipartisan bill that has the attention of the White House, but Speaker Pelosi will view this as caving to Republican demands and would not want to hand them that victory. If the White House, Senate Republicans and enough House Democrats throw their support behind this middle ground, it would put a lot of pressure on Speaker Pelosi to take action.
Another possible approach is to vote piecemeal on the issues with bipartisan agreement, particularly over extending the PPP which has since expired, making sure the PPP is funded, and including 501(c)6 organizations in any PPP provisions. Otherwise, Congress may not do anything until after elections.
The problem is that if Congress waits until after elections, the outcome of those elections could determine whether we see all PHCC priorities becoming law. If Congress takes a piecemeal approach and passes PPP-related provisions that everyone agrees on, then our other priorities are at risk. If Democrats win all of Congress and the White House, you can count on them passing a large bill next year that will not protect businesses from COVID liability. A Senate and/or White House that remains in Republican hands will give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a little more bargaining power in this regard.
Of course, a lot of this can play out differently, but this is the lay of the land as we currently see it in Washington. PHCC continues to advocate for bipartisan agreement on a COVID relief bill that includes all of our legislative priorities for plumbing and HVAC contractors.
Director of Legislative Affairs , PHCC-National Association