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Window on Washington - This Week in the Nation's Capital - May 12, 2017 Vol. 1, Issue 8

May 12, 2017

CONGRESS

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Budget/Appropriations

  • FY 2018 Starts Now: Congress is set to begin work on next year’s spending bills close on the heels of President Donald Trump signing the omnibus spending package, which brought fiscal year 2017 to a late close (Bloomberg).

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Energy/Environment

  • Senate Cannot Pass Methane Rollback So Interior Decides To Do It Anyway: Hours after Senate Republicans’ failed attempt to overturn an Obama-era rule regulating methane emissions, the Trump administration announced it will take matters into its own hands. The rule is one of several the Interior Department is reviewing as part of an executive order signed by Trump in March (Huffington Post).
  • FERC: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she will call for hearings "as soon as possible" on the Trump administration's two nominations for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Washington Examiner).

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Healthcare

  • CBO to Release Score of GOP Healthcare Bill in Two Weeks: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is slated to release its analysis of the House's healthcare bill the week of May 22, more than two weeks after the GOP-led chamber passed the legislation (The Hill).
  • Senate GOP Plans Secret Health Debate That May Take Months: Senate Republican leaders are starting what is shaping up to be a secretive process to write their version of an Obamacare overhaul -- even after some GOP senators complained that the House devised sweeping health-care legislation behind closed doors (Bloomberg).
  • Senators Mull New Tax Credit for Medicaid Recipients: Senators are considering creating a new tax credit to help low-income individuals buy health insurance after they leave Medicaid rolls (Bloomberg).
  • Obamacare Taxes Are Not Necessarily Going Away: Republican senators said it is unclear whether their chamber will repeal all of the taxes imposed under Obamacare as they set aside the health-care bill passed by the House and prepare to write their own from scratch (Bloomberg).
  • Public Health Groups Predict $1B Annual Drop in Federal Support Under Trump: Public health agencies are bracing for the largest drop in federal funding in more than a decade, potentially killing programs meant to stymie disease outbreaks and reduce health costs nationwide (Bloomberg).

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Immigration

  • Texas Governor Signs Controversial Bill Targeting 'Sanctuary Cities': Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas approved a measure targeting so-called sanctuary cities, allowing law enforcement officers during a routine stop to question any person about his or her citizenship status and threatening local law-enforcement officials who do not comply with federal immigration requests (Business Insider).

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Infrastructure

  • Trump’s Infrastructure Vision Rejected in Texas: President Donald Trump’s plan for investing $1 trillion in U.S. infrastructure with the help of a public-and-private partnership has hit a speed bump in the second-most populous state. The Texas House, wary of public opposition to new highway tolls, voted on May 5 to reject a bill that would have allowed the partnerships to participate in 18 highway projects costing as much as $30 billion (MarketWatch).
  • $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Could Slip to 2018: President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal could slip to next year, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said. Competing priorities like health care and a tax overhaul could crowd out the president’s promised investment in the country’s aging infrastructure (Bloomberg).

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Senate Intelligence

  • Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Michael Flynn: The Senate intelligence committee Wednesday issued a subpoena to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for documents regarding his interactions with Russian officials. The subpoena comes after Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, alerted the panel that he would not provide documents in response to their April 28 request (CNN).

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Nominations/Appointments

  • Senate Confirms Heather Wilson as Trump's Air Force Secretary: The U.S. Senate easily confirmed Heather Wilson, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, to be President Donald Trump's secretary of the Air Force (Reuters).
  • FERC: President Donald Trump announced that he plans to appoint Senate aide Neil Chatterjee and Pennsylvania regulator Rob Powelson to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Politico).
  • Trump Picks Critic of Ex-Im Bank to Lead It: President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate former Rep. Scott Garrett, a Republican from New Jersey, for president of the Export-Import Bank. Garrett served in Congress from 2003 to 2016 on both the House Budget Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. He railed against the bank during a floor speech in October 2015, when Congress let the bank’s charter expire after GOP infighting about whether it should be reauthorized (The Hill).
  • Senate Confirms Robert Lighthizer as Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative: The Senate confirmed Robert Lighthizer to serve as U.S. trade representative, paving the way for the Trump administration to launch a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and accelerate more broadly plans to reorient American trade policy (Wall Street Journal).

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Russian Probe

  • Chuck Schumer—Don't Let Rosenstein Pick Russia Special Prosecutor: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Justice Department official who wrote the memo justifying the firing of former FBI Director James Comey should have nothing to do with appointing a special prosecutor to probe Russia's influence on the U.S. election. (Washington Examiner).
  • Yates Tells Senate She Warned White House Flynn Could Be Blackmailed: Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, speaking publicly for the first time about concerns she brought to the Trump White House on Russia, told Congress on Monday she warned that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn "essentially could be blackmailed" because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with the Russian ambassador (CBSNews).

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Tax Reform

  • With Health Care Victory, House Republicans Ready to Tackle Tax Reform: Republican lawmakers have begun working on a tax reform package that mirrors the blueprint released by President Trump last month, which featured fewer and lower income tax brackets for individuals – 10, 25 and 35 percent – and a sharply reduced rate for small businesses and corporations (New York Post).
  • House Hearing Next Week Will Kick Off Legislative Effort on Tax Reform: House hearing next week will kick off legislative effort on tax reform (Washington Examiner).
  • Republicans War Over Taxes: House Republican leaders are battling the Trump administration as well as many of their own colleagues in Congress — including the Freedom Caucus — over one of the most basic questions surrounding their tax plans this year: Should they go for a once-in-a-generation overhaul of the code or settle for an old-fashioned tax cut (Politico).
  • Cohn, Mnuchin Oppose Border Tax, Hatch Says: White House economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin oppose including the border adjustment tax in a plan to reform the tax code, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) (Bloomberg).
  • Senators Doubt Tax Overhaul Would Eliminate Interest Deduction: Several Senate Finance Committee Republicans expect a final tax overhaul package to retain a tax break that allows companies to deduct interest expense—one of the main revenue raisers in the House GOP tax plan (Bloomberg).

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Trade

  • Schumer Pushes FTC Nominee: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has recommended consumer advocate Rohit Chopra to serve as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission ― one of the top regulatory posts available to Democrats under President Donald Trump (Huffington Post).
  • U.S. Inks China Trade Deal Promoting Finance Services, Beef: The U.S. reached agreement with China to promote market access for American natural gas, financial services and beef that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said was part of a broader effort to begin reshaping the trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies (Bloomberg).

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

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Department of Education

  • Education Department Forges Ahead with Loan Servicing Overhaul: The Trump administration has signaled it will move ahead with an Obama-era plan to select a loan servicing company to build a new streamlined platform to collect all federal direct student loans to make it easier for students to make monthly payments (Politico).

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Environmental Protection Agency

  • Board of Scientific Counselors: The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of its Board of Scientific Counselors whose initial terms were expiring, and will open the application process for those seats to both those previously on the board and others, including industry scientists, who can satisfy conflict of interest requirements (Washington Post).
  • Offshore Drilling: Environmental groups and oil producers are at odds over the possibility of the Trump administration opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling, which is currently banned through 2022 (The Hill).
  • EPA Decision-Making: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt sent a memo to employees saying he will centralize the agency's decision-making process away from regional administrators, and focus the agency on the mission of cleaning up Superfund sites (Washington Examiner).
  • Mining: The Environmental Protection Agency reached a settlement allowing a Canadian company to apply for permits to build a major gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed (The Washington Post).

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Department of Housing and Urban Development/FHA

  • Bush Administration Veteran, in Line to Lead FHA: President Donald Trump is preparing to nominate Brian Montgomery, who served for eight years under George W. Bush, to run the Federal Housing Administration (Politico).

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Department of Interior

  • Advisory Panels: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suspended and is reviewing more than 200 of the department's advisory panels (The Washington Post).
  • Trump Takes Aim at Western Monuments That May Hold Oil, Coal:  Industry groups and Republican lawmakers have praised President Donald Trump’s order to review those monument designations, calling it a welcome reconsideration of federal overreach (Bloomberg).
  • Coal Lawsuits: California, New Mexico, New York and Washington state filed a lawsuit over the Trump administration's decision to resume the sale of coal leases on federal lands without an environmental review (Associated Press).

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Department of Justice

  • DOJ Deflects Calls for More Foreign Agents Act Transparency: The Department of Justice largely has turned aside calls for greater transparency of its advice on whether U.S. lobbyists for foreign interests are covered by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), an 80-year-old law aimed at letting the public know about foreign influence on U.S. politics (Bloomberg).

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Department of State

  • Climate Change: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a meeting with leaders of Arctic nations the Trump administration is in no rush to determine its exact stance on climate change, and that officials will "make the right decision for the United States" (Reuters).

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Department of Treasury

  • US Regulators Look at Volcker Rule, a Sign They Hear Wall Street: U.S. financial regulators on Monday discussed the Volcker rule governing banks' speculative trading, tackling one of Wall Street's biggest concerns and a sign President Donald Trump's administration is listening to banks' wishes about reforms resulting from the financial crisis (CNBC).

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CFPB

  • Congressional Efforts to Kill CFPB Prepaid Card Rule Fall Short: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's prepaid card rule appears to have survived Republican efforts to reject it using an obscure legislative process that has allowed the GOP to roll back more than a dozen Obama-era regulations (American Banker).

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Fannie and Freddie

  • Fannie and Freddie Are Nearly Out of Money and Washington is Getting Anxious:  Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has oversight over the enterprises, told the Senate Banking Committee that reform is “urgently” needed. “These conservatorships are not sustainable and they need to end as soon as Congress can chart the way forward on housing finance reform” (MarketWatch). 

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FBI

  • President Trump Dismisses FBI Director Comey: FBI Director James B. Comey has been dismissed by the president, according to White House spokesman Sean Spicer - a startling move that officials said stemmed from a conclusion by Justice Department officials that he had mishandled the probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails (Washington Post).
  • Senate Democrats Announce Slowdown of Business in Response to Comey’s Ouster: Aftershocks from President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey roiled Congress, as key Republicans criticized Trump’s decision and Democrats slowed committee business to protest the lack of an independent investigation into Russia’s election meddling. Lawmakers also began to confirm reports that the Justice Department has denied — that Comey sought more resources for his probe into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government shortly before he was fired (Washington Post).
  • FBI Chief Disputes Trump on Comey: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe dismissed White House claims that the bureau’s rank and file had lost confidence in James Comey before President Donald Trump fired him, defending his former boss and vowing to press ahead with a probe into links between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign (Bloomberg).
  • FBI to Refrain From Updating White House on Russia Probe: On the spot as the FBI's new acting director, Andrew McCabe assured senators  he will alert them to any effort to interfere with the investigation into Russia's election meddling and possible ties with Donald Trump's campaign (Associated Press).
  • Trump Was Thinking of 'This Russia Thing' When He Decided to Fire 'Showboat' Comey: President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading the counterintelligence investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election (Chicago Tribune).

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NASA

  • NASA Investigating Damaged SLS Tank Section: NASA and Boeing are investigating a recent mishap at the Michoud Assembly Facility that damaged a portion of a liquid oxygen tank being developed for the Space Launch System (Space News).
  • Military Could Have Truly Low-cost Launch Market in Five Years: The U.S. military could have access to a robust, competitive, low-cost launch market within five years with the proper investments, a group of experts said May 8 at an event hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies (Space News).
  • Florida Needs to do More to Build a Space Workforce: The head of Space Florida says the state needs to do more to build up an aerospace workforce (Space News).
  • California Eyes Launch Income Regulation, Not a New Tax: California is expected to approve a regulation, supported by SpaceX, that spells out how the state will determine the amount of income tax launch companies will be required to pay (Space News).
  • NOAA Cuts Target Future Polar Weather Satellites: While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received full funding for its ongoing weather satellite programs, the agency is looking at options after a cut to a program for future polar-orbiting weather satellites. The omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2017, signed into law May 5, provides NOAA weather satellite programs with $1.979 billion, $84 million less than requested. The bill fully funds the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R (GOES-R) and Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) programs for a combined total of $1.54 billion (Space News).
  • NASA to Delay WFIRST Reviews For Independent Study: NASA will delay moving its newest flagship astronomy mission into its next stage of development to accommodate an independent review of the program. NASA announced in late April that it was establishing an independent external review of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) to ensure that the mission, still in its early phases of development, is on track (Space News).

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White House

  • Trump Weighs 95 Percent Cut to Office of Drug Control Policy: The Trump administration is weighing a cut of almost 95 percent of the budget for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy at a time the president has pledged to aggressively combat opioid addiction (Bloomberg).
  • Paris Accord: The White House will not make a decision on whether the U.S. should stay in the Paris climate agreement until after the G7 Summit May 26-27, press secretary Sean Spicer said (The Hill).
  • Ethics Office Urged to Act on Kushner Conflict: Jared Kushner should recuse himself from policy matters related to China or make a full public disclosure of all foreign lenders, investors and business associates involved in his extensive business holdings, according to the nonprofit watchdog Democracy 21 (Bloomberg).
  • Trump's White House Will Keep its Guest Book Secret: The Trump administration will keep the records of who visits the White House secret, ending a practice started under the Obama administration of partially releasing visitor logs (LA Times).
  • Icahn Investigation: Eight Democratic senators called for an investigation into whether billionaire Carl Icahn violated securities trading laws after advising President Donald Trump (Reuters).
  • Executive Order on Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity community lauds executive order: President Trump’s cybersecurity executive order has earned positive reviews from the cybersecurity community, who see it as a valuable starting point towards strengthening cyber defenses (The Hill).
  • Trump Suggests He Might Cancel White House Press Briefings: President Donald Trump threatened Friday morning to end White House press briefings, arguing that “it is not possible” for his staff to speak with “perfect accuracy” to the American public (Washington Post).

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