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Window on Washington - This Week in the Nation's Capital - July 28, 2017, Vol. 1, Issue 19

Jul 28, 2017

CONGRESS

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Budget

  • House Passes Spending Bill That Includes Over $1 Billion in Border-Wall Funding: The House passed a $788 billion spending bill that combines a $1.6 billion down payment for President Donald Trump's controversial border wall with Mexico with a whopping budget increase for the Pentagon. Also included in the bill is text from a previously stand-alone defense, military construction and veterans affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water spending bills for fiscal 2018, such as $667.7 billion for the U.S. Department of Defense and $78.3 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, both increases in 2017. It should be noted, however that unless defense spending caps are raised, a sequestration could be triggered before the defense spending bill is enacted (Time).
  • Funding Cuts Fail: The House GOP failed to pass a measure that would slash energy funding by 10 percent from offices such as the Department of Energy and the Interior Department due to bipartisan opposition (Washington Examiner).

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CBO

  • House Rejects GOP Proposals to Cut CBO Funding: The House on Wednesday rejected two Republican amendments aimed at cutting funds from the Congressional Budget Office, in the face of GOP complaints that the CBO has unfairly scored conservative bills, including bills to partially repeal and replace Obamacare, and overestimated the positive effect of Obamacare (Washington Examiner).

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Debt Ceiling

  • Mnuchin Cautions Congress About Cost of U.S. Debt-Limit Impasse: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned lawmakers that there’s a cost to delaying an increase to the government debt limit and said prolonging the decision burdens taxpayers and creates unease among investors (Bloomberg).

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Energy/Environment

  • Venezuela Sanctions: Additional sanctions against Venezuela sought by the White House would negatively affect the U.S. oil industry more than initially anticipated, according to analysts, who cited the three oil refineries and 6,000 service stations in the United States owned by Citgo, Venezuela's national oil company subsidiary (Financial Times).
  • Light Bulbs: In a fight over energy efficient light bulbs, House Republicans adopted an amendment that would block Energy Department rules that cut energy use by phasing out the manufacturing of incandescent light bulbs. The rules stem from 2007 legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush (Bloomberg).
  • Energy Storage: The House included a $10 million funding boost for energy storage research in its "minibus" spending package that's awaiting a vote on final passage. The House is expected to pass the overall spending measure Thursday evening (Morning Consult).

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Healthcare

  • Obamacare Repeal Fails: Senate Republicans failed to pass a pared-down Obamacare repeal bill early Friday on a vote of 49-51 that saw three of their own dramatically break ranks (NBC News).
  • John McCain Casts Decisive Health Care Vote: Senator John McCain of Arizona, who just this week returned to the Senate after receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer, cast the decisive vote to defeat the GOP’s “skinny repeal” health care proposal (New York Times).
  • Stunned McConnell Blames Democrats After Crucial Health Care Loss: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed "regret" and "disappointment" immediately after the GOP failed to pass a minimalist Obamacare repeal bill early Friday, blaming congressional Democrats for not engaging "in a serious way" in the efforts to remedy the health care law (Politico).

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Immigration

  • USCIS to Resume Premium Processing for Certain Cap-Exempt Institutions: Premium processing for H-1B petitions had been suspended in mid-March of this year so that resources could be focused on processing current petitions. USCIS stated that it would bring back premium processing incrementally (National Law Review).
  • US Judge Halts Deportation of Iraqi Nationals in Trump Travel Ban Blow: A federal judge in the US state of Michigan on Monday stopped the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals, dealing another blow to US President Donald Trump's policy on immigration (DW).

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Nominations

  • EPA: Senior administration officials said President Donald Trump will nominate a coal lobbyist for Murray Energy and former top aide for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (The Washington Post).
  • Interior: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) postponed a hearing for Interior Department nominees following an alleged threat from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke regarding her opposition to health care legislation (The Hill).

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Russia

  • Mueller Has Expanded the Russia Probe to Include Trump's Business Dealings: Special counsel Robert Mueller has expanded his investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to include an examination of President Donald Trump's business dealings (Business Insider).

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Security

  • House Approves First Ever Reauthorization of DHS: The House passed the first-ever reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Washington Examiner).

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Tax Reform

  • White House Eyes Plan B if Tax Effort Falters: White House officials are looking at a strategy to pass a sharp, short-term tax cut if President Trump's effort to pursue a broader overhaul of the tax code falters, according to multiple people briefed on the administration's planning (Washington Post).
  • Speaker Ryan Admits Defeat, Giving up on Border Adjustment Tax: House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has agreed to jettison one of the most controversial aspects of his tax overhaul plan, clearing the way for the White House to move forward on its plans for sweeping tax cuts later this year (Washington Post).

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Trade

  • UK and US to Start Talks on Post-Brexit Trade Deal: The UK is to hold its first talks with the US to try to sketch out the details of a potential post-Brexit trade deal (BBC).

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Transportation

  • Unions Urge Slow-Down as Self-Driving Car Laws Pick Up Speed: Labor unions are urging a slowdown as lawmakers fast-track legislation to allow self-driving vehicles on the road, a potential boon to some union jobs and an existential threat to others (Bloomberg).
  • Infrastructure Plan: Legislators and administrative officials said Trump's infrastructure plan to create new jobs through public-private partnerships has stalled behind other legislative priorities. A detailed plan from the administration has not yet been delivered (The New York Times).
  • Advisory Council on Infrastructure: President Donald Trump's Advisory Council on Infrastructure shared its charter and goals to analyze solutions for an "all of the above" approach to energy. The group will be announced in the Federal Register today and will develop a report for the president focused on questions asked by the Commerce Department (Washington Examiner).
  • Auto Emissions: The Department of Transportation will perform an environmental impact analysis on the current auto emission standards to possibly roll back requirements starting with 2021 car models. The announcement to consider continuing the current emissions standards throughout the environmental review will be published in Wednesday's Federal Register (Washington Examiner).
  • Senate Appropriators OK $2.4B Hike in Transportation, Housing Spending: A $60 billion Transportation-Housing spending bill that Senate appropriators approved July 25 would increase annual funding by $2.4 billion, including nearly $1 billion more for transportation (Bloomberg).

 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

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Department of Education

  • Tim Cook and Other Leaders Contacted by Trump Administration for STEM Education Advice: Members of the Trump administration have begun contacting technology, education, and business leaders to ask for advice on "shaping funding approaches" for education related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in United States schools  (MacRumors).

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EPA

  • Chemical Safety: Twelve states sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the delayed implementation of an Obama-era chemical safety rule. The EPA announced last month that the regulatory delay will continue until 2019 (The Hill).
  • Waters of the United States: The Environmental Protection Agency announced a 30-day period for public comment on its proposal to repeal the Waters of the United States rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, promulgated during the Obama administration. The EPA's proposal will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday (The Hill).
  • Superfunds: The Environmental Protection Agency announced its plan to re-prioritize the Superfund cleanup program for more than 1,300 toxic sites across the U.S. while changes to the program are considered. (The Washington Post).
  • Climate Change: A United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit paused proceedings on the Obama-era climate change lawsuit inherited by the Trump administration, in which 21 children sued for the violation of their constitutional rights through the promotion of greenhouse gas production (The Washington Post).
  • Climate Debate: The White House and the EPA reached out to the Heartland Institute think tank to help identify scientists for a "red team" to challenge the majority of scientists on climate change (Washington Examiner).

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Department of Interior

  • Fracking: The Trump administration is seeking a full repeal of Obama-era regulations from 2015 for hydraulic fracturing on federal land. The proposal from the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management is scheduled for publication Tuesday in the Federal Register (The Hill).
  • National Parks: Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a $50 million effort to develop national park maintenance and infrastructure. The Interior Department said in a press release that Congress provided $20 million and $33 million will come from outside organizations to fund improvements in 42 parks across 29 states (The Associated Press).

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Department of Treasury

  • Mnuchin Says He Has No Intent to Prioritize Payments if Debt Limit Isn’t Raised: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers he has “no intent” to prioritize certain government payments and delay others if Congress fails to raise the federal borrowing limit (Wall Street Journal).

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CFPB

  • House Votes to Kill New Bank Arbitration Rule: A new federal regulation that would make it easier for Americans to bring class-action lawsuits against banks and other financial institutions might be scrapped before it ever takes effect (Los Angeles Times).

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Federal Reserve 

  • Federal Reserve Streamlines Aspect of Volcker Rule Compliance: The Federal Reserve announced  that it was streamlining part of its Volcker Rule compliance regulations, providing guidelines to banks seeking more time to start up and spin off new hedge funds and private equity funds (Reuters).

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NASA

  • New Funding Round Values SpaceX at $21.2 Billion: SpaceX has raised more than $350 million in a new funding round that values the company at $21.2 billion, according to data obtained by a financial company (Space News).
  • Senate Restores Funding for NASA Earth Science and Satellite Servicing Programs: An appropriations bill approved by a Senate committee July 27 would restore funding for several NASA Earth science missions slated for termination by the administration as well as a satellite servicing program (Space News).
  • Senate Bill Finds Middle Ground for NASA Funding: A Senate appropriations subcommittee approved a spending bill that would provide NASA with $19.5 billion, striking a middle ground between the administration’s original request and a more generous House bill (Space News).
  • Space Corps Amendment Blocked: The House Rules Committee did not accept an amendment submitted by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) for a defense appropriations bill that would have blocked the Air Force from spending any money creating a Space Corps (Space News).
  • Thales FlytLive Gets FCC Approval for Ka-band Aero-Connectivity Network in US: A decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow the use of Thales FlytLive aeronautical terminals opens the market to a fourth competitive reseller in what is currently the largest regional inflight connectivity market (Space News).
  • NASA Reschedules TDRS-M Launch for Aug. 20: NASA announced July 26 that the launch of a communications satellite damaged during payload processing activities earlier this month has been rescheduled for Aug. 20 (Space News).

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White House

  • Trump Says Transgender People Will Not Be Allowed in the Military: President Trump announced that the United States will no longer “accept or allow” transgender people in the United States military, saying American forces “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory” and could not afford to accommodate them (New York Times).
  • Sessions’ Defenders Take on Trump Taunts: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is collecting a flood of support as President Donald Trump amps up his bullying campaign, with even some of Sessions’ fiercest critics offering a simple defense — he’s just doing his job (Politico).
  • Judiciary Committee to Pull Manafort Subpoena: The Senate judiciary committee will drop its subpoena of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hours after the committee announced its subpoenas (CNN).
  • Scaramucci Takes On Priebus Over ‘Leaks’: An escalating White House war between two top advisers to President Donald Trump entered a new stage  after Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci lobbed a grenade of leak accusations that were seen as an attack against Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (NBC News).

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