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Window on Washington - This Week in the Nation's Capital - April 14, 2017 Vol. 1, Issue 4

Apr 14, 2017

CONGRESS

Budget/Appropriations

  • Budget Battles: Amid a recess, lawmakers will miss the April 15 target date for adopting a federal budget outline for the second year in a row. While there are no penalties for missing the April 15 date, a slow start for Congress’s annual budget resolution could impact other Republican priorities (Bloomberg).

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Defense

  • Defense Stocks Face Budget Uncertainty: A post-election defense-stock rally is sputtering as concerns grow that dysfunction and division in the Republican-controlled government could thwart that plan. It is another Trump trade at risk of being undone by congressional leaders ill-schooled in the art of compromise and by fiscal conservatives, who may insist on maintaining spending caps set under President Barack Obama. If a fiscal 2017 budget agreement is not reached, and Congress passes another continuing resolution, it would starve spending for new ships, bombers, missiles and helicopters built by companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman (Bloomberg).

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Dodd—Frank

  • Rep. Hensarling to Propose Dodd-Frank Replacement in Coming Weeks: House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling plans to release his revised proposal to scrap much of the Dodd-Frank Act by the end of the month (Bloomberg).

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Energy/Environment

  • Energy Efficiency: Appliance makers want Congress to ease energy efficiency standards that they say are unrealistic and costly for air conditioners, refrigerators and other equipment -- even allowing for future rollbacks. The industry is lobbying to amend a decades old conservation law that sets minimum efficiency standards for many household and commercial appliances and bars them from being weakened (LA Times).
  • Auto Regulations: The White House will seek to convene negotiations between federal regulators, carmakers and California officials for a pact on auto-efficiency standards through 2025 to ensure consistent rules in all 50 states. The administration wants to reach a consensus that would allow automakers to avoid having to design cars for varying regulations among states, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity discussing internal discussions (Bloomberg).
  • Border Wall: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, and the Center for Biological Diversity are suing the Trump administration over its U.S.-Mexico border wall (The Guardian).

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Healthcare

  • Trump Says He May Freeze Subsidies to the Poor Until Democrats Repeal Obamacare: President Trump announced that he plans to use the powers of his office to jeopardize health-care access for millions of low-income people, while destabilizing America’s insurance markets — because he believes that voters will blame the ensuing chaos on the Democratic Party, leaving Chuck Schumer desperate to negotiate with the White House over Obamacare repeal (New York Magazine).

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Immigration

  • Immigration Crackdown: Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised yesterday to "take our stand" against cross-border criminal cartels and people smuggling unlawful immigrants from Mexico as part of a plan to get tougher on illegal immigration in what he called "the Trump era." "Depravity and violence are their calling cards, including brutal machete attacks and beheadings," Sessions told border agents in Nogales, Arizona, according to prepared remarks. "It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth" (Mother Jones).
  • Sanctuary Cities: The Trump administration wants lawmakers working on an omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2017 to include a provision withholding federal funding from states and localities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation (LA Times).

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Nominations

  • Perdue Vote Planned for April 24th: Following a unanimous consent request from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate is now scheduled to vote at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 24, on President Trump’s nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be Agriculture Secretary (AG Pro).
  • Under Secretaries: Trump announced his intent to nominate a number of additions to his administration. John J. Sullivan will be nominated for deputy secretary of State. Marshall Billingslea will be tapped as assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department. Gilbert B. Kaplan will be nominated as under secretary of Commerce for International Trade. John Mitnick will be nominated as general counsel in the Homeland Security Department (CNN).

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Supreme Court

  • Justice Gorsuch: Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first high court pick, took the first of two required oaths at the justices’ conference room at the Supreme Court in a private ceremony with Chief Justice John Roberts (Chicago Tribune).

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Tax Reform

  • Trump scoffs at the term 'border adjustment,' but signals he might be able to get behind a 'matching tax':  President Donald Trump told Fox News that he does not like the term "adjustment" in the discussion about the polarizing border adjustment import tax or wants to talk about whether he supports the border tax provision that's contained in the overall House Republican plan to reduce corporate taxes (CNBC).
  • Koch Industries Keep Slamming the Boarder Adjustment Tax — One of the reasons the border adjustable tax faces such a dismal future on Capitol Hill is that the billionaire Koch brothers hate it and plan to destroy it. As part of that effort, the Koch's main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, is launching a new six-figure ad buy on cable targeting the BAT. The ad argues the tax "could add up to $1,700 dollars for a family as they pay more for everyday items from groceries to clothing and school supplies" (CNN).

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

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Department of Commerce

  • Ex-Im bank nears a funding shortfall: Opponents of the Export-Import Bank who have spent the better part of the past two years hoping to starve the agency to death are achieving what they set out to do — and as soon as this fall, the bank will have another obstacle to add to its woes: asking Congress for money (Politico).

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Department of Education

  • New York Becomes Only State to Offer Free Four-Year College: New York will be the only state in the country to offer universal public college tuition coverage for working- and middle-class residents. The state's Excelsior Scholarship program will be rolled out in tiers over the next three years, starting with full coverage of four-year college tuition this fall for students whose families make less than $100,000 (NBCNews).
  • New Staff: The agency announced several key senior hires who may prove critical to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she carries out the Trump administration's agenda. So far, Trump has formally nominated only Carlos Muñiz to be general counsel at the Education Department — a political appointment that requires Senate confirmation. But two of the hires announced Wednesday will serve in "acting" capacities for other top spots, allowing them to be filled without Senate confirmation.

Jason Botel, who joined the Trump administration in January as senior White House adviser for education, will be deputy assistant secretary at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and acting assistant secretary. Josh Venable, who helped Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepare for her confirmation hearing, will be chief of staff (Education Week).

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Department of Energy

  • Power Mix: Officials from the White House, Energy Department and State Department clashed with other diplomats from the Group of Seven countries over support for more nuclear power and fossil fuels, according to an internal document and interview (Politico).
  • No.2: The pick for the No. 2 position at the Energy Department is a Washington insider who previously worked both inside the agency and outside lobbying it on energy issues while at Ford and Washington lobbying firms. Dan Brouillette, the Trump administration’s choice to be deputy secretary of energy, also donated to Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns while working since 2006 at military insurance and banking provider USAA in San Antonio. He currently oversees the company’s federal lobbying group as the senior vice president and head of public policy (My San Antonio).

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Environmental Protection Agency

  • Arctic Drilling: The Trump administration could undo former President Barack Obama's indefinite ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in much of the Arctic Ocean, though other officials and one GOP lawmaker said the order might not come before May (The Washington Post).
  • Climate Change: The Environmental Protection Agency is moving employees out of a program that helps U.S. regions deal with climate change, as it adjusts to the White House's goals for the agency (E&E News).
  • Smog Rule: The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit gave the Environmental Protection Agency more time to decide what it wants to do about a smog rule passed by former President Barack Obama, which was challenged from opposing sides. Industry groups and GOP-led states think it's too strong, while environmentalists want the standard toughened (The Washington Post).
  • Farm Exemption: The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the EPA should not have exempted farms from air pollution requirements for animal waste, dealing a victory for environmental groups (The Hill).
  • Clean Water Rule: The Environmental Protection Agency plans to first repeal the Clean Water Rule, then think about its replacement and how to define "the waters of the U.S.," an EPA official said (E&E).
  • Paris Agreement: Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt said he wants the United States to exit the Paris climate agreement, in his strongest comments yet on the international accord (InsideClimate News).
  • Toxic Discharge: The EPA is postponing the start date of federal standards that curb toxic metals and other pollutants discharged by power plants (E&E News).
  • EPA Seeks Input on Regulations to be Repealed, Replaced, or Modified: On April 13, EPA initiated a process to seek input on regulations to be repealed, replaced, or modified in implementation of the Trump Administration’s February 24, 2017 Executive Order on regulatory reform, EO 13777 on Enforcing the Regulatory Agenda.  Comments are due by May 15.  EPA seeks information on rules that (1) eliminate jobs or inhibit job creation, (2) are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective, (3) impose costs that exceed benefits, (4) create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies, or (5) are inconsistent with requirements of information transparency and reproducibility (Federal Register).

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Department of Interior

  • Public Land Drilling: The Trump administration wants the Bureau of Land Management to focus on allowing more oil, gas and coal projects (E&E News).

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Department of Labor

  • DOL Extends Fiduciary Rule Effective Date for 60 Days: The Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration ("EBSA") issued a final rule extending the effective date of the DOL's fiduciary rule by 60 days, meaning the new effective date is June 9, 2017 (DOL).

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NASA

  • New Missions: Discoveries involving two “ocean world” moons in the outer solar system announced April 13 are likely to bolster the case for planned and proposed spacecraft missions to those worlds (Space News).
  • DARPA and Space Systems Loral move ahead with satellite servicing program: Space Systems Loral announced April 12 that it has completed an agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for a satellite servicing program that triggered a lawsuit from another company. The announcement of the agreement for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program came a day after DARPA filed a motion in federal court to dismiss a February lawsuit filed by Orbital ATK about the award to SSL (Space News).
  • Mining on the Moon: Donald Trump's transition team asked NASA for details on its for-profit partnerships, and sought information about the potential to mine resources on the moon  (Business Insider).
  • Scientists worried cuts to NASA’s Earth science programs could create climate data gap - Last month’s budget proposal included terminating four planned or operational missions designed at least in part to collect climate-related data (Space News).
  • NASA inspector general foresees additional SLS/Orion delays - A report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on April 13 concluded that the first two missions of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft will likely slip from their currently scheduled dates (Space News).

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National Institute of Health

  • Cutting Overhead: Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price defended the “skinny budget’s” call for a $5.8 billion reduction in NIH funding by arguing the trims would not target research, but instead go after direct “overhead” costs like lab equipment or utilities (PBS).
  • Worth the Cost? A new study published Thursday in the journal Science tries to suss out an answer whether taxpayers are getting their money worth with NIH by calculating how many NIH grants lead to new patents and medications. The numbers portray the NIH’s spillover influence into the private sector, but also shine a light on research’s inherent propensity for failure (Science Mag).

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White House

  • White House to lift federal hiring freeze: The White House lifted President Trump’s federal hiring freeze following fire from critics who said it hampered the government from carrying out core functions. The end of the freeze is part of guidance ordering federal departments and agencies to submit restructuring plans to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by the fall (The Hill).
  • Currency Manipulation: China 'not a currency manipulator': Donald Trump has said his administration will not label China a currency manipulator, rowing back on a campaign promise (BBC).
  • Paris Agreement: China led developing nations in calling on the U.S. to stick with the Paris agreement on climate change, saying it’s willing to discuss policies that Trump has said he will scrap. The biggest developing economy along with South Africa, Brazil and India made a statement through their Basic negotiating group signaling their concerns that Trump’s comments on climate are unsettling the international fight against global warming (Bloomberg).
  • Planned Parenthood: Trump Signs Law Giving States Option To Deny Funding For Planned Parenthood: President Trump quietly signed legislation Thursday that rolls back an Obama-era rule protecting certain federal funds for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide legal abortions (NPR).

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