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Window On Washington - May 7, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 18

May 07, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

They’re Back. Congress returns today for a busy three weeks until the Memorial Day recess.

Defense. May is Military Appreciation Month. During May, we recognize Loyalty Day, VE Day (the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945), Armed Forces Day, Military Spouses Day, and Memorial Day. This week, the House will markup the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act while the Senate reviews the FY19 budget request.

Midterms. Primary season kicks off this Tuesday, with congressional contests in Ohio, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Indiana. Over the next two months, more than half of U.S. states have nominating contests that will provide a clearer sense of voters’ moods.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

Trump Expected to Propose About $11B in Spending Cuts: President Trump is expected to propose spending cuts according to an administration official, via the rarely used impoundment power. Via the 1974 Impoundment Act, Trump can propose spending cuts for special consideration in Congress. The spending reductions, or rescissions, would not be subject to the filibuster in the Senate, limiting Democrats' ability to stop them. (Washington Examiner)

A Full Week Ahead for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees: The Senate Appropriations Committee has numerous hearings on the FY19 budget request. Secretaries testifying this week include Defense Secretary Mattis, Interior Secretary Zinke, HHS Secretary Azar, and Commerce Secretary Ross. The House is scheduled to markup five bills this week: 1) Energy and Water today, in Subcommittee, 2) Mil Con/VA and 3) Leg Branch in Full Committee tomorrow, 4) Agriculture and 5) Commerce-Justice-Science in Subcommittee on Wednesday. The House Appropriations Committee released its version of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill last night, which can be found here. The links for the MilCon VA and Leg Branch Bills can be found here, while there are no details to be released on Ag or CJS until sometime later today or tomorrow. (Clark Hill Insight)

Tax Reform

Congressional Gridlock Plays Central Role in Internet Tax Case:  The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a major internet sales tax case, and it won’t be the first or last time the justices will try to figure out whether gridlock in Congress plays a role in their decision.  But usually the gridlock is not quite on this scale. The Supreme Court could reshape online commerce nationwide when it decides this term whether to overturn its 1992 ruling that bars states from collecting sales tax from out-of-state vendors.  That decision, in Quill Corp v. North Dakota, said Congress “remains free to disagree with our conclusions” and may be better qualified and have the ultimate power to resolve the interstate commerce issue. (Roll Call)

Energy

House to Vote to Move Ahead with Yucca Mountain as Nuclear Waste Dump: The House is scheduled to vote next this week on legislation that would move forward a long-stalled plan to store the nation’s nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. The bill would direct the Energy Department to authorize an interim storage program before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completes the licensing process for Yucca. (Washington Examiner)

Agriculture

CBO Releases Report on Impact of Farm Bill on SNAP: A proposed law that would require people on food stamps to get a job or receive work training is unlikely to deliver the cost savings that its proponents hope, a government analysis shows. Most of the savings from the plan -- which would bump 1.2 million people from the food-stamp rolls -- would be consumed by new administrative costs for the program, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. The analysis, released late Wednesday, examines several proposals in the farm bill, which was introduced in the House last month. (CBS News)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Labor & Workforce

Department of Labor Warns about Socially Responsible Investing and Shareholder Activism:  On April 23, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-01 warning its national and regional offices that fiduciaries who invest plan assets based on public policy factors or who engage in shareholder activism in connection with plan investments may violate their fiduciary duties under ERISA. (JD Supra)

EPA

Seventeen States Sue Trump Administration Over Rolling Back Vehicle Emission Standards: California, 16 states and the District of Columbia are suing the Trump Administration over its decision to roll back vehicle fuel efficiency standards. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Administrative Procedures Act, which bars against arbitrary and capricious decisions, and violated the Clean Air Act last month when it withdrew the greenhouse gas standard and the related Department of Transportation efficiency standards for model year 2022 through 2025 light-duty vehicles. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

Mnuchin: GSE Reform Isn’t Happening in 2018:  Back in September, during a Politico Policy Summit in Washington, U.S. Department of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said GSE reform would be addressed in 2018.  For all of you nay-sayers who said it wouldn’t happen – you were probably right.  During an interview with Fox Business on Monday, Mnuchin confessed that reforming mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac probably isn’t going to happen this year, and isn’t a priority for this Congress. (Housing Wire)

Immigration

Immigration Courts are Deeply Split on Who can Claim Asylum Over Violence in Home Countries: Central Americans who travel north to plead for entry at the U.S. border are taking their chances on an immigration system that is deeply divided on whether they can qualify for asylum if they are fleeing domestic violence or street crime, rather than persecution from the government. The law in this area remains unclear, and the outcome of an asylum claim depends to a remarkable degree on the immigration judge who decides it. (Los Angeles Times)

Space & NASA

Self-Assembling Space Telescope Eyes Discovery of New Exoplanets:  Sure, it sounds kind of far out: a modular space telescope, nearly 100 feet across, composed of individual units launched as ancillary payloads on space missions over a period of months and years, units that will navigate autonomously to a pre-determined point in space and self-assemble.  But "far out" is exactly what Dmitry Savransky, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, and 15 other scientists from across the U.S. have been asked to give NASA for Phase I of its 2018 NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts) program. (Space Ref)

America’s Space Industry Has a Hiring Problem, and it Must Battle the Silicon Valley to Solve it:   Today, tech talent is being lured away from the space industry. Web giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon are snapping up engineering graduates wooed by high-paying jobs and a sprawling work campus rife with amenities.  The result is a “graying” aerospace industry — one that is losing people to retirement faster than it can backfill jobs with fresh talent.  The problem is compounded by the hiring slow down by satellite broadcast companies and the defense sector, which are no longer the skilled-workforce catalyst the once were. (Space News)

Transportation

Electric Scooters Hit Regulatory Speed Bump in America:  A new wave of electric-scooter-rental startups is facing a legal reckoning, as city authorities across the U.S. race to tame the “dockless” two-wheelers that have flooded the streets. New regulations proposed in several cities could place a cap on the number of scooters a single company can operate, as regulators demand that fast-growing startups Bird, LimeBike and Spin do more to educate and police their customers about safety.  Critics argue that the companies are exploiting legal loopholes to launch without cities’ authorization, and are creating a safety hazard. Too many riders are speeding along pavements instead of using roads or bike lanes, and abandoning their scooters in places where pedestrians risk tripping over them, they say. (Ozy)

Where Commuting Is Growing Out of Control:  In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau found that it took the average commuter more than 26 minutes to get to work. That figure might sound less than much—26 minutes is about enough time to finish a podcast, after all, and some historians argue that a roughly half-hour commute has been optimal since caveman days. But it’s up 20 percent from 1980, suggesting that lots of people are now enduring considerably longer trips to work. And some cities are seeing striking growth among people who travel more than 90 minutes each way to work—the so-called super commuter. (City Lab)

Trade

U.S. Trade Team Leaves China Talks Without Any Big Breakthroughs: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other top U.S. trade officials ended a round of talks in Beijing on Friday, failing to secure large goals that ranged from cutting the trade imbalance by $200 billion by the end of 2020 to stopping China from targeting U.S. technology and intellectual property. Both sides say the talks will continue with quarterly meetings. (NPR)

SUPREME COURT

Labor & Employment

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Narrow Construction of FLSA Exemptions, Exempts Auto Service Advisors from Federal Overtime Requirements: The United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that service advisors at car dealerships are exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), clarifying an issue that has gone back and forth for many years and potentially impacting thousands of car dealerships around the country.  In Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, the Supreme Court held that service advisors at car dealerships are “salesm[e]n . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles” and therefore exempt employees under the FLSA, reversing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ position that such service advisors were non-exempt and thus eligible for overtime pay.  Perhaps equally significant was the Supreme Court’s express rejection of the position that FLSA exemptions should be read narrowly, opening the door to the possibility of additional classes of employees being exempt from federal overtime requirements in the future. (Clark Hill Insight)