Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines from Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs practice.
- Senate Democrats have opted to narrow the eligibility to receive an individual stimulus payment as part of the coronavirus relief bill, a Democratic aide confirmed to The Hill. Centrist Democratic senators had urged the change. Under the proposal, individuals and couples making up to $75,000 and $150,000 per year, respectively, will receive a full $1,400 check. But above those thresholds, the checks would shrink and then phase out at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples, compared with $100,000 and $200,000, respectively, under the House bill. Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments. The Senate could unveil the final bill as soon as Wednesday night or tomorrow.
- More than 200,000 people signed up for health coverage on federal ObamaCare exchanges in the first two weeks of a special pandemic enrollment period, according to federal statistics released Wednesday. An executive order signed by President Biden in January allows uninsured Americans to sign up for coverage on healthcare.gov from Feb. 15 through May 15. Most states that operate their own exchanges have also extended open enrollment, which is typically available only for qualifying life events such as getting married, a job loss, or a move.
- On Wednesday, The Senate Finance Committee split evenly on party lines in a vote on advancing Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra, highlighting the GOP resistance to his nomination. The vote means Becerra's nomination can still go to the full Senate, but there will be an added step of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) moving to discharge the nomination from the committee, followed by an added vote in the full Senate on discharging it.
- The House has decided to scrap tomorrow’s work session and send members home due to intelligence warnings of extremist planning to attack the U.S. Capitol Thursday. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security had warned local law enforcement Tuesday of potential violence. In the morning, Acting sergeant-at-arms put out a congressional Security Bulletin warning for March 4 “due to a QAnon-linked conspiracy theory that former President Trump will be inaugurated on tomorrow.” But by Wednesday afternoon, the House sergeant-at-arms said the Capitol Police had “received new and concerning information and intelligence” suggesting a new threat to the Capitol from March 4 through March 6 “by a militia group.”
- Administration (SBA) quietly decided that some changes to its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) benefit that President Joe Biden promised to "one-person businesses" won't be available to many of those who have already received aid from the program. These businesses were shortchanged in the way their loans were calculated but will not be able to increase their existing loans. The new, and more favorable, rules will only apply to new loans.
- On Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky warned that it’s critical to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the last stages of the pandemic, so the increasing number of variant infections don’t undo the declines in cases and deaths. Walensky’s words of caution come as several states start moving to open businesses to full capacity despite less than 10 percent of their populations being vaccinated.
In the News:
- Local media report that health officials in Saudi Arabia will require a coronavirus vaccine for worshippers who want to participate in the annual hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca the Islamic faith requires at least once in a lifetime. The country’s health ministry called for long-term measures to organize health facilities in the holy Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, in addition to the creation of vaccine committees for attendees. Each year about 3 million Muslims usually make the trip to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj.
- As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) plans to lift the statewide mask mandate amid a decline in new COVID-19 cases, large U.S. companies in Texas are keeping the measure in place. Business Insider reports that U.S. companies with locations in Texas, including Target, Toyota, Kroger, and Macy’s, are all still requiring employees to wear facial coverings while working. Kroger, Macy’s, and Target will require customers to wear masks as well. Carmaker General Motors reportedly confirmed on Tuesday that it would continue to require employee masking at work.
- South African scientists said Wednesday that antibodies from the coronavirus variant first found in the country may offer better protection against the original virus than vice versa. Penny Moore, a professor at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said that protection against the South African variant provided by the original virus’s antibodies declined ninefold. By contrast, protection against the original virus provided by antibodies from the South African variant declined only threefold. Both Pfizer and Moderna announced last week that they had begun testing booster shots of their vaccine to protect against South African variants.