February 2021 Update
New Year, New President, New Congress
2021 marks the start of the Biden Presidency and a new session of Congress, which will feature Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, albeit with very slim margins in each chamber. COVID-19 related relief is expected to dominate both congressional and Biden agendas in the first 60 days. President Biden has released his $1.9 trillion proposal for a new round of COVID-19 relief that features the following priorities:
Mount a national vaccination program, including by setting up community vaccination sites nationwide;
Scaling up testing and tracing;
Eliminating supply shortage problems;
Providing paid sick leave to contain spread of the virus;
Deliver relief to families by sending $1,400 per-person checks to households;
Providing direct housing and nutrition assistance;
Expanding access childcare and affordable healthcare;
Increasing the minimum wage;
Extending unemployment insurance.
The expansive proposal faces opposition from both parties in Congress as it comes on the heels of Congress just passing a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill in December. Congressional Republicans are open to a new package, but are eyeing a much more targeted bill focused on testing and the vaccine rollout. Should Senate Democrats be unable to come to an agreement with the minority, it is expected that Democrats will use the budget reconciliation process to move a COVID-19 relief. Budget reconciliation only requires a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to move most legislation, but comes with restrictive spending and policy limitations.
In addition to his legislative proposal, President Biden released a number of executive orders focused on the pandemic. He has launched a “100 Day Masking Challenge” asking the public to mask up and requiring masks in all federal buildings and federal lands. Biden also re-entered the U.S. into the World Health Organization after Trump removed the country back in 2020. Additional executive orders were subsequently released to try to increase health insurance enrollment. First, Biden has reopened the enrollment period for ACA exchanges. The President's executive order directs the federal exchanges to open a special enrollment period from February 15 - May. 15. The President also directed federal agencies to reconsider rules and other policies that limit Americans’ access to health care, and consider actions that will protect and strengthen that access.
Update provided by Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP