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@MyKitchenTable - October 14, 2020

@MyKitchenTable: Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dear Friend:

While the D.C. scene is dominated by the Senate Judiciary Committee SCOTUS hearings, the discussions continued on a COVID relief package that have been stalled for months. The former Chrysler CEO, Lee Iacocca, said, “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” That is, in essence, the current state of affairs as discussions continue between the White House and Congressional leaders.  We’re close, but no cigar yet, for sure.

Roll Call reported earlier today that talks were snagged over testing and liability issues, and more talks between Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin are planned on Thursday, which you can read HERE.  Yesterday, CNN’s Wolf Bitzer and Speaker Pelosi sparred on a COVID package and asked her to respond to a tweet from a progressive democrat colleague who wrote, “People in need can’t wait until February!"

Our bipartisan Problem Solver’s Caucus (PSC) was cited in the story as being vocal and instrumental urging the congressional leadership to move forward on a solution.  You can see that story HERE

Last week the PSC membership heard from the United Airlines CEO who told us the “state of the industry” is now furloughing tens of thousands of workers and losing money in a major way. I am concerned that as they hemorrhage assets, their service to smaller regional airports like Kalamazoo and South Bend and even larger airports like Grand Rapids and Lansing seem to be at real risk.   Along those lines, today Delta posted a $5.4B loss in the 3rd quarter and predicted that the industry would not recover until spring, which you can read HERE.

Saturday, another PSC Vice-Chair, Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and I participated in NPR’s “All things considered” and discussed the role of the PSC and our work to try and get something done for the American public.   Whether it be another round of PPP for our small businesses, liability relief, additional stimulus checks, aid for our educators and health providers, or airline aid, it is really not acceptable to fail in passing a bipartisan proposal that the president can sign.  You can hear that NPR segment HERE.

Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader McConnell did indicate that the Senate would vote on a “targeted” COVID package next week that will include more aid for small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.  Remember, under Senate rules, it will need 60 votes to “proceed” to debate and a vote, something that failed in the last attempt last month. You can read that story from The Hill HERE.   The president’s economic advisor, Larry Kudlow (he was OMB’s Econ chief when I headed Congressional Affairs there in 1984 and our offices were across the hall), predicted on CNN Sunday that the Senate GOPs would “Go along with” the White House stimulus proposal.  You can see The Hill story HERE.

In July, I visited the Kalamazoo Pfizer facility where they intend to produce some 40M COVID-19 vaccine doses before the end of the year. Their FDA trial continues with the hopeful expectation that they will receive an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) that will then allow it to be dispensed across the country.   It is my understanding that production has now started, and I learned then that the produced vaccine would have to be stored at an average of 100 degrees below zero.  Roll Call wrote a story that there may be a shortage of dry ice and deep freezers to contain the vaccine.  CEO Albert Bourla, as his counterparts have echoed, said that they will not cut corners on the safety approval process.  You can read that Roll Call story HERE.

The Detroit News reported a second COVID vaccine trial with a division of Johnson & Johnson and the University of Michigan hospital system.  They will begin recruiting some 60K trial participants immediately through Operation Warp Speed and you can read that story HERE.

Earlier today I participated in the Southwestern Michigan Association of Health Underwriters zoom.   I predicted that we would see an extension of the Employer tax exclusion and Flexible Spending Accounts before the end of the year.  COVID has clearly affected both businesses and individual’s pocket books as the “open season” for participation opened months before COVID and many Americans have delayed non-essential medical procedures because of it.   I also predicted that we will end surprise billings in a bipartisan way prior to the end of the year. I was questioned on the possibility of a Medicare for All option that would severely limit private insurance options for many Americans and reminded the audience that even Joe Biden has voiced his public opposition. 

In closing, I chuckled at another Lee Iacocca quote, “We at Chrysler borrow money the old-fashioned way...We pay it back.”  Yes, I remember when that legislation moved through the Congress in the 70’s and helped write the bipartisan auto rescue plan with John Dingell that saved them all initiated under President Bush and completed under President Obama.   Yes, the money was paid back.   Michigan never would have recovered without the help.   Now the whole country is watching again and from my perspective, we cannot wait until next year for the help that is so desperately needed.   Hopefully, we’ll get the call that the Senate can pass something next week.

God Bless,

Fred Upton

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