Window on Washington - This Week in the Nation's Capital - August 11, 2017, Vol. 1, Issue 21

Aug 11, 2017

CONGRESS

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Budget

  • US Budget Deficit Narrowed to $42.9 Billion in July: The federal budget deficit fell sharp­ly in July from a year earlier, largely because of a quirk in the calendar. The U.S. Treasury Department said that the budget gap came in at $42.9 billion last month, down from $112.8 billion in July 2016. The bulk of the improvement came because benefit payments that nor­mally would have gone out in July went out in June this year because July 1 fell on a Satur­day (Seattle Times).

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Debt Ceiling

  • Congressional Republicans Are Scrambling for a Debt-Ceiling Workaround: Six weeks before the government is set to run out of money to pay its bills, congression­al Republicans are trying to cobble together an agreement to skirt a dramatic showdown within their own caucus (Daily Beast).

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Ethics Probe

  • House Ethics Panel Continues Inquiry of Veteran Rep. Conyers: The House Ethics com­mittee says it is continuing an investigation of Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the longest-serving member of Congress and the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee (Washington Post).

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Healthcare

  • Freedom Caucus Seeks to Force ObamaCare Repeal Vote: The conservative House Freedom Caucus is planning a move to try and force a vote on an ObamaCare repeal bill. A spokeswoman for the group said members plan to file a "discharge petition," which would force a vote on a repeal bill if it gets signatures from a majority of the House (The Hill).
  • White House Shifts Tone on ObamaCare Repeal, Signals Openness to Bipartisan 'Fix': The Trump administration, thwarted in several attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, notably shifted tone, opening the door for a bipartisan plan to "fix" the law (LA Times).
  • More Companies Self-Insure Workers to Avoid Rising Health Care Premiums: Small and midsized companies are increasingly providing their own health coverage for employees instead of buying fully insured plans since ObamaCare was enacted in 2010 (Bloomberg).
  • Top Health Insurers Made $6 billion of Profit During Second Quarter: Combined, the nation's top six health insurers reported $6 billion in adjusted profits for the second quarter. That's up more about 29 percent from the same quarter a year ago — far outpacing the overall S&P 500 health care sector's growth of 8.5 percent for the quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data (CNBC).

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Immigration

  • New Research Says H-1B Visas Created A $431 Million Net Gain For U.S. Workers: A new paper from the Center for Global Development finds that from the early 1990s to 2010, the H-1B visa program resulted in net gains for the United States and India (Fortune).

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Russian Investigation

  • FBI Conducted Predawn Raid of Former Trump Campaign Chairman Manafort’s Home: FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of President Trump’s former campaign chair­man late last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials, ac­cording to people familiar with the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election (Washington Post).

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Tax Reform

  • GOP Debates Tax Cuts vs. Tax Reform: Lawmakers remain divided over how to move forward with tax reform and have yet to pass a budget that would unlock a fast-track process for preventing Democrats from filibustering their legislation (The Hill).

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Trade

  • A NAFTA Win for Trump May Rest on Helping Mexican Workers Get a Raise: Trump wants to stop U.S. companies from moving to Mexico, where workers earn a quarter of what U.S. counterparts make. Closing that gap might convince American firms to stay, which is why U.S. negotiators will push for higher wages and better conditions for Mexican workers when negotiations on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement get underway next week. (Bloomberg).

 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

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Department of Education

  • Betsy DeVos Regrets Her Controversial Comments About Black Colleges: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is distancing herself from earlier comments about the nation's histor­ically black colleges and universities being pioneers of school choice (TIME).
  • DeVos Closes Civil Rights Complaints at Faster Clip Than Predecessor: Betsy DeVos’ Education Department has closed more than 1,500 civil rights complaints at the nation’s schools — including dismissing more than 900 outright — in the two months since her acting civil rights chief took steps to reduce a massive backlog (Politico).

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Department of Energy

  • Wind Energy Continues Rapid Growth in 2016: The Energy Department released three wind market reports demonstrating continued growth in wind energy nationwide. America’s wind industry added more than 8,200 megawatts (MW) of capacity last year, representing 27 percent of all energy capacity additions in 2016. In 2016, wind supplied about 6 percent of U.S. electricity, and 14 states now get more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind. The reports cover the following market sectors: land-based utility scale, offshore, and distributed wind (Department of Energy).

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EPA

  • Regulatory Skeptic: A new Environmental Protection Agency report shows economic growth in the years since the Clean Air Act was enacted, helping the case of conservation advocates who say regulations and safeguards against pollution do not harm industry  (USA Today).
  • Manufacture Requirements: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-to-1 that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot use the Clean Air Act to re­quire manufacturers of air conditioners and refrigerators to replace hydrofluorocarbons, heat-trapping chemicals responsible for greenhouse gases, with other substances, striking down an Obama administration rule. (The Hill)
  • Effects of Climate Change: A draft report of the national climate assessment made by gov­ernment scientists was leaked due to concerns that the Trump administration would sup­press it because of its conclusions that contradict climate change beliefs in the White House. Climate change is affecting Americans right now, according to the research signed off by the National Academies of Sciences (The New York Times).
  • Climate Change Denier: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt ex­pressed doubt over the validity of threats from the impact of climate change published in new federally funded research. He told conservative talk show host Scott Hennen that the "red team/blue team" debate proposal is moving forward, to challenge "so-called settled sci­ence" (The Hill).

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Department of Homeland Security

  • Border Wall: The Trump administration contracted workers to begin clearing out land in southwest Texas known to have the largest amount of border crossings for the construction of the border wall. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to apply to waive the standard environmental regulations for this section of the wall, though the construction will cut through a wildlife refuge (The Washington Post).

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Department of Interior

  • Monument Lawsuits: The Center for Biodiversity filed a lawsuit against the Interior Depart­ment for its unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests related to the ongoing review process of new national monuments that was ordered by President Donald Trump (Daily Caller).

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Department of Labor

  • Fiduciary Rule May Face 18-Month Delay: A rule intended to protect retirement savers from biased investment advice may face an 18-month delay in implementation (Market Watch).

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Department of State

  • Paris Agreement: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked U.S. diplomats to avoid questions about the possibility of President Donald Trump renegotiating U.S. involvement in the Paris climate agreement (Washington Examiner).

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CFPB

  • CFPB Constitutional: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s structure meets the requirements of the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge said in an enforcement lawsuit brought by the CFPB ( Cons. Fin. Protection Bureau v. Navient Corp. , M.D. Pa., 17-cv-00101, 8/4/17 ) (Bloomberg).
  • CFPB Pitches New Disclosure Form for Overdraft Fees: Following a new study that claims frequent overdrafters typically pay nearly $450 each year in checking account fees, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week unveiled new “Know Before You Owe” overdraft disclosure prototypes (Compliance Week).

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Fannie and Freddie

  • Fannie and Freddie Could Need $100 Billion Bailout in Next Crisis: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could need a taxpayer bailout of as much as $99.6 billion if a severe economic downturn gripped the U.S. The Federal Housing Finance Agency released the results of a stress test that examined how the mortgage finance companies would perform in what’s called a “severely adverse scenario.” The stress test was mandated by the post-financial-crisis Dodd-Frank Act and the specifics of the scenario were devised by the Federal Reserve (CNN).

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NASA

  • U.S. Space Command Develops Operational Concepts for Waging War in Orbit: For the U.S. Air Force Space Command, the question is no longer if war is a battle zone, but how to fight it. To that end, the command has developed a concept of operations (CONOPS) for fighting in that realm, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, told attendees Aug. 8 at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium here (Space News).
  • SpaceX Delays Falcon 9 Launch: NASA said that the Falcon 9 launch of a Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station had been delayed from Sunday to Monday at 12:31 p.m. Eastern. Neither NASA nor SpaceX disclosed the rea­son for the slip  (Space News).
  • EchoStar Buys Jupiter-3 “Ultra High Density Satellite” from SSL: Satellite fleet operator EchoStar of Englewood, Colorado, it had signed a contract with Space Systems Loral for the long-awaited Jupiter-3/EchoStar-24 satellite meant to further propel the company’s broad­band internet success in the Americas and compete head to head with ViaSat’s forthcoming ViaSat-3 system (Space News).
  • Sen. Nelson at KSC-Space Coast 'coming alive': During a visit to KSC's Exploration Park Senator Nelson discussed with reporters about the promising future of the area, a con­versation held at Blue Origin's cutting-edge facility that will one day assemble the company's massive New Glenn rockets (Florida Today).
  • NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne Tested Another Controller Unit for The Engines That Will Power the Space Launch System: The RS-25 engine test at the Stennis Space Cen­ter successfully checked out the fourth in a series of engine controller units, the “brain” of the engine that has been upgraded from that used on the engines that flew on the shuttle (Aerojet Rocketdyne).
  • NASA Has Selected Several Astrophysics Mission Proposals for Further Study: The agency chose three missions for nine-month concept studies, valued at $2 million each, for its Medium-Class Explorer program. Those missions would perform x-ray astronomy, a near-infrared all-sky survey and spectroscopy of exoplanets. NASA also selected three smaller “missions of opportunity” for study; those involve instruments that would fly on high-altitude balloons, the space station or a proposed European mission (NASA).
  • The Moon May Have Had a Magnetic Field of Its Own Far Longer Than Previously Thought: Scientists knew the moon had a magnetic field early in its history, but thought it disappeared about 3.5 billion years ago as the lunar interior cooled and shut down the dyna­mo there that powered it. Analysis of rocks returned from the Apollo 15 mission found evi­dence that the lunar magnetic field may have still been operating between 1 billion and 2.5 billion years ago. The finding suggests that exoplanets once considered too small to have a long-lasting magnetic field might be able to retain one, enhancing their habitability (The Guardian).

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NIH

  • NIH Accelerates The Use of Genomics in Clinical Care: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is awarding $18.9 million towards research that aims to accelerate the use of genome sequencing in clinical care. The new awards will generate innovative approaches and best practices to ensure that the effectiveness of genomic medicine can be applied to all individu­als and groups, including diverse and underserved populations, and in healthcare settings that extend beyond academic medical centers (NIH).
  • Breakthrough Method Yields Trove of Neuron Subtypes, Gene Regulators: With fund­ing from the National Institutes of Health's BRAIN Initiative, researchers have discovered a trove of neuronal subtypes and gene regulators, using a new method they developed. It al­lows for the discovery of subtypes based on their unique profiles of molecular switches that regulate gene expression within the cell. This opens the door to potentially discovering changes in such profiles linked to brain disorders, say the researchers (NIH).
  • NIH to Host Workshop on Advances, Future Needs in Human Microbiome Research: Microbes inhabit just about every part of the human body outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1. The 10-year, National Institutes of Health Common Fund Human Microbiome Project was established to understand how microbial communities impact human development, physiology, immunity, brain development and behavior, and to create research resources for this emerging field (NIH).

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White House

  • President Trump Tweets Morning Attacks on McConnell: Trump continued Twitter at­tacks on the Senate majority leader saying, “Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!” This was the second Twitter attack in two days on McConnell for the GOP’s failed health care reform votes (New York Daily News).
  • Trump Touts Nuke Strength:  President Donald Trump declared the U.S. nuclear arsenal “far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” even as his top diplomat was working to calm the North Korea crisis and insisting there wasn’t “any imminent threat.” (PBS).
  • Tillerson Dials Back Rhetoric After Trump's North Korea 'Fire and Fury' Threats: The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has sought to allay fears of a military confrontation with North Korea after President Donald Trump warned he could unleash "fire and fury" on the pariah state (CNN).
  • Climate Research: The latest federally-backed research on climate science could negative­ly affect the administration's efforts to repeal Obama-era environmental regulations (Bloomberg).
  • Keystone XL: The Trump administration filed briefs seeking to throw out an environmental lawsuit opposing the Keystone XL natural gas pipeline construction, by calling the decision a presidential action (Washington Examiner).

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