Window on Washington - November 17, 2017 Vol. 1, Issue 35

Nov 17, 2017

Congress

Budget

Ryan Hints at Short-Term Spending Bill: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday said Republicans might need a short-term spending bill to prevent a government shutdown on December 9. Ryan said the House GOP's goal is to pass a long-term spending bill by the end of the year, but suggested lawmakers might not be able to do so by a December 8 deadline. (The Hill)

Republicans Stall Budget Talks for Tax Reform: Hill Republican leaders are slow-walking negotiations for a year-end budget deal with Democrats, adamant that tax reform must come first—even if the spending battle drags out until year’s end. (Politico)

Conservatives Fear End-of-Year “Christmas Tree” Spending Bill: Conservatives are growing worried that an end-of-year spending bill will be loaded with extraneous, expensive provisions as lawmakers rush to prevent a government shutdown and get home for the holidays next month. (The Hill)

Budget Caps Could Soon Be Lifted: Congressional leaders are discussing a two-year budget deal to raise spending caps by $182 billion. Party leaders seem divided, but even if they settle on the numbers, there will still be some unhappy campers. House conservatives will want the increases offset and defense hawks will want more funding for DOD programs. (Clark Hill Insight)

Tax Reform

House Passes Sweeping Tax Bill:  The House on Thursday passed legislation to overhaul the tax code, moving Republicans one step closer to achieving the top item on their legislative agenda.  The measure was approved by a vote of 227–205. No Democrats voted for the bill, while 13 Republicans broke ranks to oppose it.  (The Hill)

Senate GOP Throws Healthcare Curveball into Tax Debate:  A complicated tax overhaul debate got more complicated Tuesday when Senate Republicans injected healthcare politics into the equation. With a growing number of Senate Republicans seeking bigger tax cuts for individuals and families, but short of ways to finance it, GOP leaders gave the go-ahead to repeal the 2010 healthcare law’s mandate to purchase insurance to pay for their wish list. This was done in part because repealing the mandate would lower the federal deficit by $338 billion over the next 10 years, which are being used to offset other proposed tax cuts. (Roll Call)

Senate Deficit Hawks Blanch at True Cost of “Temporary” Tax Cuts:  Some Senate Republicans think their party’s plans to rewrite the tax code may prove far costlier than they seem, posing another challenge to getting the legislation through the chamber. They're worried Congress will ultimately extend a host of ostensibly temporary tax cuts, driving the proposal's cost far higher than its official sticker price, now pegged at $1.4 trillion. (Politico)

Meet the House Republicans Who Voted “No” on the Tax Bill:  House Republican leaders cheered passage of their sweeping tax overhaul Thursday, but 13 GOP lawmakers bucked their party and voted against the bill. All but one hailed from New York, New Jersey, and California—each a high-tax state. These lawmakers largely opposed the legislation because it curtailed the state and local tax deduction, also known as SALT. The measure caps the deduction for property taxes at $10,000 while eliminating the tax break for state and local income or sales taxes.  (Roll Call)

Conservative Rips Appropriations Chairman over No Vote on Tax Reform: A top conservative House leader said Thursday he had “real problems” with powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) voting against the GOP tax-reform bill but stopped short of calling for him to relinquish his committee gavel. (The Hill)

Health

Two House Lawmakers Seek to Block CMS' $1.6 Billion 340B Cut: Two House lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill Tuesday to prevent the CMS from imposing its slated $1.6 billion cut to the 340B drug discount program. Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) introduced a three-page bill that essentially asks HHS to leave 340B rates as they're currently set rather than implement the changes outlined in a finalized rule. (Modern Healthcare)

Shaheen, Hassan Look to Bring More Federal Money to N.H. for Opioid Crisis: The measure, known as the Targeted Opioid Formula Act, would prioritize grants from Washington to states hardest hit by the heroin and opioid epidemic. The legislation was cosponsored by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. (Concord Monitor)

Transportation

GOP Lawmaker: White House, Congress Have Begun to Craft Infrastructure Bill:  The White House and members of Congress have begun to craft President Trump’s long-awaited infrastructure package, according to a top House Republican. The Trump Administration has been trading paper with lawmakers in recent days about ideas for the rebuilding effort, though the process is still in the early stages, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) told The Hill. (The Hill)

Executive Branch

CFPB

CFPB Director Cordray to Resign after Turbulent Tenure: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray on Wednesday told the Bureau’s staff that he intends to step down by the end of the month, ending speculation about whether President Trump would fire the controversial official. (Law 360)

Will CFPB Director Richard Cordray's Resignation Usher in a New Era of Financial Services Regulation? (Clark Hill Insight)

EPA

Pruitt to Testify on EPA Agenda at House Hearing: The hearing announced Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subpanel is Pruitt’s first congressional oversight hearing since he took the helm at the Agency in February, though he has testified at appropriations hearings. (The Hill)

DOI

DOI Watchdog Says Zinke Didn't Document Travel Expenses: A government watchdog told US Department of the Interior officials on Wednesday that Secretary Ryan Zinke has failed to keep complete records of his travel since taking office, finding that in some cases, he never documented his travel. (Law 360)

HHS

Trump Nominating Azar as Next HHS Secretary: President Trump on Monday tapped Alex Azar for Secretary of Health and Human Services, a role vacated by Tom Price in late September amid revelations that Price took repeated trips on government and private jets that cost taxpayers more than $1 million. (The Hill)

Defying Gloomy Predictions, Obamacare Enrollment Surges: Doomsday headlines about Obamacare enrollment may be having an unforeseen consequence—booming sign-ups in the troubled insurance marketplaces. Obamacare’s fifth open enrollment season, the first under President Trump, is off to a surprisingly robust start despite the brutal developments of the past year: skyrocketing premiums, dwindling competition, unremitting Republican efforts to eradicate it. (Politico)

NIH Directors Stand Firm on Not Renewing Focused Firearm Research Program: The directors of two institutes that fund firearm research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, say they have no plans to renew a lapsed gun violence research initiative launched under former President Barack Obama. The research was in response to the 2012 killings of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. (Science Mag)

DOJ

Mistrial Declared in Menendez Corruption Case: A mistrial was declared in the corruption case of Sen. Robert Menendez after jurors remained deadlocked following four days of deliberations. The mistrial is a blow to the Justice Department, and means that nearly three years after he was charged with corruption, Menendez will walk out of the federal courthouse in Newark a free man—but with a cloud still hanging over him. (Politico)

DOJ Targets 29 “Sanctuary Cities” in Latest Salvo: The Justice Department on Wednesday escalated its crackdown on so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions, naming more than two dozen cities, counties, and states across America it believes may be out of compliance with laws mandating local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. (US News)

DOJ Asking States to Help Block AT&T-Time Warner Merger: The Justice Department has made overtures to state attorneys general to build support for blocking AT&T's $85.4 billion deal to purchase Time Warner Inc., according to a Wednesday report. A source “briefed on the matter” told Reuters that the DOJ approached 18 states. (The Hill)

DOE

US, Mexico, Canada Energy Chiefs Pledge Cooperation in NatGas, Oil Projects: Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesday said he expects Mexico and Canada will join the United States in drafting a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to incorporate cooperation for the continent’s burgeoning natural gas and oil trade. (Natural Gas Intel)

DOE Official: Agency “Confident” FERC Will Approve a Coal, Nuclear Pricing Rule: Department of Energy officials attended the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Annual Meeting in Baltimore this week where they defended the agency's proposal to prevent the closure of financially troubled coal and nuclear power plants. (Green Tech Media)

DOL

Labor Secretary Mum on Specifics of DOL Rule Review:  Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told a congressional committee on Thursday that the final notice to delay the fiduciary rule’s implementation to July 1, 2019, would be published “soon,” while the department continues its analysis. Acosta, speaking before the House Committee on Education and Workforce, did little to quell concerns that the DOL may not push forward with the full rule and, in fact, referenced President Trump’s executive order requiring the DOL to undertake an economic and legal review of the fiduciary rule. (Financial Advisor)

What to Expect from the Department of Labor:  The Competitive Enterprise Institute believes that Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has made a much-needed course correction at the Department of Labor (DOL) after the previous administration issued costly rules that sometime overreached their authority, and the courts slapped down. Thus far, Acosta’s actions and public statements have focused on deregulation and job creation. (CEI)

NASA

NASA's New James Webb Space Telescope Just Got Its 1st Science Targets:  NASA's next-generation, large-scale space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, is set to train its eyes on the cosmos in 2019. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which manages the Webb program, announced Monday that it selected 13 proposals for the initial round of science observations. The programs will demonstrate the Webb telescope's wide-ranging capabilities; the selected programs include observations of Jupiter, studies of remote alien planets, an examination of extremely distant galaxies, and other cosmic duties. (Space.com)

SpaceX Expects Government Support for Developing BFR Launch System:  The president of SpaceX said she expects the company would receive additional funding from the US government to support developing its large reusable launch system. Speaking at the NewSpace Europe Conference on November 16, Gwynne Shotwell noted that SpaceX already receives funding from the US Air Force supporting the development of Raptor, the engine that will power the vehicle known as BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, and the reusable spacecraft known as BFS, or Big Falcon Spaceship. (Space News)

Education

Trump Nominee for No. 2 Spot at Education Department Stumbles on Key Questions at Confirmation Hearing: The retired brigadier general tapped to be No. 2 at the Education Department behind Betsy DeVos told Congress on Wednesday he was “unaware” of extensive research showing that voucher programs in three states negatively affected student achievement. And he conceded that his belief that school choice always led to positive impacts on achievement rested on anecdotal evidence. (Washington Post)

School Choice Would Get Boost from Proposed Amendments to Senate Tax Bill: Two amendments introduced by senators to the GOP tax bill in the Senate could increase access to private school choice. One amendment states that a “charitable deduction would be allowed for certain qualified tuition and related expenses relating to qualified religious instruction.” It's been introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will consider the GOP-backed tax overhaul legislation. The other “would add a K–12 education tax credit for corporate and individual contributions to state nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships for children in low-income to middle-class families.” (Education Week)

Russian Investigation

Sessions Tries to Distance Himself from Trump Advisers' Russia Talks: Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to distance himself Tuesday from new accounts of contacts between Donald Trump's aides and Russia-linked people last year, saying he never lied about his role, but simply had little recollection of discussions on the topic. (Politico)

Nonprofit/IRS

IRS Advisory Council Sounds Alarm on Agency Budget Cuts: Calling ongoing federal budget cuts to the Internal Revenue Service a disservice to “the nation as a whole,” the IRS Advisory Council sounded the alarm in its 2017 annual report on Wednesday to fund the agency adequately, as Congress has expanded its duties while cutting its funding by about $1 billion since 2010. (Law 360)

White House

Trump: Asia Trip “Tremendously Successful”: Wrapping up his extensive tour of Asia, President Donald Trump on Tuesday hailed “tremendous amounts of work” on trade and said nations around the globe have been put on notice that the US will demand improved trading conditions. (AP News)