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Window On Washington - June 18, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 24

Jun 18, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Appropriations on Senate Floor. This week, the Senate plans to take up a three-bill appropriations package, commonly referred to as a “minibus”, including Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch spending. The minibus currently consists of the bills that the House passed last week but Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s office has said the House version is just a vehicle for the Senate to insert its own legislation. The Senate could also vote on the $15 billion rescission bill as Senator Mike Lee has collected the necessary 20 signatures to trigger a vote to discharge the bill. After the discharge petition is filed, any senator supporting the bill can make a motion to vote on the discharge, requiring a simple majority. Lee will need to get a simple majority to pass the rescission request if the vote comes by the end of the week.

Immigration Deal? The House had originally planned to vote this week on two immigration compromise bills, one more conservative and the other more moderate, but this is up in the air after President Trump said he would not sign the moderate compromise. The White House has since tried to walk back the President’s comments saying he was referring to a separate effort previously being worked on by moderate Republicans.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

House Appropriations Committee Approved Defense and Financial Services Bills: Last week, the House Appropriations Committee considered and approved its Defense and Financial Services Appropriations bills in full committee. The Defense bill provides a total of $674.6 billion for the Department of Defense. This includes $606.5 billion in base discretionary funding – an increase of $17.1 billion above the fiscal year 2018 enacted level. The Financial Services bill includes $23.4 billion, which is equal to the fiscal year 2018 enacted level. The legislation funds programs and activities at U.S. financial agencies that will help boost the economy, ensure a level playing field for U.S. businesses and industries, and prevent financial crime. On the subcommittee level, the Labor, Health and Human Services and State and Foreign Operations bill were also approved. (House Appropriations Committee)

Senate Appropriations Committee Advanced Multiple Appropriations Bills: The Committee approved its Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which included $62.9 billion for the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies. This is $3.4 billion above the FY2018 enacted level. The Committee also approved the Interior Appropriations bill, a $35.853 billion measure to fund the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other agencies. Additionally, the Committee approved the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

House Bill Gives NIH a 3% Boost in 2019, to $38.3 Billion: A draft bill released by a House of Representatives spending panel would give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a $1.25 billion raise in 2019, to $38.3 billion. That is 3% more than this year’s level and $4.1 billion more than President Trump’s administration had requested. Although researchers are welcoming the modest bump, the bill also brings back a proposed ban on research with fetal tissue that alarmed the scientific community last year.

House and Senate Appropriations Schedules for This Week: The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill and the revised report of the FY19 suballocations. The Senate Appropriations Committee will also mark up the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill as well as the Homeland Security Appropriations bill and the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. (Clark Hill Insight)

Tax Reform

Second Round of Tax Reform Might Address Retirement Accounts:  TaxNotes reported that lawmakers are considering a comprehensive rewrite of retirement tax incentives as part of tax reform phase two, thought to begin this summer.  According to the article, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) has said that some lawmakers intend to revise the tax treatment of retirement savings to make them bigger, more flexible, and easier to use. (Tax Foundation)

Energy

Quantum Physics Gets Attention—and Brighter Funding Prospects—in Congress: Many members of Congress admit they find quantum physics mind-boggling, with its counterintuitive account of the subatomic world. But that isn't stopping U.S. lawmakers, as well as policymakers in President Trump's administration, from backing an emerging effort to better organize and boost funding for quantum research, which could reshape computing, sensors, and communications. In the coming weeks, the science committee of the House of Representatives is expected to introduce legislation calling for a new, 10-year-long National Quantum Initiative (NQI). The White House, for its part, is scheduled to formally launch a new panel that will guide the federal government's role in quantum science. (Science Magazine)

Space, NASA & NOAA

Congress Considering Space Traffic Management Legislation:  As the White House puts the finishing touches on a new space policy dealing with space traffic management issues, the House is considering legislation of its own on the topic.  During an appearance at a Secure World Foundation panel discussion on the subject June 11, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, said legislation was in development to address the issue of monitoring objects in orbit and providing warnings to satellite operators of potential collisions.(Space News)

Senate Bill Restores Funding for NASA Science and Technology Demonstration Missions: A fiscal year 2019 spending bill approved by a Senate appropriations subcommittee June 12 offers $21.3 billion for NASA, including funding for several Earth Science missions that affect the Goddard Space Flight Center slated for cancellation in the administration’s budget request.  The bill, approved unanimously by members of the commerce, justice and science (CJS) subcommittee during a brief markup session, provides the agency with more than $1.4 billion above the administration’s request for fiscal year 2019 and $587 million above what the agency received in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill. However, it is about $220 million below what the House version of the bill offers. (Space News)

Senate Appropriators Add Money for NOAA Polar-Orbiting Weather Satellites: In its actions on the FY2019 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill last week, a Senate subcommittee added funding for NOAA’s next three polar-orbiting weather satellites. It also fully funded NOAA’s development of new geostationary weather satellites.  (Space Policy Online)

Defense

House Panel Approves $674.6B Pentagon Spending Bill: The House Appropriations Committee on easily advanced its $674.6 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal year 2019. The committee voted 48-4 to approve the bill, which would provide $606.5 billion in base discretionary funding and $68.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The base budget amount in the defense bill is about $900 million less than the Trump administration requested but $17.1 billion more than this year’s spending level. (The Hill)

Transportation

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Infrastructure Bill for Poor Communities: A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that aims to rebuild infrastructure in poor communities while reducing the national debt. Introduced by Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., William Lacy Clay Jr., D-Mo., and Ted Budd, R-N.C., the Generating American Income and Infrastructure Act would require the Agriculture Department to sell distressed assets on the open market and the Treasury to use the proceeds to fund infrastructure projects in communities below the national poverty line. (UPI)

Lawmakers Prep for Self-driving Cars: Lawmakers at a hearing last week grabbled with how to prepare the nation's infrastructure for the coming wave of self-driving vehicles. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works heard from transportation experts on the work to be done to improve both roads, broadband as well as the safety technology behind autonomous cars. (The Hill)

Health

McConnell: 'Everybody' in Senate Likes Pre-existing Condition Safeguards: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “everybody” in the Senate wants to preserve consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions, an Obamacare provision that the Trump administration last week said is unconstitutional and should be struck down in court. Obamacare’s prohibition on insurance companies canceling or denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is among the most popular provisions of the 2010 law. Congressional Republicans opted to preserve the idea of having a requirement last year even as they laid plans to repeal the law. (Politico)

Congress Tackles Mounting Opioid Epidemic: Congress is touting its recent flurry of action — the House is on track to pass more than 50 bills addressing the issue by the end of this week — on an issue that is hitting many constituents hard, and one that lawmakers are sure to hear about on the campaign trail this year. Still, many public health advocates, who applaud the steps taken by the House, also caution that more work is needed to truly end the scourge of overdose deaths, underscoring the scale of the challenge facing congressional leaders. (The Hill)

Cybersecurity

Senate Approves Krebs to Lead NPPD: Christopher Krebs was confirmed by the Senate on June 12 to lead the cybersecurity threat assessment agency at the Department of Homeland Security. Krebs has effectively been in the top job for a while as the "senior official performing the duties of" the head of the National Protection and Programs Directorate. Krebs has said his top legislative priority is getting NPPD rebranded as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The renaming is still up to Congress, and a plan to redefine the scope and authority of the DHS cybersecurity shop is part of a still pending authorization bill. (FCW)

Senators Demand Answers from Amazon on Echo's Snooping Habits: A Portland woman recently told a local news outlet that her Amazon Echo device had gone rogue, sending a recording of a private conversation to a random person in her contact list. Two senators tasked with investigating consumer privacy sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding answers. In the letter, Republican senator Jeff Flake and Democratic senator Chris Coons, ask Bezos to explain how exactly the Amazon Echo device listens to and stores users' voices. The senators also seek answers about what the company is doing to protect users from having that sensitive information misused. (Wired)

Agriculture

Senate Agriculture Panel Passes Farm Bill with Hemp Legalization: The draft farm bill, officially known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, contains more than 1,000 pages and covers everything from farm subsidies and food stamps to trade and rural development policy. Farmer assistance includes commodity payment programs, as well as subsidized crop insurance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pledged that the full Senate will vote on the entire 2018 farm bill before the July 4 recess. McConnell also said he's "hopeful the House will get to theirs, but it will probably look a little different than ours."

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

EPA

EPA Extends Time to Comment on Proposed Science Transparency Rule: On May 25, 2018, EPA extended its comment deadline to August 16 on a regulatory reform proposed rule on Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science (“Science Transparency Rule”).  The two aspects of the proposal that have drawn the greatest attention are requirements that would  (1) impose “transparency,” limiting EPA in rulemaking largely to reliance on studies that make underlying data available for replication and critique by other researchers, and (2) direct increased EPA consideration of alternative dose-response models.  Many of the transparency requirement are similar to those outlined in the proposed “Honest Act” legislation (see previous Clark Hill alert), which has generated considerable reaction among interested parties. (Clark Hill Insight)

HHS

States' Opioid-fighting Efforts Getting Nearly $1 Billion from HHS: Federal health officials are preparing to allocate nearly $1 billion to support states in their efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said it is accepting applications from states and territories to score a portion of the $930 million in state opioid response grants for their opioid prevention and treatment initiatives. (Modern Healthcare)

Trump’s Health Chief Suggests ‘Massive’ Drug Price Cuts Not Imminent: President Donald Trump’s top health care official is lowering expectations that drug companies will soon announce huge price cuts, undercutting Trump’s recent claims that his drug pricing plan would produce immediate results. Trump on May 30 said some of the largest pharmaceutical companies would announce “voluntary massive drops in prices” within two weeks in response to his drug pricing plan released in mid-May. HHS Secretary Alex Azar told the Senate HELP Committee last week that there are “several drug companies that are looking at substantial, material decreases in drug prices,” but he indicated it could take time for the cuts to happen. (Politico)

Credibility Concerns Lead NIH to End Study of Alcohol's Health Effects: A huge study on the possible health benefits of drinking alcohol will be completely shut down, because its credibility was compromised by frequent and early interactions between alcohol industry executives, scientists and government officials. An investigation by The New York Times revealed that scientists and NIH officials had met with alcohol company executives and appeared to solicit money from them in violation of government policy, prompting the NIH to shut down enrollment in the trial and do its own investigation. (NPR)

Labor & Workforce

Pay Raises: With Unemployment Low, Why isn’t Pay Going up?:  Halfway through a news conference Wednesday, the head of the world’s most powerful central bank was asked a question weighing on the minds — and the checking accounts — of Americans everywhere:  When will people finally start getting meaningful pay raises? Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, had no satisfactory answer.  He called it a “puzzle.” And then, as if measuring his words, he said he wasn’t prepared to call it a “mystery.” (APP)

Defense

Heads in the Cloud: In the weeks leading up to the release of the Department of Defense’s multibillion-dollar commercial cloud solicitation, Pentagon leaders dug in for a fight. Officials vowed to move forward with a single-source contract award for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, insisting it’s the best approach for a seamless cloud capability that extends to the battlefield. “We’ve not heard anybody say that a multiple-cloud solution is a better solution for providing that capability to the war fighter, and that’s why we’re saying that based on where technology is today, based on where the offerings of the commercial cloud providers are and based on current acquisition law, the department’s optimal solution is a single-award contract,” Robert Daigle, director of cost analysis and program evaluation at the Pentagon, said. But leaders from across the IT sector disagree, with industry groups mounting an offensive aimed at swaying DoD brass — or at least forcing their hand to reconsider the approach. (C4ISDNET)

Transportation

DOT Announces First Round of Regional University Transportation Center Grants: The U.S. Department of Transportation selected three institutions to receive grants under the University Transportation Centers (UTC) program. USDOT received 13 applications for the competition in Regions 1, 2 and 3. The grant solicitation for regional grants in those regions were rebid due to what USDOT called a “lack of meritorious” applications during the 2016 solicitation. (RT&S)

Banking & Housing

Banks Take on Sessions Over Legalized Pot:  The nation's banks are taking on Attorney General Jeff Sessions over pot with a big lobbying push to loosen federal restrictions on the surging legalized marijuana industry.  Emboldened by support from both President Donald Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — two relentless foes on most other issues — top banking trade groups are pressing policymakers to make it easier for their members to serve cannabis businesses that are now legal in states like California and Colorado. (Politico)

DOE

Report: DOE Basic Research Key to Modern Technologies: Basic research and scientific facilities sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) have played a critical role over the past 40 years in the development of a wide range of present-day technologies according to a new report released by the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC). The report, titled A Remarkable Return on Investment in Fundamental Research, explores the connections between DOE-sponsored fundamental research in fields such as physics, materials science, and chemistry and the present-day technologies in information and other fields that pervade our lives.  The critical role of DOE in these technological advances ranges from LED lighting and smartphone communications to more efficient internal combustion engines and lighter vehicles. (DoE News)

Cybersecurity

Here’s How That $380 Million in Election Security Funding Is Being Spent: The $380 million Congress appropriated to secure those systems is, similarly, going mostly to standard security measures, said Masterson, who previously served on the Election Assistance Commission, which is distributing the federal funds. In the near term, that includes instituting more regular patching schedules for software and training election workers on how to spot phishing emails. Longer term, the highest priority for the new money will be ensuring election results have auditable paper trails, have better built-in cyber defenses and can continue to operate resiliently after a digital attack. (NextGov)

DOJ

DOJ Publicly Releases Advisory Opinions: On June 8th, the Justice Department released a batch of advisory opinions involving the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) going back to 2010. This is a long awaited move and an effort to enhance compliance. Though this release sheds some light on FARA, practitioners are left with many gaps and unknowns, as all proprietary and identifying information is redacted, and the public cannot view the actual requests. The opinions can be found here. (Clark Hill Insight)

Law Enforcement Grants Would Get Funding Bump Under Senate Bill: Federal grants that flow to state and local police agencies, and spending on programs intended to combat the opioid addiction crisis plaguing parts of the U.S., would see modest upticks under a proposal a Senate panel advanced. The fiscal year 2019 spending legislation covers the U.S. Department of Justice, the Commerce Department and related agencies. It cleared a Senate Appropriations subcommittee with bipartisan support. Lawmakers proposed a total of $63 billion of discretionary spending in the bill, an increase of $3.4 billion over current levels. The bill includes $360 million for Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act grants, It also includes $445 million for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. (Route Fifty)

Trade

It Is Official - U.S. Issues 25% Tariff on Chinese Products: Making true on his earlier threat, President Trump on June 15, 2018 approved the imposition of a tariff of 25% on approximately $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. Last April, the Administration issued a proposed list of 1,333 products which could be potentially subject to this tariff pursuant to its Section 301 investigation on unfair trade practices related to China’s intellectual property policies. After reviewing objections and recommendations from interested parties, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”), removed 515 items from this list, but added 284 new ones. (Clark Hill Insight)