Important correction to yesterday’s email: Congressman Bradley Byrne did vote on the COVID-19 relief and appropriations package and was a yes on both bills. It was Congressman Mike Rogers who did not vote as he is isolating at home after testing positive for the virus.
And if you really want to get in the weeds, Congressman Mo Brooks voted yes on the first bill, which included appropriations for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, but voted no on the second bill, which included COVID-19 relief.
And here’s your Daily News for Wednesday, December 23.
1. Trump threatens to veto COVID relief with new demands
- President Donald Trump late Tuesday threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief package, suddenly demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed.
- Trump assailed the bipartisan $900 billion package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night and suggested he may not sign the legislation. He called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.
- Railing against a range of provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, he told lawmakers to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”
- The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about $4 billion to help other nations provide a COVID-19 vaccine for their people.
- Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for legislation in Congress to override him if he does. Because lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down on Dec. 29.
- Following Trump’s interjection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but dared Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president’s demand for far higher payments.
- “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!,” Pelosi said in a tweet. An aide said she would put the proposal forward Thursday for a vote.
- Read more HERE.
2. Bill extends deadline for CARES Act money
- In passing the COVID-19 relief package this week, Congress included a very short but very meaningful provision: extending by one year states’ deadline to spend money allocated under the CARES Act.
- Alabama still has hundreds of millions of dollars left to spend from the $1.7 billion it was awarded in the spring and several state leaders had requested a spending extension while also making contingency plans for allowable, last-minute usage.
- If a deal is reached and signed by the end of next week and it includes the deadline extension, it will give state leaders time to regroup on further spending plans for the money awarded earlier this year.
- “I think that does open up a great deal more opportunities than what we had,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told Alabama Daily News. He chairs the Senate General Fund committee. “And we don’t know precisely how we’re going to deal with that right now, but I can tell you that that’s under discussion that has been a discussion for the past couple of days in preparation for this.”
- As of early this week, $1.27 billion of the state’s $1.78 billion had been spent, leaving $509 million “unexpended,” according to a dashboard updated by the Department of Finance. But because many programs and entities are being reimbursed for COVID-related expenses, more money is going out everyday.
- Read more, including where top lawmakers say the money should go, from Mary Sell HERE.
3. Bill would allow businesses, places of worship remain open in emergencies
- A north Alabama lawmaker says he wants to ensure in the future some businesses can’t be closed during states of emergency while their competitors remain open.
- House Bill 103 by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, would allow businesses and places of worship to remain open as long as they comply with any emergency order, rules or regulations issued by the governor and state or local agencies.
- “I saw local clothing stores, local boutiques, local sporting goods stores that were forced to close while other stores remained open selling the same products that those forced to close were selling, and I just didn’t think that was right,” Kiel said about the springtime order meant to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- “If you’re gonna allow a business that sells T-shirts to stay open, then all businesses that sell T- shirts should be able to stay open,” Kiel said. “… If one business is allowed to open under certain conditions, then all businesses can be open under those same conditions.”
- Public health orders in March and April told Alabamians to stay home unless for specific reasons, closed many businesses and put occupancy limits on others, including retailers. While grocery stores, including big-box retailers, could remain open, some smaller stores had to close.
- Gov. Kay Ivey would later say that, in hindsight, such shutdown orders were a mistake, promising not to take similar acton in the future.
- Read the full story from Mary Sell HERE.
4. Consumer relief: bill to end ‘surprise’ medical bills
- People with private health insurance will see the shock of “surprise” medical bills virtually gone, thanks to the coronavirus compromise passed by Congress.
- The charges that can run from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars come from doctors and hospitals that are outside the network of a patient’s health insurance plan. It’s estimated that about 1 in 5 emergency visits and 1 in 6 inpatient admissions will trigger a surprise bill.
- The compromise legislation involved two years of work from dozens of lawmakers of both parties and key committees, including Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means in the House, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the Senate.
- The plan would take patients out of the financial crosshairs by limiting what they can be billed for out-of-network services to a fee that’s based on in-network charges. The amount consumers pay would get counted toward their in-network annual deductible.
- Full story HERE.
5. Auburn hires Bryan Harsin
- Auburn hired Boise State’s Bryan Harsin as its head coach on Tuesday, luring him away from his alma mater and into the powerful Southeastern Conference.
- The 44-year-old Harsin is 69-19 with three Mountain West titles in seven seasons at Boise State, but winning in the SEC affords greater chances for playoff berths and national titles.
- The Auburn job is also sure to bring a major pay raise, though contract details for Harsin weren’t immediately available.
- “I’m incredibly excited and humbled for the opportunity to be at a place like Auburn University,” Harsin said in a statement.
- “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the coaches and players in the Southeastern Conference, but am ready to help build a foundation at Auburn where we can consistently compete for championships.”
- That has been easier said than done in the brutal SEC West, presided over by in-state rival Alabama.
- Auburn fired Gus Malzahn earlier this month after he went 6-4 in his eighth season — a move that cost the school more than $21 million to buy out the former coach’s contract.
- Auburn has been an up-and-down program, winning the national championship in 2010 and coming just short of it in 2013, before struggling the last few years.
- Full story HERE.
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