Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”

Chamber members:

Hello from Rockford! Today’s roundup is the only one for the week as I’m currently at a conference, but there is some information to report on. Here’s some good news to start things off – worker filings for initial unemployment benefits fell to 269,000, the Labor Department said this morning, approaching levels last seen before the Covid-19 pandemic.

*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*

Employer Covid-19 Vaccine and Testing Rules Unveiled by Biden Administration
Many employers will have to ensure by Jan. 4 that their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for Covid-19 under a set of new vaccine requirements by the Biden administration that will cover more than 80 million employees.

The requirements released Thursday by the Labor Department implement a vaccine directive that President Biden announced in September. They apply to employers with 100 or more employees. While the administration has said the requirements are necessary to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, they have drawn opposition from many Republicans.

Companies subject to the rules must ensure that employees who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19 produce a negative test at least weekly and wear a mask in the workplace. Employers aren’t required under the new policy to provide or pay for tests, with potential exceptions if collective bargaining agreements compel them to do so.

Employers who don’t adhere to the requirements could face penalties of up to around $13,600 per violation.

Republican opposition to the policy has intensified since September, when the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it would issue an emergency temporary standard implementing the new requirements.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich in September filed a lawsuit against Mr. Biden’s Covid-19 requirements for businesses and a set of rules for federal contractors. Many other states have also sought to challenge the administration’s mandate for federal contractors.

Employers subject to the new rules must require each vaccinated worker to provide proof of vaccination status, federal officials said. Acceptable documents include a record of immunization from a provider or pharmacy; a copy of a CDC Covid-19 vaccination card; medical records; immunization records from public health, state or tribal immunization information system; or a copy of other official documentation that contains the type and dates of vaccination.

When documentation can’t be obtained, a signed and dated statement from the employee attesting to his or her vaccination status is permitted. The OSHA rules require those employers to provide paid time off to workers so they can receive the Covid-19 vaccine, as well as sick leave to recover from any side effects, and to ensure that unvaccinated employees wear a face mask while in the workplace by Dec. 5.

President Biden has said he was reluctant to issue vaccination requirements and did so after a monthslong campaign encouraging people to get the shot failed to persuade many Americans. The administration also sought to give employers cover to issue vaccine requirements since some were concerned that workers in a tight labor market might quit and go to other companies without an industry standard, two people familiar with the planning said.

Special Vaccine Mandate Briefing
Please join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a briefing tomorrow, November 5 at 1:30 pm. Executive vice president, chief policy officer and head of strategic advocacy Neil Bradley, senior vice president, employment policy Glenn Spencer, and vice president, employment policy Marc Freedman will explain the ETS and what it will mean for employers, as well as take questions.

The Department of Labor has provided several fact sheets and FAQ’s, which can be found here.  While these documents provide useful information, there is much more detail in the full regulatory text.  Our briefing will help you navigate those details.

Click here to register now.

Democrats prepare to try—again—on President Biden’s economic package
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats are aiming to vote on their social spending package later Thursday, with a Friday vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, as they race to break an impasse on President Biden’s stalled domestic agenda.

It’s not yet clear if Democratic leaders will be able to round up the votes in their caucus, since some centrists want more time to review the legislative text and wait for a cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. But Democrats emerged from a closed-door whip meeting in the Capitol saying the divisions that have prevented an agreement were falling away, and lawmakers were “un-circling the firing squad,” in the words of Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).

“Hopefully we’ll see if we have votes for [Build Back Better] tonight and [the bipartisan infrastructure bill] tomorrow morning,” Pelosi said during a closed-door meeting with her vote-counting operations, according to a source familiar with her remarks.

Putting Biden’s roughly $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package on the floor without support from key Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) represents a change in tactics for Pelosi and her team. She and the White House have been furiously working for weeks to strike a deal with Manchin on Build Back Better, but this week the centrist senator slammed Biden’s framework as full of “budget gimmicks” and urged his party to pump the brakes after Tuesday’s election drubbing in Virginia.

Many House Democrats now believe Manchin will never verbally voice support for a package and that voting on their own House bill is the only way to put pressure on Manchin and break the intraparty stalemate.

“Manchin’s not going to give a blood oath, so let’s just put it out there,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, told The Hill on Thursday. “Every day we delay, we empower Manchin more.”

In bringing the vote without Manchin’s public endorsement, House Democrats have also challenged the West Virginia moderate with new policies he’s previously rejected: paid family leave and hearing coverage under Medicare are both included in an amended version of the package unveiled by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday. “We hope that he will see the light of day,” Pelosi said of Manchin.

Other provisions in House Democrats’ bill are also at risk of reversal in the Senate. The latest House version would raise the state and local tax deduction cap to $72,500 and keep that limit in place through 2031. But Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are proposing to leave the cap at $10,000 but create an exemption for taxpayers with income under around $400,000.

Democratic leaders are hoping that an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) showing that the revenue provisions in the social spending package would raise nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years will satisfy at least five centrist budget hawks demanding a detailed cost analysis before they cast any votes.

Pelosi on Thursday touted the JCT report as “validating” evidence that the package “is solidly paid for.” The Speaker also noted that party leaders have been keeping the CBO abreast of all updates and amendments to the legislation, saying the official cost estimate should arrive quickly since the new language “is not new to them.”

Deal Progress
Democratic lawmakers inched closer to a deal on Biden’s Build Back Better agenda as negotiators forged compromises, or were close to doing so, on two key provisions. President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that Democrats reached an accord designed to lower prescription drug prices. Although the agreement does not go as far as initial proposals, it is seen as progress after years of debate. The pharmaceutical industry immediately assailed the specifics on Tuesday, saying the proposal “threatens innovation and makes a broken health care system even worse.”

The deal would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices in limited instances, prevent drug companies from raising prices faster than inflation and cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 per year. The majority party was forced to roll back its initial blueprint over concerns from centrists, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), that it would have harmed innovation from drug companies to develop new treatments.

“It’s not everything we all wanted. Many of us would have wanted to go much further, but it’s a big step in helping the American people deal with the price of drugs,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday.

Pelosi Says House Democrats Will Add Paid Leave Back to Bill
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said House Democrats would add a paid-leave measure to the party’s education, healthcare and climate package, pushing to revive a provision that had fallen out of the $1.85 trillion legislation after opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.).

The bill will propose providing four weeks of paid leave, according to people familiar with the plan. Whether the provision will pass muster in the Senate wasn’t known.

SALT negotiations zero in on multi-year suspension of limit
House Democrats are coalescing around a proposal that would suspend the cap on the federal state and local tax deduction for three years and then limit it in 2025 at a threshold higher than $10,000, a lawmaker involved in the negotiations said Tuesday.

The SALT deduction is one of several items still under negotiation for legislation to enact President Joe Biden’s economic agenda as lawmakers from the Northeast and other high-tax areas push to suspend or significantly raise the cap.

Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, said nothing is final but called the three-year suspension on the cap the “main” SALT option at this point in negotiations. Democrats are also discussing a suspension for even longer than three years, according to a person familiar with the talks. Pascrell said he’s not sure a deal can be reached in the House this week, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants.

Pascrell said there will be an “uproar” from members if raising the SALT deduction limit isn’t in the bill that goes to floor. He said House leaders have committed to including it in the tax and spending plan. Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal has said the bill will include some provision to modify the SALT cap, but has not specified what it would say.  “Figuring out what we’re going to do and having that commitment is a different thing,” Pascrell said.

The SALT deduction is a valuable tax break for many residents of high-tax states, including New York, California and Illinois. Nearly two dozen representatives have vowed to block Biden’s economic agenda until they can find a way to address the $10,000 SALT cap, which was imposed in President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax law.

Plans to completely lift the cap have faced some resistance from progressives, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who says that would do too much to benefit billionaires. She has said she supports a cap higher than $10,000 to help middle-income taxpayers.

Democrats have been looking at several options for SALT relief that rely on using budget gimmicks so the plans don’t add to the deficit outside the 10-year federal budgeting window. Another option lawmakers had considered is suspending the cap for 2022 and 2023 and then re-imposing the $10,000 limit for 2024 through 2027.

Another option that had been floated is a $75,000 limit that would last for a decade, though that plan is dead on arrival, according to one Democratic member of Congress, who asked to remain anonymous because the talks are ongoing.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal told a securities-industry conference Tuesday that lawmakers are “still struggling over the SALT cap” as they try to finalize the broader legislation.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, indicated Tuesday that some kind of SALT-cap expansion would likely pass, but the final version may be different from the current options under discussion. “Nobody’s going to get everything they wanted. But everybody’s going to get something,” Warren said to reporters. “There are multiple calculations that are under discussion. But it’s not clear that any of them will make it through.”

Vaccine for kids gets final OK
Younger children across the U.S. are now eligible to receive Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine, after the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention granted the final clearance needed for shots to begin.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recommended the vaccine for children from 5 to 11 years old. The decision ushers in a new phase in the U.S. pandemic response, widening access to vaccines to some 28 million more people at the same time that Americans who received shots earlier in the pandemic are lining up for booster doses.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of outside experts, earlier voted 14-0 in favor of giving children the shot, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech SE, after it was cleared on Friday by U.S. regulators. Administered in two injections three weeks apart, the vaccine is one-third the dose authorized for adults.

“Today is a monumental day in the course of this pandemic, and one that many of us have been very eager to see,” Walensky said at the opening of the panel’s all-day meeting. “For almost two full years, schools have been fundamentally changed; there have been children in second grade who have never experienced a normal school year.”

Safety data in children look very good, said Camille Kotton, an ACIP panel member, adding that she would feel comfortable having her own children immunized if they were in that age group. “We have accumulated a tremendous amount of safety data with hundreds of millions of Americans,” said Kotton, who is also the clinical director of transplant and immunocompromised host infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, in an interview after the vote. Children should be vaccinated “both to prevent death as well as to prevent major long-term effects of having this devastating infection,” she said.

While CDC advisers recommended approval of the shot, some expressed concern about myocarditis, an inflammatory heart condition that’s been seen in some recipients. Health officials have been paying close attention to the risks posed by myocarditis following the shot compared with the overall risks of Covid.

Matthew Oster, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said he believes 5- to 11-year-olds have a relatively low risk of developing myocarditis from the shots. “We will watch and see for sure — and they may have some — but I don’t think it’s nearly to the extent” of cases seen in older adolescents and young adults, said Oster, who’s also on the CDC Covid-19 Response vaccine task force. Oster said he made that determination based on the general epidemiology of myocarditis, since the pediatric trials were too small to make detect such an effect.

Pfizer is working with regulators on the handling and distribution of its children’s vaccine to accommodate pediatricians administering it. The pediatric vaccine can be sent in packs of just 10 vials, compared with the 195-vial packs of standard vaccines. Kids’ vaccine vials contain 10 doses after dilution, while adults carry just six.

Storage is also easier for the children’s vaccine, which can be kept in a refrigerator 10 weeks, or six weeks longer than shots for adolescents and adults. To differentiate the doses from the purple-capped adult vial, pediatric vials have orange caps.

Officials have been preparing for the rollout for weeks, and 15 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine specifically formulated for younger children began shipping within minutes of authorization, Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said Monday.

Medical professionals at schools, pediatricians’ offices and pharmacies around the country may begin giving them as early as this week, he said in a press call. The program will be fully up and running the week of Nov. 8, Zients said.

Moderna Inc. said Sunday that the Food and Drug Administration was delaying a decision on authorizing its Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 17, citing concerns about myocarditis. The FDA review may not be completed before January, the company said in a statement on Sunday. The delay won’t affect the vaccine rollout for teenagers, because Pfizer’s vaccine is available for the age group, Walensky said at the Monday briefing.

Federal tax dollars not claimed by small cities to be reallocated
As local governments start spending federal tax dollars meant for COVID-19 relief, more than $1.6 million was left on the table. The money was approved by Congress this spring. Shortly after, the Biden administration sent the first tranche of funds directly to large cities, 45 of which share in $2.7 billion over two years.

More than 1,250 cities across the state shared $742 million, but that money was managed by the Pritzker administration. The deadline to claim that money was the end of September. Analysis of the state data shows 18 municipalities didn’t claim a combined $333,000. While claiming some funds, 43 local governments left $1.35 million on the table.

Illinois Municipal League Executive Director Brad Cole said there were a variety of reasons 61 local governments either didn’t claim the money or didn’t take their entire allotment. “They chose either to not apply or felt like it would be too burdensome to apply for their funds,” Cole said. “There was also some confusion about what the money could be used for and some thought they really didn’t have any expenses.”

The ARPA dollars can be used for a variety of things from sewer maintenance to broadband and even local economic development. They can also be used to pay for previous COVID-19 expenses. Cities across the state are already spending resources and budgeting future spending from those funds.

The unclaimed ARPA dollars for local governments in Illinois totaling nearly $1.7 million won’t be returned to the federal treasury. “The funds that were not claimed by communities, most of which were very small, will be reallocated by the state to the communities that did submit and do have costs that can be recovered,” Cole said.

The Pritzker administration will now determine which municipalities get the remaining funds.

Stay well,

Mike Paone
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
815.727.5371 main
815.727.5373 direct