Window on Washington - January 16, 2018 Vol. 2, Issue 2

Jan 16, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Shutdown Watch: 4 Days.  The government will run out of money on Friday if it does not pass another short-term spending bill. Last week it looked like Congress was close to negotiating a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government through February 16 and would include a bipartisan deal on DACA and a two-year budget deal on topline spending levels. But now there are rumors of Republicans considering only a clean continuing resolution in light of the DACA deal falling apart after the President’s comments. Multiple Senate Democrats have made it clear that they would not vote for a continuing resolution that did not include DACA making a government shutdown a possibility.

Immigration Talks Stall. President Trump’s comments related to immigration have halted some of the momentum of last week related to Senator Flake’s announcement that a bipartisan group of Senators reached a deal on DACA.  In response to Trump’s comments, one of the key negotiators, Senator Durbin, announced he no longer thought a bipartisan agreement could be reached with the White House. With only a few days left to pass another continuing resolution, it seems highly unlikely that any immigration deal could be reached in time to attach it to the next government spending bill.

Infrastructure Roll-out Slipping?  The Trump Administration is now considering releasing its principles for an infrastructure package after the State of the Union after previously stating they would be released early this month. 

Nominations: The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday will review Alex Azar's nomination to be HHS secretary in an executive session.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital


Tax Reform

Walmart Boosts Starting Wages to $11 an Hour, Citing Tax Reform:  Walmart said Thursday it would raise the starting wage for hourly associates, expand parental leave benefits and offer a one-time cash bonus for eligible associates, crediting the GOP tax overhaul and drawing praise from Republicans. Walmart joins a list of companies, including AT&T, Comcast and American Airlines, that have announced bonuses and wage hikes following the passage of Republicans’ tax plan. (Politico)

Democrats in High-Tax States Plot to Blunt Impact of New Tax Law: Governors and legislative leaders in New York, California, and other states are considering legal challenges to elements of the law that they say unfairly single out parts of the country. They are looking at ways of raising revenue that aren’t penalized under the new law and they are considering changing their state tax codes to allow residents to take advantage of other federal tax breaks – in effect, restoring deductions that the tax law scaled back. (The New York Times)

Debt Ceiling

Trump Administration Considering Changes to Debt Ceiling Procedures: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he and President Trump are mulling how to change the method through which the U.S. government caps the federal debt. Mnuchin said they are discussing ways to make sure all spending appropriated and authorized by Congress would not be affected by the federal debt and it’s ridiculous that lawmakers need to regularly need to raise the debt ceiling. (The Hill)

Treasury Asked Congress to Raise Debt Limit by Feb. 28: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked Republican congressional leaders to raise the government’s borrowing authority by the end of February. Congress may seek to raise the debt limit in February by attaching the measure to a government spending bill, a House Republican familiar with the talks said. (Bloomberg)


Trump Endorses Earmarks as a Path Toward Bipartisanship: Congress could benefit from returning to the days of earmarks, President Trump told lawmakers at a bipartisan meeting last Tuesday. “I hear so much about earmarks and how there was a great friendliness when you had earmarks,” Trump said of the system of congressional directives for spending on specific projects. “Of course they had other problems, but maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a form of earmarks.” (Politico) The House Rules Committee plans to hold hearings this week on earmarks. 

Republicans Considering Skipping Budget Resolution Process: White House and Hill GOP leaders have discussed the possibility of forgoing the painful budget process and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued that he cannot pass controversial deficit-reduction legislation using powerful budget procedures with his new 51-vote majority. This would mean no entitlement reform or welfare overhaul in 2018, a key priority for fiscal conservatives. (Politico)

GOP Leaders Face Most Difficult Shutdown Deadline Yet: Leadership was already going to have their work cut out for them in trying to corral frustrated defense hawks, skeptical conservatives and fired-up Democrats into supporting another continuing resolution to keep the government's lights on. But President Trump created new headaches for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his top lieutenants last week after the president rejected a bipartisan immigration deal and reportedly made explosive comments about "shithole countries,” throwing a wrench into broad negotiations on Capitol Hill. (The Hill)

Paul Ryan Predicts No Shutdown, Says GOP Won't 'Tackle' Medicare, Social Security: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis) said Friday that Republicans will not attach an immigration deal to a must-pass spending bill ahead of next week's deadline and predicted there would be no government shutdown. Ryan, who had previously said he wanted to address entitlement reform in 2018, also described that idea as more of a "wish list" item. "I don't see us tackling it this year," he said at a WisPolitics Event at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (CNN)


House Holds Hearing on Modernizing Energy Department: The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on how to modernize the Department of Energy to ensure it can meet national security, energy and economic security challenges. The hearing touched on the possibility of consolidating some of the national lab system, needed authorizations, and the permanent disposal of nuclear waste among other topics.  (Daily Energy Insider)


Can Congress Break Ground on a New Infrastructure Plan?: To say the Trump Administration’s expected unveiling of its $1 trillion infrastructure plan later this month (or next) is long-awaited would be an understatement. Infrastructure spending and reform, a signature campaign issue delayed by debates about health care and taxes, is now imperative, say many state and local officials seeking guidance, funding, and a future roadmap for overdue repairs and renovations. (Curbed)

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan May Slip to Next Month: White House officials told Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the panel’s top Democrat, last week that the release of President Trump’s long-awaited infrastructure package may slip to next month. The Trump Administration had promised to unveil “detailed legislative principles” on Trump’s rebuilding initiative in early January, after the issue took a back seat to other GOP priorities all last year, but are no suggesting it will not be released until after the State of the Union speech. (The Hill


Congress to Turn Up Heat on FinTech Regulation in 2018:  A Democrat has some serious advice for Congress when it comes to FinTech.  Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the top Democrat on the House Financial Services housing and insurance subcommittee, is not opposed to FinTech. He voted in favor of legislation supported by online lenders, including a bill introduced that would allow bank loans made at one interest rate to be legally sold to a non-bank at the same rate. However, Cleaver hasn’t shied away from discussing potential issues at online lenders, especially the concern that gender and racial bias could be a factor in lending decisions. To start the process, Cleaver wants to study FinTech before deciding what safeguards are needed – and he would like Republicans to hold more hearings on the technology. (PYMNTS)

Senate Leaders Announce New Committee Rosters: Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones will sit on the Banking, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Homeland Security and Aging panels and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) will be making a return to the Banking panel. (Roll Call)


Congress is Debating How Long to Fund CHIP: In light of a dramatically better CBO score for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, lawmakers are debating whether to fund the program for six or ten years. CBO most recently projected that funding Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 10 years would reduce the deficit by $6 billion over a decade, which prompted calls that a so-called "permanent" fix should be enacted. CHIP could move on its own — a stand-alone bill — or become a vehicle for a short-term funding resolution to keep the government open beyond Jan. 19. (Politico)

House to Work on Oversight Legislation for 340B Program: Following a two-year review by the House Energy and Commerce Committee of the 340B program, Chairman Greg Walden said Republicans will push for substantial changes to bring what they argue is much-needed transparency and oversight to 340B, namely by expanding the federal government’s authority over the program. The review recommends that Congress give the Health Resources and Services Administration the authority to “adequately administer and oversee the program,” including the ability to monitor and track program use and ensure that low-income and uninsured patients directly benefit from the 340B program. (The Hill)

Senate Finance Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for Health Secretary Nominee:  Alex Azar, nominee for HHS secretary, was asked numerous questions related to his ties to the pharmaceutical industry and in response to one, agreed that prescription drugs cost too much but eschewed broad government steps to rein in prices. Azar distanced himself from the Trump-supported idea of allowing the government to directly negotiate prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers for the drugs sold through Medicare. He also suggested that he favors converting Medicaid from an entitlement program open to anyone who is eligible into a system of block grants with more freedom for states to set the rules. (The Washington Post)

Natural Resources

Capito, Smith Join Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: Two senators were assigned last week to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Tina Smith (D-MN). In a joint statement, Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) welcomed the new appointees. They said they looked forward to working with the senators “on a wide range of energy, lands, water, and resource issues throughout the remainder of this Congress. (Natural Gas Intel


Ryan Squeezed by Conservatives on DACA Vote: For weeks, House Speaker Paul Ryan has said any deal to shield 700,000 young undocumented people from deportation must be bipartisan. His GOP conference, however, has another idea entirely. House Republicans are pressing Ryan for a vote on a partisan immigration bill that has little chance of passing the Senate. (Politico)

Executive Branch


All Eyes on These Labor Issues in 2018:  The writers at BNA take a look at the tumultuous year that just wrapped up on the labor and employment beat, and as the personnel shakeups of 2017 at the Department of Labor begin to translate into more policy shifts, the pace might even pick up in year two of Trump (at least in the executive branch). (Bloomberg)


House Holds Hearing on Modernizing Energy Department: The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on how to modernize the Department of Energy to ensure it can meet national security, energy and economic security challenges. The hearing touched on the possibility of consolidating some of the national lab system, needed authorizations, and the permanent disposal of nuclear waste among other topics.  (Daily Energy Insider)


Solar Sector Amps up the Pressure as Tariff Decision Looms: The Jan. 26 deadline for President Trump to make a decision on the 201 trade case is now just over two weeks away. Opponents of solar tariffs have made their case by penning op-eds and sharing thoughts with The Hill, Time and Trump’s cabinet members. Earlier this month, the ITC sent a supplemental report to Trump saying China has contradicted its commitments to the World Trade Organization by taking advantage of U.S. government programs meant to encourage renewable energy consumption. (Solar Power World


Trump Administration Issues Guidance Allowing Work Requirements for Medicaid: The Trump Administration issued guidance to states that will allow them to compel people to work or prepare for jobs in order to receive Medicaid for the first time. The letter to state Medicaid directors opens the door for states to cut off Medicaid benefits to Americans unless they have a job, are in school, are a caregiver or volunteer, or participate in other approved forms of “community engagement.” (The Washington Post)

SAMSHA Ends National Database for Evidence-based Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs: Officials said the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices was flawed, ignored serious mental illnesses and drug abuse disorders, and that its standards for including programs in the registry were poor. Some practices listed in the database are "entirely irrelevant" to some disorders and some have little evidence proving they are effective. (The Hill)


Trump Official: Self-Driving Cars Must Benefit Rural Communities, Not Just Cities: A top Trump administration official said it's vital for the auto industry to ensure that self-driving cars help improve life in rural communities and not just urban areas. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also hailed the "tremendous potential" of self-driving vehicles to improve automotive safety and drive economic growth. Her comments Sunday at the Detroit auto show signaled that the Trump Administration will take a favorable approach to the industry's aggressive push into autonomous vehicle technologies. (USA Today)


EPA Provides Details on New Listening Sessions for Clean Power Plan Repeal: EPA officials say they will re-open the public comment period for the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and will now take comments through April 26. “In response to significant interest surrounding the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan and the success of the West Virginia hearing, we will now hold listening sessions across the country to ensure all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide input,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. (Utility Drive


Reorganization Clock Starts Ticking: The tough part starts now, for an ambitious Interior Department reorganization plan whose broad outlines were mapped out last week for senior staffers. Headquarter sites for the proposed 13 administrative regions must be identified; at least two cities already have been floated. Potential personnel transfers must be fleshed out. Short- and long-term costs and benefits must be brought to light. Congress, and maybe K Street, must be convinced. (Green Wire)


Federal Judge Rules Mick Mulvaney can Lead CFPB: A federal judge has ruled for a second time against Consumer Financial Protection Bureau deputy director Leandra English's request to block White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney from taking over her agency. Judge Timothy Kelly denied English's emergency restraining order to keep Mulvaney from taking on that second job, and sided with President Trump. (Washington Examiner


White House Resubmits Nominations for NASA and NOAA:  As the 1st session of the 115th Congress ended, nominations for NASA Administrator, NOAA Administrator and other Trump Administration positions important to the conduct of the U.S. space program were in abeyance. Here’s a quick status report on where they stand at the beginning of the second session of the 115th Congress. (Space Policy Online)

NOAA’s Future Constellation Will Feature Large and Small Satellites in Variety of Orbits:  In the future, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may rely on a mix of large government owned and operated satellites, imaging instruments hosted on commercial satellites, small satellites in low Earth orbit and data purchased from commercial firms.  That was one of the key findings of an extensive quantitative analysis NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service performed over the last two years to identify ways to create an increasingly capable and resilient space-based architecture in light of budget constraints. (Space News)

White House

White House: No Deal Reached yet on 'DACA': The White House on Thursday said that no deal has been reached to protect DACA recipients, despite word from Sen. Jeff Flake earlier in the day that a bipartisan compromise package had been reached. (CNBC)