The United States House of Representatives on Thursday voted 388 to 5 to approve legislation aimed at providing $484bn for small businesses, hospitals and a national COVID-19 testing strategy .
The bill was approved unanimously by the US Senate on Tuesday after bipartisan negotiations with the White House, and will now go to US President Donald Trump for his signature. Trump is expected to sign the bill quickly.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging America. Small businesses are shuttered. Thousands have died. Millions of Americans are unemployed. Rome is burning. We can either put out the fire or watch our great nation go down in flames,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat, said in urging the legislation forward.
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“This is a strong step in the right direction,” Jeffries added.
The emergency spending package adds approximately $320bn to a programme designed to help small businesses keep employees on their payrolls until the US economy can be reopened again.
Congress provided $350bn in March for small businesses under the so-called Paycheck Protection Program, but the money was quickly exhausted by overwhelming demand.
The programme was designed to help companies with fewer than 500 employees, but a number of larger companies found ways to obtain funds through their banks in the first round.
The new bill seeks to compensate for inequities in the US financial system by channeling $60bn of the new funding through community lenders in under-banked neighbourhoods and rural areas.
More than 26 million Americans have lost their jobs since the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to shut down.
The bill also includes $75bn for hospitals hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and another $60bn for economic disaster assistance, as well as $11bn for states, according to a summary of the legislation.
The impact of the coronavirus is starting to be felt personally by members of Congress. Senator Elizabeth Warren announced on Twitter that her older brother had died, and Representative Maxine Waters said during House debate that her sister was lying in a hospital bed dying of the disease.
My oldest brother, Don Reed, died from coronavirus on Tuesday evening. He joined the Air Force at 19 and spent his career in the military, including five and a half years off and on in combat in Vietnam. He was charming and funny, a natural leader. https://t.co/b8m0xKzAmM
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 23, 2020
“We are in the middle of this global pandemic. This isn’t a Republican virus or a Democratic virus. It doesn’t recognize the colour of your skin, or the country of your origin, doesn’t know what god you worship. We’re in this together,” Representative Ami Bera, a Democrat, said.
The House followed unusual procedures during the debate and voting on the $484bn measure, wearing masks and entering the House chamber to debate and vote in small groups by alphabetical order.
The legislation allocates $25bn for testing for the coronavirus that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats sought, and calls on the Trump administration to define a strategy to provide nationwide testing focused on boosting capacity by increasing the availability of testing supplies.
Coronavirus testing has been inconsistent between locales in the US and often restricted to those seeking care at hospitals. Epidemiologists say testing must be much broader to enable a successful reopening of the US economy.
More than 4.5 million coronavirus tests have been administered in the US to date, and some 846,000 cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – identified, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 47,000 Americans have died from the disease.
New York City, the financial and cultural capital of the United States, folded in on itself amid the coronavirus pandemic [File: Bloomberg]
Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he supported the negotiated agreement with Democrats and would sign the bill. Republicans complained that Democrats had delayed the new small business funding by two weeks with their demands for funding for hospitals and testing.
Today’s legislation is the fourth bill Congress has passed to address the coronavirus outbreak and adds to the more than $2.2 trillion in emergency spending previously approved.
The House also voted on Thursday to create a new oversight panel to track the unprecedented federal spending.
Republicans and Democrats were unable to reach agreement on changes to House rules that would effectively allow for remote voting and committee meetings, postponing action on the proposals. Rank-and-file members on both sides are growing increasingly frustrated that Congress is not convening in regular session to address the virus.
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The two parties are already bickering over funding priorities for a fifth bill.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer suggested a fifth bill should equal the previous $2.2 trillion package in size and scope. Democrats want the next bill to include bailout funds for states and cities whose budgets have been decimated by the loss of tax revenue.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said on a conservative radio talk show on Wednesday that he would prefer states declare bankruptcy rather than rely on federal bailouts, a proposal that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo assailed as “one of the really dumb ideas of all time”.
Cuomo, in his daily briefing on Thursday, decried the divisive politics coursing through the response to the pandemic.
“If there was ever a time to stop your obsessive political anger… now is the time,” Cuomo said.
Congress pushes legislation that impedes medical innovation
ANALYSIS/OPINION: Over the last seven months, Americans have endured economic pain, mass unrest, a spike in unemployment and surging coronavirus cases. The good news is that with each passing day, news reports highlight the breakneck speed at which medical innovators are working to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Once we get the vaccine, life will get…
Over the last seven months, Americans have endured economic pain, mass unrest, a spike in unemployment and surging coronavirus cases. The good news is that with each passing day, news reports highlight the breakneck speed at which medical innovators are working to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Once we get the vaccine, life will get closer back to normal.
Aside from a potential vaccine, medical innovators, including in the medical device industry, are investing unprecedented levels of manpower and resources to help contain this pandemic. From rapid-result coronavirus tests to novel decontamination systems for personal protective equipment, these innovations are a critical pillar of support for providers and health care workers on the frontlines of this fight.
Despite trials and tribulations, America still leads the world in innovation, and we will lead the way out of the coronavirus pandemic abyss. Innovators give us confidence that we will get through this. New technologies already on the market and coming in the future to combat the pandemic. Unfortunately, while innovators are working around-the-clock to deliver life-saving solutions to patients and health care providers, some opportunistic businesses are trying to use the power of government to seize the intellectual property of these innovators for their own commercial interests.
This is government overreach at its worst and will hurt American innovation across the board.
Indeed, since the onset of the public health emergency, unregulated third-party medical device servicing companies have cravenly pursued access to trade secrets and other proprietary information developed by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of medical devices. While these businesses claim that OEMs restrict access to information needed to properly service many devices, the real story is a bit more complicated.
Unlike third-party servicing businesses, original equipment manufacturers are held to rigorous FDA regulations and quality standards. Key mechanisms ensure that medical devices in the U.S. are properly designed, manufactured, installed and serviced. This stands in contrast to third-party servicing businesses, which operate in a regulatory “Wild West” and are not held to any quality or safety standards by the FDA.
Protecting the intellectual property of innovators is a critical pillar of America’s health care system, yet some politicians are trying to use the power of the federal government to change the rules on the field to benefit medical device servicing companies. Once they wrestle away business, the servicing will fall to largely unregulated companies working to service complex medical devices that detect cancers and other critical illnesses where there is no accountability.
And yet, despite a gaping lack of federal oversight or accountability, third-party servicing businesses and their cabal of Beltway lobbyists have successfully pressured federal policymakers to introduce legislation that would force medical device manufacturers to cede their intellectual property to unregulated third-party service companies.
The legislation, the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020, would grant independent service organizations (ISO) unfettered access to tools, manuals, schematics, software keys and other proprietary information for the duration of the coronavirus public health emergency. The bill guts intellectual property rights and would set a dangerous precedent for a post-coronavirus world.
Intellectual property for medical technology can only be developed through heavy investment, countless man hours and extensive research. Technology for capital equipment such as medical imaging machines takes even more resources for research and development. The legislation undervalues these investments by stripping away copyright protections from the original manufactures of the equipment and allows competitors access to proprietary information that can then be published online. Ultimately, other servicers that aren’t held accountable by the FDA can access the information and use it even though they did not produce this intellectual property.
Medical innovators will see that during times of crisis, the government will engage in tactics that wrestle away intellectual property. This will lead to a reluctance to invest resources to fight the next pandemic. Third-party servicers using the power of government to get free access to the intellectual property of others without developing it on their own is not fair. The United States has a long history of protecting private-property rights, including intellectual property.
The legislation is also flawed in that it increases certain cybersecurity vulnerabilities for hospitals and other providers by allowing for the uncontrolled distribution of an original equipment manufacturer’s proprietary information. This could lead to cyber-attacks and privacy breaches that put patients and their providers at risk.
Congress should be promoting innovation not socializing access to intellectual property. The proposed legislation to wrestle away intellectual property from original equipment manufacturers should be rejected because it violates that idea that private-property rights are sacrosanct — even during times of crisis.
• Brian Darling is former counsel and senior communications director for Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican.
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Congress must stop spending and reduce the debt now
ANALYSIS/OPINION: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports the American government will soon reach a debt level equaling its entire gross domestic product. It will be the largest since 1945, the year World War II ended. The pandemic is partially responsible, but it is too easy an excuse to blame a virus for politicians of both…
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports the American government will soon reach a debt level equaling its entire gross domestic product. It will be the largest since 1945, the year World War II ended.
The pandemic is partially responsible, but it is too easy an excuse to blame a virus for politicians of both parties to stop spending and reduce debt. The federal government continues to take in record amounts of revenue, but it goes out the Treasury’s door as fast as it comes in, riding the crest of a wave of borrowed money because very few in Washington ever speak of the harm debt causes. The sole interest of too many politicians is reelection and spending is their ticket to electoral success.
How many times have we seen what happens to elected officials who attempt to reduce the rate of increased spending, not cut spending itself? They are demonized by the opposition as being uncaring toward the poor, children, the elderly, etc. No wonder they are afraid to do anything. They put their careers ahead of the welfare of the nation.
It isn’t that we don’t have sufficient warnings and examples from the Founders to contemporary political leaders about the dangers of debt. It is that the politicians and those who elect and benefit from their largesse refuse to heed those warnings.
President Kennedy believed economic growth occurred when taxes were cut and spending reduced. Kennedy couldn’t get nominated by today’s Democratic Party. Vice President Joe Biden wants to raise taxes, including those on capital gains. Kennedy believed high taxes slowed capital formation and reduced risk-taking. Kennedy also believed lower taxes produce more revenue for the Treasury, something that has been proven time and time again. Mr. Biden seems to believe the opposite, which has been disproved time and time again. The marketwatch.com website summarizes Kennedy’s policies on taxation and spending.
To prove that debt has been a nonpartisan issue in the recent past, consider this succinct quote from Ronald Reagan: “We don’t have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven’t taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.” Who can credibly argue with that? It’s true in our personal lives, but unlike the government individuals can’t borrow money without end to prop up their lifestyles.
Again, Reagan cut to the heart of the spending and debt problem when he observed: “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”
When Democrats used to care about debt, they said we were mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren. With the rapid increase in spending and promises by the Biden-Harris ticket to spend trillions more on unproved “climate change” and the rest of the Bernie Sanders socialist agenda, we might be mortgaging our present.
In a July 2019 column, I quoted several of our wise Founders whose monuments have recently been under assault by the ignorant mob. They are worth repeating.
• Thomas Jefferson said: “We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.”
• Alexander Hamilton warned: “Nothing can more affect national prosperity than a constant and systematic attention to extinguish the present debt and to avoid as much as possibl(e) the incurring of any new debt.”
• George Washington said: “Avoid occasions of expense … and avoid likewise the accumulation of debt not only by shunning occasions of expense but by vigorous exertions to discharge the debts, not throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”
• Then there’s James Madison: “I go on the principle that a public debt is a public curse, and in a Republican Government a greater curse than any other.”
Can anyone credibly challenge these warnings? If not, why aren’t we obeying them?
• Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist, is the author of “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires, Superpowers and the United States” (HarperCollins/Zondervan, January 2020).
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US Congress approves $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package
Washington, DC – US President Donald Trump on Friday signed a massive $2.2 trillion economic rescue bill to help lift the economy and address the coronavirus pandemic. His signature came after the Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the sweeping package by a voice vote earlier in the day, despite a procedural challenge from Republican Representative…
Washington, DC – US President Donald Trump on Friday signed a massive $2.2 trillion economic rescue bill to help lift the economy and address the coronavirus pandemic.
His signature came after the Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the sweeping package by a voice vote earlier in the day, despite a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who wanted a formal recorded vote.
The bill had passed the Republican-led Senate on Wednesday with overwhelming bipartisan support in a 96-0 vote.
“We are taking care of our people,” President Donald Trump said this week, referring to the bill.
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The bill is the largest rescue package in US history. Addressing the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the legislation offers direct payments to most Americans and special financing for big and small businesses.
“This is a pandemic that we haven’t even seen for over 100 years in our country. It’s really such a tragedy. So we had to take important action that puts families first and workers first and that’s what we did,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier this week.
Pelosi said Congress would likely take up additional legislation in coming weeks to respond to the evolving challenge of the coronavirus, which has so far infected more than 85,000 people and killed more than 1,300 people across the US.
Pelosi has been instrumental in leading establishment Democratic efforts in Congress [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
“Next, we’ll go from emergency mitigation, to recovery,” Pelosi said.
Federal agency leaders scrambled this week to develop plans to implement the new legislation, anticipating urgent demands for help from millions of people and businesses.
The coronavirus crisis has left US businesses flattened by lost business and state-mandated closures. An estimated three million small businesses will need special financing to survive and more than three million workers lost their jobs in just the last week.
As of Friday, there were more questions than answers about how the federal funding will work. Agencies cannot offer authoritative guidance on the new programmes until Trump signs the bill into law.
‘Fails to address states’ needs’
New York, which has recorded more than 44,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, has been hit the hardest in terms of the scale and effects of the virus.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, warned on Thursday the newly approved federal funding for states would not be enough to cover the need in New York, where hospitals are already being overwhelmed with patients.
“The congressional action, in my opinion, simply failed to address the governmental need,” Cuomo told reporters at a news conference earlier this week.
New York estimates it will lose $10bn to $15bn in revenue because of the economic slowdown. The state would receive $5bn from the federal rescue bill passed by Congress but only for COVID-19 response, not lost revenue, Cuomo said.
State and city authorities around the US were working this week to build capacity at hospitals with more beds and respirators.
Meanwhile, Dr Deborah Birx, the Trump White House coronavirus response coordinator, said on Thursday incoming data from South Korea and Italy suggests projections of fatalities in the US may be less catastrophic than previously thought.
New York officials warn hospitals could be overwhelmed [Carlo Allegri/Reuters]
White House officials are discussing how to ease travel and business restrictions for areas of the country less affected by the virus.
“What we are trying to do is utilise a laser-guided approach rather than a horizontal approach,” Birx said.
Trump has said he wants to reopen the country for business by April 12, despite warnings from health experts, including some within his administration, who say the US has yet to experience the worst of the pandemic.
What is in the legislation?
The Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-profit group that tracks US budget deficits, scored total spending under the rescue bill at approximately $2.3 trillion.
Here is a look at where most of the money will go, according to the budget watchdog:
$510bn – Lending for large businesses, governments
$377bn – Small business loans and grants
$290bn – Direct payments to most Americans
$280bn – Cuts to business taxes
$260bn – Expanded unemployment benefits
$180bn – Funding for hospitals, healthcare
$150bn – Support for state, local governments
$72bn – Transportation, public transit
$42bn – Social safety net, food and housing
$45bnn – Federal emergency disaster assistance
$32bn – Increased spending on education
$19bn – Reductions in individual taxes
$25bn – Other spending
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