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Window on Washington - This Week in the Nation's Capital - May 5, 2017 Vol. 1, Issue 7

May 05, 2017

CONGRESS

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Budget/Appropriations

  • Spending Bill: The U.S. Senate cleared legislation to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, sending it to President Trump for his signature. The vote was 79-18 on H.R. 244, which provides $1.1t in base discretionary funding. Highlights include:

Transportation: Transit grants stay funded, plus TSA bomb-sniffing dogs. Highway, rail and aviation programs, also safe.

Defense: ISIS plan is now required.

Energy: EPA was spared major cuts. Firefighter funding is up, but conservation fund takes a hit. Fossil fuel, nuclear energy programs get a modest bump.

Trade: The bill includes a waiver to confirm Trump's pick for trade representative.

Tax: IRS budget stays flat at $11 billion.

Health: Big focus on NIH, opioid fight. Little change to FDA or health IT budgets.

Agriculture: Cotton, dairy lose out on funding fix. Sodium reduction efforts are also targeted.

Labor: Work-training programs, including Job Corps, get an increase.

Cyber: FBI, Homeland Security see funding boosts for cyber efforts, while IRS gets more money to keep taxpayer data safe.

Finance: The legislation wards off most Dodd-Frank riders and sees mostly flat funding for SEC (Politico).

  • House GOP Eyes Fast-Tracking $500 Billion in Federal Budget Cuts: House Republicans are considering an ambitious target of about $500 billion in cuts to so-called mandatory spending in their fiscal 2018 budget resolution. The House Budget Committee is considering instructing Congress to pursue the cuts to a rarely-touched slice of the budget that totaled $2.4 trillion in 2016 and which includes spending on safety-net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and food stamps (Bloomberg).
  • The House Budget Committee is Aiming to Mark Up its Fiscal 2018 Budget Resolution the Week of May 15 After its Forthcoming Recess: The House Budget Committee is aiming to mark up its fiscal 2018 budget resolution the week of May 15 after its forthcoming recess, a move that would pave the way for appropriators to draft next year’s spending bill (Bloomberg).
  • Donald Trump, “Our country needs a good shutdown,” Suggests Senate Rule Change: President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that the country needs a "good 'shutdown,'" as well advocating for changing Senate rules, in a pair of tweets where he complained about the congressional negotiating process (CNN).

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Defense

  • McCain, “Will do ‘Everything I Can'” to Lift Defense Budget Caps: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, said he will start forcing votes on legislation to remove caps in law that limit spending on defense in FY2018 and beyond (Washington Examiner).

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Dodd—Frank

  • House Advances Republican Bill to Overhaul Dodd-Frank Rules: The House Financial Services Committee voted 34 to 26 (along party lines), passing the Financial Choice Act, a Republican bill to undo the 2010 financial reform law. GOP lawmakers blame the Dodd-Frank regulations for choking U.S. economic growth and crimping lending by banks (CNN).

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Energy/Environment

  • Nuclear: The Senate's spending bill leaves out a tax credit extension for nuclear power plants. Nuclear plants will have until 2020 to finish construction in order to qualify for the tax bonus (The Post & Courier).
  • Methane Rule Repeal Said to Hit Snag in Senate over Ethanol: Senate Republican leaders say they are close to getting the 51 votes they need to overturn that Obama-era regulation using expedited repeal procedures under the Congressional Review Act. But now, with a deadline looming, that campaign is on the verge of capsizing. Four Midwest Republicans, including Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and John Thune of South Dakota, told Senate leaders the price for their votes for the methane measure is a change in ethanol policy (Houston Chronicle).

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Flood Insurance

  • Reauthorization: The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on reauthorization of the national flood insurance program. Previous lapses in the program’s ability to issue new policies have disrupted real estate and mortgage financing markets and discouraged private insurers from participating in the program for which they bear none of the risk (Insurance Journal).

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Healthcare

  • House Republicans Pass Bill to Replace and Repeal Obamacare: In a major victory for President Donald Trump, the House has voted to dismantle the pillars of the Affordable Care Act and make sweeping changes to the nation's health care system. The bill now heads to the Senate where it faces daunting challenges because of the same ideological splits between conservative and moderate Republicans that nearly killed it in the House. In a break with long-standing tradition, the House voted without receiving a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CNN).
  • Senate GOP to Snub House Obamacare Repeal Bill and Write Its Own: Several key Senate Republicans said they will set aside the narrowly passed House health-care bill and write their own version instead, a sign of how difficult it will be to deliver on seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare (Bloomberg).
  • Trump’s Threats on Obamacare Funds May Drive Out Poor, Insurers: As Congress wrangles over how to gut Obamacare in the coming years, a move threatened by the Trump administration could weaken the program in just weeks — by cutting health-care subsidies for the poor, which could cause thousands to lose coverage. President Donald Trump and his administration have said they may stop paying subsidies  worth about $7 billion a year that are used to help low-income people on Obamacare with co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs (Denver Post).

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Infrastructure

  • GOP flashes Stop Sign at Trump on Gas Tax: President Donald Trump said he’s willing to raise the U.S. gas tax to fund infrastructure development  (Bloomberg). However, Republicans are balking — a politically fraught issue that lawmakers have avoided for years (The Hill).

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Nominations

  • Jay Clayton Confirmed as SEC Chairman: The Senate approved President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission  (Wall Street Journal).
  • Justice Department’s Antitrust Division: Makan Delrahim, Trump’s choice to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, will have a May 10 hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee (New York Times).
  • Treasury: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing May 16th on a group of pending Treasury Department nominees. The hearing will cover the nominations of Sigal Mandelker, to be undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial crimes; Marshall Billingslea to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for terrorist financing; Heath Tarbert to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for international markets and development; and Mira Radielovic to be under secretary of Commerce for export administration (Senate Banking Committee).

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Puerto Rico 

  • Puerto Rico Will File for Restructuring: The federal financial oversight board for Puerto Rico pushed the U.S. commonwealth into a court-sanctioned restructuring process akin to U.S. bankruptcy, known as Title III. Similar filings for the island’s public agencies could be coming soon. Puerto Rico will use the court processes to restructure much of its $70 billion debt load  and $49 billion in pension liabilities. This dwarfs Detroit’s 2013 filing, which at $18 billion in bond and pension debt was until now the largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy (Reuters).

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Trade

  • Ross Says TPP Could Form Starting Point for U.S. on NAFTA Talks: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said parts of an Asia-Pacific trade deal rejected by the Trump administration could form the basis of a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (Bloomberg).

 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

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Department of Agriculture

  • Trump Administration Relaxing Obama-era School Lunch Standards: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is easing school lunch regulations spearheaded by the Obama administration. Newly minted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue unveiled a new interim rule on Monday to suspend sodium reduction requirements and whole-grain requirements as well as allow 1 percent fat flavored milk back into school cafeterias nationwide (ABC News).

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Department of Education

  • Congressional Budget Rejects President Trump’s Higher Education Cuts—for Now: In the  FY2017 bipartisan budget agreement, Congress rejected a majority of the higher education cuts proposed in President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget. Instead of cutting billions of dollars from key financial aid and support programs, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 maintains or even increases funding for programs at risk under Trump’s proposal (Center for America Progress).
  • Congress Reinstates Summer Federal Pell Grant: Congress passed a bipartisan budget deal Monday to restore the summer Pell Grant, part of the larger federal Pell Grant financial aid program, which was originally repealed in 2011 (Daily Californian).

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Department of Energy

  • Ohio City Plans Lawsuit to Stop Nexus Pipeline: The battle over the controversial Nexus pipeline is heating up. Following a city council vote on Tuesday, the city of Green in Ohio will be spending $100,000 to hire an environmental law firm in Cleveland to stop its construction. Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge and Detroit's DTE Energy plan to build the high pressure, 36-inch natural gas transmission line through 8 miles of the middle-class community (Eco Watch).
  • FERC: The vacancies left in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are causing energy projects worth a total of roughly $50 billion to pile up (Bloomberg News).

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Environmental Protection Agency

  • Fuel Diversity: Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, argued for the continuing national reliance on coal as a part of fuel diversity (The Hill).
  • Climate Data: To avoid contradictions between online information and the Trump administration's priorities, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt approved the removal of climate data pages on the agency's websites  (The Washington Post).
  • White House Starts Reviewing Bid to Repeal WOTUS: The Trump administration has officially begun the process to rescind the Obama administration's controversial Waters of the US  (E&E News).

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Department of Labor

  • House passes GOP 'Comp Time' Bill: The House passed a Republican-backed overtime bill  that would give employees who work long hours more time off, though Democrats are concerned it will take a bite out of their paychecks. The Working Families Flexibility Act passed 229-197 (The Hill).
  • Encouraging Jobs Report: The pace of hiring picked up again in April and the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in nearly a decade to 4.4%, providing reassurance the broader economy is poised for a strong spring after a lackluster start to the year (Wall Street Journal).
  • Senate Clears Measure to Overturn Labor Rule on Retirement Plans: U.S. Senate passes legislation that would overturn a Labor Dept rule related to auto-enrolling employees in state-run retirement plans. Vote on H.J. Res. 66 is 50-49; action sends bill to President Trump for his signature (Morning Consult).

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Department of Interior

  • Cost of Climate Protection: House Republicans request information from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on the cost to taxpayers from two climate change programs (The Daily Caller).

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Department of Treasury

  • Donald Trump 'Actively Considering' Breaking up Wall Street's Biggest Banks: President Donald Trump has said he’s actively considering a break-up of giant Wall Street banks, giving a push to efforts to revive a Depression-era law separating consumer and investment banking (The Independent).

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Fannie and Freddie

  • Fannie Mae Posts $2.8B Net Income in Q1; $2.8B Dividend Goes to U.S. Department of Treasury: Mortgage giant Fannie Mae posted net income of $2.8 billion for the first quarter, an increase from a year earlier for the government-controlled company (Sacramento Bee).

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NASA

  • Vector Tests Prototype Small Launch Vehicle: Vector, one of several companies currently developing small launch vehicles, said it successfully flew a prototype of its vehicle in a low-altitude test flight May 3 (Space News).
  • NASA Requests Information on Commercial Lunar Missions: Six months after seeking information about instruments it could fly to the moon, NASA has issued a request for information for commercial systems that could transport payloads there (Space News).
  • Senate Passes Space Weather Bill: The Senate unanimously passed a bill May 2 intended to support space weather research and planning to protect critical infrastructure from solar storms. The bill is designed to outline roles and responsibilities for various U.S. government agencies to research, forecast and respond to space weather, which can affect communications, the power grid and other systems. It builds upon a national space weather strategy and action plan released by the Obama administration in October 2015 (Space News).
  • Orbital Insight Raises $50 Million to Grow Alongside Earth-Observation Industry: Geospatial analytics firms Orbital Insight plans to expand its workforce and create new data products with a $50 million investment the Silicon Valley startup raised in Series C round (Space News).
  • Executive Order Creating National Space Council Expected Soon: An executive order by President Trump reestablishing the National Space Council is already written and is likely to be formally issued in the near future (Space News).
  • SpaceX Launches First Spy Satellite After 24-hour Hold: SpaceX launched its first spy satellite Monday, after a 24-hour hold to check out a sensor on the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket (Space News).
  • NASA Receives More Than $19.6 Billion in 2017 Omnibus Spending Bill: A long-overdue fiscal year 2017 spending bill unveiled early May 1 will provide NASA with $19.65 billion, more than $600 million above the original request for the agency by the previous administration (Space News).

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White House

  • Trump Executive Order Targets Birth Control, Church Involvement in Politics: Trump's executive order, which he signed on Thursday to coincide with the National Day of Prayer, calls for easing of Internal Revenue Service enforcement of the so-called "Johnson Amendment," which prohibits churches from getting directly involved in political campaigns. While only Congress can formally do away with the law, this will pave the way for churches and other religious leaders to speak about politics and endorse candidates without worrying about losing their tax-exempt status.

The Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty also aims to make it easier for employers with religious objections not to include contraception coverage in workers' health care plans, although it would be up to federal agencies to determine how that would happen (Detroit Free Press).

  • Paris Agreement: Opponents of the Paris Agreement are winning the internal White House debate by arguing about legal restrictions on backing out of greenhouse gas reduction commitments. European Union officials are lobbying President Trump to convince him otherwise before making his decision, anticipated next week (Reuters).
  • Influence: After fossil fuel companies spent millions on lobbying and the presidential inauguration, the Trump administration is prioritizing their issues in the first 100 days (Public Integrity).
  • Trump to Meet Kim Jong Un? President Donald Trump told Bloomberg Monday that he would be "honored" to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un under the right circumstances (CNN).

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