Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Congress Faces Deadlines On Coronavirus Relief, Appropriations

Washington, D.C.—Facing several significant deadlines, congressional leaders put aside their finger-pointing to work toward a compromise on another coronavirus relief package they hope to attach to a must-pass omnibus appropriations bill to keep the government open.

“Congressional leaders on both sides are going to keep working until we get it done,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

Both McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reported progress on the effort.

That breakthrough occurred after they began focusing on elements that enjoy bipartisan support while putting the more contentious elements aside for now.

If that approach holds, a legal liability provision pushed by Republicans would be left out of a final package along with additional relief funding for local and state governments, a top priority for Democrats.

A renewal of the popular Paycheck Protection Program for businesses and their workers and unemployment benefits almost certainly would be included.

Checks to individual Americans have been both out and in during negotiations on a proposal, which is expected to come in at around $900 billion.

Upcoming deadlines include the expiration of the current stopgap funding measure that is keeping the government open and several relief programs approved earlier this year.

Defense Bill Veto Expected

Despite overwhelming support in Congress, President Donald Trump is expected to veto a major defense bill that supporters say will boost the nation’s maritime industry.

“(I) don’t have a timeline for you on that, but he does plan to veto it,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters.

McEnany said Trump’s concerns go beyond his previously announced objections on renaming military bases that now honor Confederate leaders and lack of language repealing certain legal protections for social media companies. As an example, she cited language about troop withdrawal and deployment overseas.

A Trump veto of the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would be a stunning development.

Not only did this year’s NDAA pass both chambers of Congress with veto-proof margins, but H.R. 6395 maintains a historic congressional record of approving a major defense bill every year for six decades.

It remained unclear exactly how much of the Republican support would remain if it comes down to a showdown with Trump.

Key provisions for the marine industry include those to create a set-aside for small ports in the Maritime Administration’s Port Intermodal Improvement Program, more opportunities for U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadets on Cable and Tanker vessels and a Tanker Security Fleet.

Other provisions highlighted by the American Association of Port Authorities would create a new Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program (MTSERP) to provide funding to ports following emergencies, including the current COVID-19 pandemic; and increase funding for the Port Infrastructure Development Program from $500 million to $750 million annually.

Additional provisions would authorize an advanced new class of Polar Security Cutters (icebreakers) that supporters say will protect the nation’s security and economic interests in the rapidly evolving Arctic region.

Infrastructure Accelerators

The Department of Transportation launched a new demonstration program to establish several Regional Infrastructure Accelerators and expedite projects through innovative finance and delivery methods.

DOT’s Build America Bureau issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity to solicit applications to designate accelerators that will serve defined geographic areas, act as a resource to qualified entities within the designated areas and demonstrate the effectiveness of these accelerators to expedite the delivery of eligible projects through federal credit assistance programs, including the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).

According to the funding notice, a public authority with a transportation function including a port would be eligible to apply.

A total of $5 million is available for the program, DOT stated.

Established as a “one-stop shop” to streamline credit opportunities and provide assistance and encourage innovative best practices, the bureau will administer the program.

More information on the accelerators program and the Build America Bureau can be found at www.transportation.gov/buildamerica/financing/tifia/regional-infrastructure-accelerators-program.