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Window On Washington - March 12, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 10

Mar 12, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Omnibus. While negotiations on the Omnibus appropriations bill are said to be almost completed with the possibility of it being on the House floor next week, there are still a few major issues that need to be worked out. The Labor, HHS portion of the bill has a problem related to family planning funding commonly referred to as Title X. The Senate Labor, HHS bill contained $286.5 million for Title X while the House zeroed it out and included a provision prohibiting any money allocated from going to Planned Parenthood. While a compromise is likely to be reached on the funding level, it is unclear how the language issue will be resolved at this point. Clark Hill believes it unlikely that this issue would sink the entire bill, but it could potentially cause a continuing resolution for the HHS portion of the bill if a compromise isn’t reached.

Gun Control. In addition to the DOJ moving forward to ban bump stocks last week, there could be movement soon on the Senate bill on background checks. The bill from Majority Whip Cornyn and Senator Murphy now has 60 cosponsors and Trump, a supporter of the bill, wants a vote to be scheduled soon. The measure would improve reporting of information by federal and state authorities to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The current Senate floor schedule could be challenging though, if the Senate wants to act on the bill before a two-week recess later this month.  

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

FY19 Budget Hearings in Full Swing in House Appropriations: The House Appropriations Committee has numerous hearings scheduled this week on the FY19 budget request. Secretaries testifying this week include Transportation Secretary Chao, Veterans Affairs Secretary Shulkin, Energy Secretary Perry, and HHS Secretary Azar. The full House schedule is available here. The Senate has not yet scheduled any budget hearings. (Clark Hill Insight)

Tax Reform

Ryan Fights to Keep Tax Cuts in Spotlight:  Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is fighting an uphill battle to keep the focus on the GOP’s tax cuts and the economy in the face of a news cycle dominated by President Trump’s White House.  Ryan has aggressively talked up the benefits on the tax cuts at various events and meeting in recent weeks.  But it can be a challenge for Ryan to win the spotlight given competition in the news cycle — from Trump’s decision to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, to Trump’s decision to defy his party and impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, to the news about his alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. (The Hill)

Defense

GOP Senators Warn that Tariffs Risk National Security: Seven Senate Republicans are telling President Donald Trump his aluminum and steel tariffs will endanger national security, America’s alliances and the success of the new national defense strategy. In a letter to the President, the groups stated that imposing tariffs broadly “risks alienating key international partners that contribute to our ability to defend our nation and maintain international stability,” and could jeopardize partnerships beneficial to U.S. military and intelligence communities. (Defense News)

Transportation

Five Cabinet Members to Testify at Infrastructure Hearing This Week:  Five Cabinet secretaries are set to testify before a Senate committee this Wednesday on President Trump's plan to overhaul the nation's infrastructure. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced that Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue would appear before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The Cabinet officials will join Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who were already expected to appear before the panel. (The Hill)

Senate Democrats Pitch Repeal of Tax Cuts to Fund Infrastructure:  Senate Democrats unveiled on Wednesday a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would be funded by repealing numerous tax cuts Republicans pushed through Congress last year.  The plan would return the top individual tax rate to 39.6 percent, set the corporate tax rate at 25 percent, go back to 2017 law for the Alternative Minimum Tax, undo the exemption increase for the estate tax and end the beneficial tax treatment of carried interest.  Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the plan would fund investments in roads, bridges, schools, airports and "universal" high-speed internet, among other things. (Politico)

Banking and Housing

Senate Advances Bank Deregulation Bill as Democrats Break Ranks:  Sixteen Senate Democrats ignored warnings from progressives and joined with Republicans on Tuesday to advance a wide-ranging deregulation bill that lawmakers are expected to pass in the coming days.  The Senate voted to begin debate on the bill in a 67-32 vote, opening the door to the first major overhaul of banking regulations since Democrats enacted the Dodd-Frank law in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. (Politico)

Energy

Houses Passes Bill Exempting Some Power Plants from Certain EPA Standards:  Power plants that turn coal waste into energy would be exempt from some of the EPA’s toxic air pollutant standards, under a bill, the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act, passed by the House last week. It would benefit 18 facilities that burn coal waste. Those plants would have to control emissions of either hydrogen chloride or sulfur dioxide, but not both. (Bloomberg News)

Yucca Funding Unlikely to be in Omnibus Bill: Rep. Simpson, House Chairman of Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, is stating that funding for Yucca Mountain is unlikely to be included in the Omnibus appropriations bills. The House version of the Energy and Water appropriations bill included funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project but the Senate version did not. (Clark Hill Insight)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

HHS

HHS Secretary Tells Hospital Execs that Change is Coming: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar laid out a series of actions the administration will take that are aimed at lowering health care costs in a speech to hospital executives. HHS will test new payment models under Medicare and Medicaid, encourage providers to be more transparent about costs and work to enhance patients' access to their health records. (The Hill)

CMS Approved Arkansas Waiver Requiring Medicaid Recipients to Work: Arkansas became the third U.S. state to require that Medicaid recipients work or participate in employment activities as a condition of receiving health insurance. Arkansas’s waiver would require beneficiaries to work or participate in job training or job search activities for at least 80 hours per month as a condition of receiving Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled. (Reuters)

Labor and Workforce

Labor Department Budget Cut Proposal Gets Going-Over by House Dems:  Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defended a proposed 9 percent Labor Department funding cut for next fiscal year, including a plan to target “less effective” job training programs.  Democrats on the committee questioned the cuts, saying they could seriously hamper the agency’s effectiveness. But Republicans cheered what they called a strong job market, the recent tax cuts, and the DOL’s increased focus on apprenticeships.(Bloomberg)

DOE

DOE Pushing Small Modular Coal Plant Development: The Department of Energy wants the private sector to help it develop small modular coal-fired power plants. The comments reinforce a goal in DOE's budget justification document that would see the agency develop at least two designs of small or modular coal plants — without carbon capture — by 2022. The budget requests $175 million to meet that goal and develop new, higher efficiency coal generators. (UtilityDive)

Trade

President Proclaims Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum Imports to Protect National Security; Canada and Mexico Get a Break: On March 8, 2018, President Donald Trump invoked section 232 national security provisions to impose import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum articles from all countries except Canada and Mexico. President Trump’s decision relied on recommendations by the Department of Commerce in its reports made public on February 16, 2018. The tariffs are in addition to any import duties and fees already in place. They will apply to subject goods entered into the U.S. market on or after March 23, 2018, and currently have no expiration date. (Clark Hill Insight)

NASA

Stratolaunch Rocket-Launching Airplane Could Carry a New Space Shuttle:  The twin-fuselage Stratolaunch airplane, with the longest wingspan in the world, is designed to carry as many as three rockets up to altitude and then drop them so they can launch satellites to space from there. But Paul Allen, founder of Stratolaunch Systems (as well as co-founder of Microsoft) recently told the Washington Post that he wants the enormous plane to eventually carry a space shuttle as well, making the launch system fully reusable. (Popular Mechanics)

Weather Satellites Aid Search and Rescue Capabilities:  The same satellites that identify severe weather can help save you from it.  The recently launched GOES-S (planned to replace the current GOES-West later this year) and other GOES series satellites carry a payload supported by NASA's Search and Rescue (SAR) office, which researches and develops technologies to help first responders locate people in distress worldwide, whether from a plane crash, a boating accident or other emergencies. (Space Ref)

Infrastructure

New Momentum for Federal Infrastructure Initiatives and Regulatory Reform: From the earliest days of the Trump Administration, the White House and new leadership in key federal agencies have pushed to increase the volume and pace of infrastructure projects and eliminate regulatory roadblocks. With Executive Orders in January and August 2017, and several federal agency directives driving regulators to streamline and expedite permitting reviews, new ways of doing things are taking shape. And recent developments – the January 30, 2018, State of the Union speech and a February package of legislative proposals – are upping the ante even further, adding funding initiatives and mechanisms to make policy changes legislatively binding. Understanding what changes are in play, and the opportunities and challenges they present, should be a high priority for businesses with a stake in infrastructure issues. (Clark Hill Insight)

DOJ

DOJ Moves to Ban Bump Stocks: The U.S. Department of Justice formally submitted a regulation to ban "bump stocks," a modification to high-capacity rifles that lets them fire like an automatic weapon. President Donald Trump signed a memorandum in February directing the department to make the regulatory change. The move does not require congressional approval, allowing the administration to side-step what could have been insurmountable pressure from pro-gun groups.(CNBC)

Sessions Announces Lawsuit against California on Sanctuary Cities: Attorney General Jeff Sessions took his war against sanctuary cities to California announcing a federal lawsuit against the state and attacking its elected officials as "radical extremists" in the state's capital city. The attorney general's speech in Sacramento at a state law enforcement gathering came on the heels of a move by the Justice Department late Tuesday to sue California over its so-called "sanctuary" policies that prohibit some cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. (CNN)