January 15, 2021
The following alert is from The Council’s government affairs team.
Yesterday afternoon, the incoming Biden Administration released the outline of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that the President-elect will pursue immediately. Both Winston Churchill and Rahm Emmanuel are credited with saying, “you should never let a good crisis go to waste.” To that end, the package does contain a long wish-list of progressive priorities in addition to COVID-specific relief including $1,400 checks to individuals, hundreds of billions in state and local aid and numerous other spending programs.
Of most interest to The Council are provisions that would extend COBRA subsidies until September and reforms to the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the President-elect is asking Congress to increase the value of the Premium Tax Credit to lower insurance premiums and ensure that enrollees — including those who have never had coverage through their jobs — will not pay more than 8.5% of their income for coverage.
- Tax increases are not contemplated in this package of reforms, but are expected to be proposed later. The President-elect yesterday said he will advance a major infrastructure package in a joint session of Congress in February. The spending is expected to be offset by increases in corporate and capital gains rates; however, it is impossible to predict where those numbers will land.
- All sorts of devils will reside in the details of changes to ACA that will be proposed as a part of COVID relief — presenting both potentially positive and negative consequences for employer-sponsored insurance. We always are concerned about proposals that would continue a cost-shift to employers. We view any extension of COBRA subsidies (though no specific percentage number has yet been released) as a very positive step that will help secure ESI.
- Unsurprisingly, there are no provisions for business liability reforms. Current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made liability relief a “bright red line” for his support; however, it is almost impossible to envision such reforms under united Democratic control of Congress.
Where next? Here is some good commentary from Anna Palmer in this morning’s edition of Punchbowl: “The question everyone is asking is when can we expect this to get to the floor and into law. Fair question. A few things to think about on that front. Will Democrats use budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority for passage? Will they blow up the filibuster? Will they try to negotiate with Republicans to get 60? As of now, they say they want to use regular order, and pass this with a 60-vote threshold. That may change.”
Our conclusion at this snapshot in time is that there are two apparently irreconcilable forces at work. First, the partisan divide and depth of animosity between the parties this week is beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed. This makes bipartisan cooperation (espoused by the President-elect) exceptionally difficult, if not impossible. And second, Democrats have razor-thin majorities in the event that moderate Republicans aren’t won over. Speaker Pelosi has only five votes that she could lose in a party-line vote, and incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has none.
It will be an interesting ride, and we will keep you closely apprised of developments.