WASHINGTON – The roughly $ 2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress provides tremendous relief for workers and businesses – and lots of small favors for special interests.
Lawmakers took the opportunity of a must-see bill to make a series of policy changes that had gathered dust, some for years in a stagnant and divided Congress.
From streamlining the sunscreen ingredient approval process to giving tax-efficient treatment to feminine hygiene products, the package combines an emergency boost for the economy with small changes. of federal law.
In a tweet on Friday, President Trump appeared to recognize the need for compromise, including allowing non-stimulus-related provisions in legislation to pass through a divided Congress.
“It’s ‘HELL’ dealing with Democrats, it took some dumb things to get the ‘big picture’,” the president wrote on Twitter. “90% GREAT!”
Dozens of measures added to the bill by Republicans and Democrats seeking to advance their own priorities have been buried in hundreds of pages of dense legislative language. Rep. Thomas Massie (R., Ky.), Attempted to delay the passage in part because of all the additions.
Along with the temporary repeal of alcohol excise taxes for manufacturers of hand sanitizers, provisions would prohibit companies that receive federal loans from interfering with their employees’ efforts to form unions.
Community and regional banks have each won on separate measures to allow them to reduce capital requirements so that they can make more loans.
Democrats added language that would ban the use of any money in legislation to pay for a wall between the United States and Mexico, and Republicans added a measure to promote sexual abstinence.
Some victories of special interest are the result of efforts to keep things out of the bill.
Lobbyists in the banking industry and credit bureaus have rejected a proposal by Democratic lawmakers that would have suspended disclosure of negative credit information to credit card issuers and banks for four months in a bid to help fired workers likely to miss bill payments because of the economic crisis.
The industry has argued that blocking reports will compromise consumers’ access to credit in the future.
The makers of over-the-counter drugs, such as Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol and Benadryl, have secured the inclusion of a long-sought bill to change the federal approval process for new products.
The industry has attached an existing bill to the stimulus package that includes several gains, such as an 18-month marketing exclusivity period on new products.
The bill also streamlines the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process for new products, a change sought for years by the trade association that represents companies such as Procter & Gamble.,
Bayer Consumer Health and Bausch & Lomb.
Hidden inside the FDA bill was a separate measure championed by sunscreen makers like Coppertone and Banana Boat. U.S. sunscreen makers have won wording that interrupts an FDA review of whether the most widely used sunscreen ingredients are harmful.
As part of a stimulus-based measure, the FDA would be required to initiate a new review process that would allow greater input from industry and scientists.
Several sunscreen manufacturers, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, and melanoma patient advocacy groups have called for change after the FDA last year launched a review of the safety of sunscreen ingredients in using a process they felt was unfair.
The changes sought by sunscreen manufacturers and over-the-counter companies were part of legislation proposed by former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Georgia), a melanoma survivor who resigned from the Senate last year in due to other health problems.
Industry lobbyists say other Republicans have added the sun protection measures to the stimulus to help establish Mr. Isakson’s legacy.
Meanwhile, other parts of the government are making industry-backed policy changes to ease the economic blow from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The State Department on Thursday relaxed some requirements, such as an in-person interview, for foreign workers who wish to come to the United States to work on farms. Up to one in 10 workers on a farm are guest seasonal workers who need special visas to enter the country.
Dave Puglia, president of the Western Growers Association, said in a statement that the change was necessary because “American farmers depend on guest workers” and American consumers “depend on the food of these crops for their livelihood during the current crisis. “
Separately, the stimulus legislation provides $ 300 million to help the US seafood industry, including commercial fishermen and charter fishermen.
But seafood companies continue to push for a separate change in immigration policy that would help ensure processing plants in Alaska have enough workers to handle this summer’s salmon catch.
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Thousands of seasonal workers now working in processing plants for the pollock fishing season would be allowed to stay in the United States between the end of the current fishing season next month and the start of the salmon season this summer. .
Without this change, seasonal workers would be required to return home between seasons and seafood companies fear they will not be allowed to return to the United States due to the coronavirus.
“It is essential that the entire seafood value chain is supported,” said Gavin Gibbons, spokesperson for the industrial trade group, the National Fisheries Institute. “There’s no point in catching fish if they end up sitting on the dock.”
The bill also brought about a change long sought by lawmakers concerned with equalizing the treatment of women and men by the tax code: the addition of tampons and other menstrual care products to the list of eligible medical expenses.
This means they could be purchased using pre-tax funds in health savings accounts, just as the law already allows products ranging from condoms and pregnancy tests to bandages.
—Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.
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