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Window On Washington - June 4, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 22

Jun 04, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Minibus Appropriations Strategy. The House and Senate are planning to move appropriations bills in small packages of two or three bills in order to avoid a significantly delayed omnibus package like what happened in the FY18 process. The House is planning to move a minibus appropriations package this week that includes Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has worked closely with the House so that the packages arrive to the Senate in a way that minimizes obstacles for passage.    

Rescission Package Changes. The White House is planning to modify its rescission package by removing $350 million in cuts to the 2015 Ebola outbreak response, disaster aid for Hurricane Sandy and a wastewater treatment program. These changes could make the rescission package more palatable to Republicans as the package has largely remained stalled on the House floor so far.   

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

House and Senate Mark-ups for Next Week: The Senate scheduled its full committee markups of its Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bills for Thursday. While not officially posted yet, the House is also rumored to be marking up its Interior and Defense appropriations bills this week. (Clark Hill Insight)

CBO Projects Outlay for Mandatory Means-tested Programs Will Grow at 4 Percent: CBO projects that, if current laws generally remained unchanged, federal outlays for mandatory means-tested programs, programs that provide assistance to people with relatively low income, estimated to total $0.7 trillion in 2018—would grow over the next decade at an average annual rate of 4 percent, whereas spending for mandatory non–means-tested programs—totaling $2.1 trillion in 2018—would grow at an average annual rate of 6 percent. (Congressional Budget Office)

Tax Reform

Tax Reform and the IRS: Five Takeaways for Tax Practitioners:  Anytime Congress enacts major legislation, the agency charged with enforcing the new law has the challenge of juggling its new responsibilities with its extant ones, and that truism clearly applies to the TCJA. What makes the 2017 tax law unique, however, is the speed and opacity with which the legislative language was developed, considered, and passed into law, which is presenting many difficult issues for the IRS. (The Tax Adviser)

Health

GOP Senator Presses FDA on 'Right to Try' Implementation: Senator Ron Johnson, author of the new “right to try” law, is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to enforce it as written. In a letter sent to the FDA, Johnson said the right to try law “intends to diminish the FDA’s power over people’s lives, not increase it.” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has not spoken against the law, but Johnson took issue with some of his recent comments and statements. (The Hill)

Cybersecurity

Senate Defense Bill Aims to Scrub Cyber Adversaries from US Military Tech: Companies that sell equipment and services to the U.S. military will be forced to disclose business ties that allow foreign governments to access their sensitive data, such as software source code, under the Senate version of an annual defense bill. The provision, added by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., comes amid heightened concern about how U.S. cyber adversaries might use private companies as spying tools. (Defense One)

Defense

Senate Moves to Empower Pentagon’s Policy Chief as Enforcer: The SASC’s proposed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which it approved on May 24, features language designed to help the undersecretary of defense for policy (USD-P) regain some of the power and responsibilities it has ceded to the Joint Staff in recent years. The goal: for the USD-P role to become the person who takes major documents like the National Defense Strategy and drives the services, combatant commanders and civilian workforce towards real implementation. (Defense News)

US Senate Defense Bill Would Prep for High-Tech Fights: The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a version of the $716 billion defense policy bill that emphasizes investment in future warfare — with provisions on cyber, hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence. Its National Defense Authorization Act would sprinkle $600 million more than the Trump Administration budget requests into science, technology and testing programs, to include hypersonics, space constellation technologies, rocket propulsion, directed energy and quantum information science — the “key to advancing warfighting capabilities,” according to a summary of the bill. (Defense News)

Transportation

Lawmakers Request Meeting with Amtrak CEO Over Funding Issue:  A bipartisan group of lawmakers asked for a meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson over the company’s plans to deny funding for its Southwest Chief route pending additional financial investments. The letter, penned by multiple House and Senate lawmakers in both parties, argues the route that runs through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico is “vital to the economic well-being of our communities.” (The Hill)

House to Vote on Water Infrastructure Bill This Week: House Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster announced that the House of Representatives will consider H.R. 8, the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA), this week. WRDA is bipartisan legislation that provides for improvements to the Nation’s ports, inland waterways, locks, dams, flood protection, ecosystem restoration, and other water resources infrastructure.  The bill also authorizes proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works activities. (DoT Press Release)

Justice

House Considers Multiple DOJ Bills This Week: Two initiatives seeking to better track federally funded efforts and grants in the opioid crisis, including one introduced by U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, are being considered in the House. On May 25, Rothfus, R-12, Sewickley, introduced the Coordinated Overdose and Drug Epidemic Response to the Emergency Declaration (CODE RED) Act, which was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. This week the House is also considering a Justice Department grant program authorization bill (HR 3249)  (Clark Hill Insight) 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

CFPB

CFPB to Resume Data Collection After Data Security Review: Acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney said he plans to restart collecting consumers’ personal information, ending a hold on that collection he put in place soon after taking over the bureau. (Bloomberg BNA)

HHS

Applicant’s Race or Gender Doesn’t Appear to Influence NIH Peer Reviewers: An unusual experiment to test whether an applicant’s apparent race or gender influence how their grant proposal is scored has found no evidence of bias. The study, which involved re-evaluating proposals already funded by the NIH, after the applicants’ names had been altered, is part of an ongoing effort by NIH officials to detect bias in their vaunted peer-review process. (Science Magazine)

NIH Hosted Meeting on Chronic Pain and the Opioid Crisis: Researchers from around the United States gathered at the NIH for a two-day symposium called From Science to Society – At the Intersection of Chronic Pain Management and the Opioid Crisis. At the meeting, NIH Director Francis S. Collins and U.S. Surgeon General VADM Jerome M. Adams discussed these challenges and how the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative will help researchers tackle some of them. (NIH News Releases)

FDA Wants to Shorten New Drug Monopolies to Cut Costs: In an effort to increase competition and bring down prescription drug prices, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb wants to speed approval times for rivals to promising new first-to-market medicines. Gottlieb has made a commitment to speeding up approvals of cheap generic medicines, which he said is his agency's main contribution to the Trump administration's push to cut drug costs to consumers. (WHTC)

Labor & Workforce

More H-2B Visas for Seasonal Work Available This Summer:  Employers that can demonstrate that their business is at risk of failing without an infusion of foreign seasonal workers will have the chance to petition for help this summer.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is authorizing 15,000 additional H-2B visas for use in fiscal year (FY) 2018, which runs through September 30. The extra numbers are on top of the 66,000 H-2B visas already issued this fiscal year. (SHRM)

Transportation

FTA Announces Final Rule to Encourage Private-sector Transit Involvement: The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration issued the Private Investment Project Procedures Final Rule that describes new procedures aimed at helping the federal government develop more effective approaches to spurring private participation and investment in project planning, development, finance, design, construction, maintenance and operations. (Roads & Bridges)

US Provides $277M for Hurricane-damaged Public Transit: The U.S. Department of Transportation will provide more than $277 million to help hurricane-damaged public transportation in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands. The funding is earmarked for response and rebuilding projects related to last year’s hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — plus for emergency preparedness. (The Seattle Times)

Rollback of Auto Mileage Standards Advances to White House, Bringing Conflict with California Closer: The rollback of the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency standards for automobiles took another step forward Thursday when the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB did not release the contents of the document but is expected to publish it by the end of June, prompting a 60-day public-comment period. The draft of the overhauled standard, as reported last month, would eliminate automakers’ obligation to boost fuel efficiency after 2021 and would set up a clash with California by challenging its ability to set its own stricter standards, a power granted to the state by the Clean Air Act. (The Washington Post)

Banking & Housing

Fed Votes to Advance Rule Loosening Volcker Rule on Big Banks: The Federal Reserve on Wednesday took the first step toward rewriting one of the most controversial rules written under the Dodd-Frank banking law passed after the 2008-2009 financial crisis.  The three members of the Fed board voted unanimously to advance a proposal to loosen and tailor the so-called Volcker Rule, which bans banks from making speculative investments with their own capital.  The proposal is meant to set clearer guidelines for and reduce the costs of complying with the rule, and if finalized would be a significant victory for Wall Street, which has long complained about the rule. (The Hill)

Getting Rich on Government-Backed Mortgages:  Non-bank lenders are growing to serve those who struggle to get mortgages through traditional banks and making lots of money in the process, by taking advantage of the government’s affordable financing, backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Agriculture, and, most of all, the Federal Housing Administration. – they gets nearly risk-free commissions, the borrowers put no money down, and if things go south, the government ultimately bears the risk.  No one is saying the system is close to another collapse. Yet nonbanks, more loosely regulated than the JPMorgan Chases of the world, are bigger players today than during the last mortgage bubble, according to a Brookings Institution report. They’re making almost half of new loans, compared with 19 percent in 2007. (Bloomberg)

DOE

Energy Department's Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute Selects Proposals from First Project Call: The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute recently announced nearly $10 million for ten projects to help advance its goals and enable U.S. manufacturers to develop and implement innovations that will advance U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, sustainability, and innovation. (DoE Press Releases)

Cybersecurity

The Cybersecurity 202: White House Cybersecurity Report Shows Federal Agencies Still Struggling to Get Secure: The White House and the Department of Homeland Security have finished a government-wide review examining the security of federal agencies, and the results aren’t pretty. Dozens of federal agencies have cybersecurity programs that aren’t properly equipped to deal with cyber intrusions in their networks, according to a new report released by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Of the 96 federal agencies examined, a whopping 71 were relying on cybersecurity programs deemed “at risk or high risk.” (The Washington Post)

DHS Seeks to Better Secure Federal Assets from Cybersecurity Threats: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has worked for the past several years with federal agencies to identify, prioritize, and assess the cybersecurity needs of the federal government’s most critical information systems, or high value assets (HVAs). The new Binding Operational Directive (18-02) issued by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen introduces a more focused, integrated approach to addressing weaknesses across federal agency HVAs. It also facilitates collaboration across cybersecurity teams to drive timely remediation and manage risk. (Homeland Preparedness News)

Defense

Findings on the Defense-Industrial Base’s Weaknesses Reach the White House: A presidentially ordered review of the defense-industrial base has been completed by the Pentagon and submitted to the White House for comment. The report, requested by President Donald Trump in July 2017, is expected to be made fully public when published. It is expected to focus on identifying unhealthy areas in the industrial base or weak spots in the supply chain. (Defense News)

Space, NASA & NOAA

NASA Drops Request to Delay Next Astrophysics Decadal: Two months after suggesting the next major review of priorities in astrophysics research and missions to achieve those goals be delayed, the head of NASA’s science directorate says that study should stay on schedule. In a May 25 tweet, NASA’s associate administrator for science said that the next astrophysics decadal survey, known as Astro2020, should not be delayed after reviewing an “analysis” from the National Academies. (SpaceNews)

Trade

Trump Says US Might Prefer Separate Trade Deals with Canada, Mexico Instead of NAFTA: President Donald Trump said on Friday he might prefer to end the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the United States is renegotiating with Canada and Mexico, in favor of two bilateral agreements with its neighbors. (CNBC)

EPA

EPA Board to Scrutinize Pruitt’s Science ‘Transparency’ Rule: The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) external scientific advisers have decided to formally scrutinize Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposal to require new transparency measures for science the agency uses. The EPA’s Science Advisory Board voted unanimously to take on the regulation at a Thursday meeting. It also decided to examine five other controversial regulatory rollbacks Pruitt is working on. (The Hill)

Interior

Zinke Cites ‘Environmental Disaster’ in Sending Park Police to Border: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is doubling down on his decision to send law enforcement officers from his department, including from the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Park Police (USPP), to help apprehend immigrants in the country illegally along the U.S.-Mexico border. (The Hill)