Washington Watch - 5/18/20

May 18, 2020
E-Newsletter Archive
House Majority Shirks Responsibility in Coronavirus Response

HOUSE DEMOCRATS PASS PARTISAN WISH-LIST LEGISLATION AMID PANDEMIC

Every one of us understands the need for Congress to pass legislation to provide relief to families, healthcare workers, emergency responders, those who have fallen ill, those most susceptible to infection, employees who have lost their jobs, and businesses big and small. It’s our responsibility to work together – majority and minority, House and Senate, Congress and White House – so that we can provide solutions for the American people. That is why I was disappointed to see Speaker Pelosi call back the House to vote on H.R. 6800, an 1,800 page, $3 trillion bill drafted unilaterally by the majority behind closed doors that doesn’t have a remote chance of ever becoming law.  

Some sections of the bill have coronavirus nexus. Those provisions that we could have agreed on include funding for healthcare providers, access to food, and support for the agricultural industry. However, much of the bill is packed with Democrat priorities that have nothing to do with providing emergency pandemic relief. This included eliminating the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap for their constituents in highly taxed states; federalizing the election process by stripping power from our state and local election officials; and much more.

 

Woodall HEROES Act

Rep. Rob Woodall (GA-07) speaks on the House floor during Rule debate for consideration of H.R. 6800

 

While the Speaker was able to jam her bill through the House, opposition to it was bipartisan. It has no chance of being considered in the Senate, and the President has promised to veto it if it ever made it to him. So with this partisan exercise in futility behind us, I am hopeful Congress will continue its multilateral negotiations to evaluate which emergency programs are working, which aren’t, where there is need for federal intervention, and where there’s need for the federal government to recede. 

Friday’s vote shows again that any “go-it-alone” strategy is doomed to fail, and that we must work together and make tough decisions if we are to ensure we are looking after the best interests of the American people.

 

COVID-19 RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES MOVE FORWARD

Since the onset of this crisis, our federal agencies have been working around the clock to accelerate the development and deployment of medical advancements to directly address COVID-19. While you are likely familiar with the work of agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), one such agency you may have heard less about but has been critical to this effort is the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

BARDA is part of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and its role supports the advancement of medical countermeasures such as vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics from research through advanced development, largely by engaging stakeholders in industry and the research and development community. Congress has allocated roughly $6.5 billion directly to BARDA to support its mission. The agency’s work includes efforts to support the development of the investigational treatment, convalescent plasma, to aid in patient recovery, as well as those to develop a rapid COVID-19 diagnostic test that can be administered at home.

Additionally, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is continuing to support several clinical trials aimed at addressing COVID-19. Critical to that effort is its clinical trials network – the Clinical Research Consortium – that was established at the end of 2019 to develop and improve vaccines and treatments for numerous infectious diseases. In fact, Emory University here in Atlanta is one of nine institutions part of that consortium, and it has been involved in NIAID-funded efforts to study an investigational vaccine for COVID-19.

On that front, NIAID has stressed the importance of accelerating multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates, and it has become increasingly clear that coordination from both the public and private sector will be critical to our success in achieving widespread immunity. To that end, the World Health Organization has said that eight COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in clinical evaluation and 110 candidates are in preclinical evaluation, four of those in the United States and Europe.

These research and development activities are critically important to addressing the direct public health threat posed by COVID-19. I will continue to look for ways that Congress can boost these efforts as our nation begins to plan for the next stages amid a more widespread reopening.

 

CONSTITUENT SPOTLIGHT: CONTACT TRACING VS. PRIVACY

Thank you again to all the folks who have reached out to my office to share your thoughts and concerns about COVID-19 and the federal policies you believe will help mitigate its harmful impact on the American people. This week, I would like to address one bill in particular – H.R. 6666, the “COVID-19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone (TRACE) Act.” This was a popular topic for many of you last week:

Vickie from Cumming:

I have read the text for H.R. 6666 and am appalled at the implications that the federal government would be tracking its citizens and/or forcing COVID testing on them, including in their homes.

Ann from Duluth:

I am opposed to H.R. 6666. There is entirely too much legislation coming out of the House which is overstepping the Constitutional rights of the United States citizens. I suggest counter proposals to bring legislation to the body that is not going to deduct from American's rights, but rather add to them.

Joy from Lilburn:

We need testing! We need the contact tracing! We need for you people to get it together, so we can feel safe going out & about!

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For those who are unfamiliar, contact tracing is the process of finding and contacting someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, reaching out to those who may have been exposed to that patient, and making sure those individuals are quarantined or monitored. As you can imagine, this is an incredibly laborious process. However, its importance cannot be understated. As public health officials have said, increased testing and contact tracing are the key to containing this virus and better monitoring its spread.  

That said, the TRACE Act as it stands is a concerning solution. This bill seeks to provide $100 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants for “diagnostic testing for COVID-19, to trace and monitor the contacts of infected individuals, and to support the quarantine of such contacts, through…testing individuals and providing [them] with services related to testing and quarantine at their residences.” While this language may seem honest and pure, I am concerned about its lack of specificity. What does supporting the quarantine of possible COVID patients look like? What kinds of services will be provided to those individuals? I believe these are the questions have to be asked before deciding to expend $100 billion of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to provide for such purposes.

But of utmost concern is that of which many of you have already mentioned – your right to privacy. While I support the use of contact tracing, I do not think that individuals should be forced to disclose their personal information. We also must ensure that any individually identifiable health information that is disclosed is properly secured and protected, in accordance with the robust privacy laws already in place.

To that end, I appreciate this bill’s adherence to longstanding federal privacy requirements, as well as Rep. Bobby Rush’s assurance that participation will be voluntary. However, I understand your concerns, and I assure you I am entirely committed to safeguarding your privacy, especially with bills like this that discuss at-home testing and quarantine related services.

I am pleased at the increased coordination we have seen in recent weeks between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state public health departments in order to improve states’ ability to detect, monitor, and prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is a crucial step that must be taken in order to reopen the U.S. economy, and my colleagues and I will continue working hard to find the best path forward to support them in this effort.

 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS LAUNCHES FREE WEBINARS FOR EDUCATORS

Last week, I wrote to you about the Library of Congress’s reinvigorated efforts to engage the public through their website. Among their new program offerings are free, one-hour webinars for educators who would like to learn how to use primary sources to teach their students. There will be a variety of webinars available throughout the summer, including several special topics based on the Library’s exhibits. The first webinar will be held from 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET on May 20, 2020 with a special focus on primary sources from the Library’s exhibit entitled, Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote. Educators can request a certificate of professional development for completing a live webinar. If you are interested in participating in any of these webinars, you can register HERE.

 

FORSYTH COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPPORT STUDENTS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS

The Seventh District is home to an outstanding school system thanks in large part to the exceptional leadership and organization of Forsyth County Public Schools. There are many reasons to be proud of our district’s schools, including Forsyth’s dedication to the 634 students experiencing homelessness in the county. Over the last few years, Forsyth County has launched several programs to support students experiencing homelessness to help them overcome the extra burdens they face. These programs include tutoring, life coaching, and a community youth liaison program with The Place of Forsyth County, a local nonprofit offering food, clothing, and other assistance to those in need.

Sadly, these programs have largely been interrupted by precautionary closures, but a dedicated team of teachers, social workers, counselors, and others has found ways to help these students to stay on top of their academics, despite the additional challenges presented by the pandemic. The team has reached out to these students experiencing homelessness to help meet their needs for food and shelter, as well as to provide the students with the technology they need to access virtual learning platforms. Through these exceptional efforts, all of the students of our district are continuing to receive the support they need to succeed.

I am so proud of our schools’ dedication and our students’ resiliency throughout these challenging times. Thank you to everyone for putting your best foot forward to make sure that the children of our district are receiving all of the support they need to thrive in our community.

 

GWINNETT EXTENDS FREE MEAL PROGRAM THROUGH THE SUMMER

When schools began to transition to virtual learning, students in the Seventh District in need of meal assistance did not have to worry. Schools throughout the district continued to prepare and deliver balanced, nutritious meals to students in need. In fact, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) provided 2.2 million meals for students over the last 2 months. GCPS has consistently gone above and beyond for their students, even during spring break when they continued to provide meals thanks to the dedicated staff and volunteers at our local schools. The school meal program ended on May 15, but the students of Gwinnett County will still receive free meals throughout the summer thanks to a new partnership between GCPS and Gwinnett County Community Services. Beginning on Monday, May 18, grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches will be available to pick up at numerous locations around the county. Please click here to find a list of these locations.

I would like to thank all of the staff and volunteers who have continued to serve the students of our district throughout the pandemic. Your outstanding efforts to meet the essential needs of our district’s youth are surely helping to strengthen the bonds of our community.

 

THE WEEK AHEAD

Now that the House has passed Speaker Pelosi’s liberal wish-list of non-COVID related matters, it is up to the U.S. Senate to bring rationality back to the legislative process. I expect that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will work with his committee leaders and the White House to craft additional COVID-related legislation that will truly help those who need it without wasting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on policies that won’t help our first responders, hospitals, police, or other essential workers and their families, at the behest of liberal special interest groups who would use this crisis as an opportunity to help themselves instead of as an occasion to help America weather this storm.

Sincerely,

Rob Woodall
Member of Congress