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Window On Washington - April 27, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 17

Apr 27, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congressional Schedule. While Congress currently plans to return on May 4, it is possible that this will be postponed once again, as many states (as well as D.C.) have stay-at-home orders that extend past that date. Last week, House Democratic Leadership attempted to bring up a plan that would have allowed Members to vote by proxy. However, it did not have the support of Republicans, so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) instead announced the formation of a task force to develop a bipartisan plan. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) would prefer to first develop a plan for carrying out remote committee work, but some Republicans say it is too little too late and would rather discuss ways to begin working again in the Capitol.

CARES 2. Discussions about the next coronavirus response stimulus package (known commonly as CARES 2) have continued. Pelosi has reiterated that additional funding for state and local governments will be included in the package, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the Administration is willing to spend more money to beat the pandemic. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not want to begin serious negotiations until the Senate returns to Washington.

Presidential Election. In the midst of this crisis, President Trump is slipping in the polls to former Vice President Joe Biden. The latest update from National Journal on the election is available here.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

McConnell, Democrats Feud Over State Aid Amid Coronavirus: A fight over funding for state and local governments is emerging as an early flashpoint in talks over another coronavirus relief bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week suggested it would be better for states to be able to declare bankruptcy rather than have the federal government provide more money to help them through the coronavirus crisis. (The Hill)

McConnell Slams Brakes on Next Round of Coronavirus Aid: In a telephone interview last Tuesday after the passage of a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill, the Senate majority leader made clear that the full Senate must be in session before Congress begins its fifth installment of responding to the pandemic. And he signaled he is growing weary of quickly shoveling billions of dollars out the door even as the economy continues to crater. (Politico)

 Health

Democratic Senator Calls for Investigation into Reassignment of Key HHS Official: Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) last Wednesday called for an investigation into the removal of Rick Bright, the former director of the federal office that will be at the forefront of developing a COVID-19 cure. (The Hill)

Defense

20 Empty Seats: Coronavirus May Slow Pentagon’s Push to Fill Vacancies: A third of the Pentagon’s jobs are missing a Senate-confirmed leader, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, there are new questions about how many of those roles can be filled before November’s presidential election. (Defense News)

Lawmakers Pass Second Emergency Package to Protect Student Veterans from Coronavirus Losses: Congress last Tuesday finalized a second GI Bill fix for student veterans whose studies were upended by the coronavirus pandemic, sending the package to the White House to be signed into law in coming days. (Military Times)

Top Democrats Call on Pentagon to Review Border Wall Contract: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) are urging the acting Inspector General of the Department of Defense to launch a review into a contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for constructing part of President Trump's border wall. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Small Business Loans to Restart Monday with $320B in New Funds: The Paycheck Protection Program small business rescue will restart today, replenished with $320 billion in new funding. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

Rubio Asks Bank CEOs if They Favored Certain Customers for SBA Loans: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is asking banks to address whether they favored certain borrowers in processing applications for government-backed small business loans, in violation of the program’s mandate for treating applications on a first-come, first-served basis. (Wall Street Journal)

Agriculture

Stabenow Says USDA Could Be Flexible On COVID-19 Payment Limits: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said the COVID-19 direct payments must go to a broader cross-section of agricultural producers than the Market Facility Program payments. Any changes to payment limits should not put some sectors of agriculture at a disadvantage. (Roll Call)

Senate Democrats Revive 2017 Bill to Expand SNAP Benefits: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Thursday that would expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. (The Hill)

Senators Urge Pompeo, Perdue to Back Global Food Programs Amid Coronavirus Pandemic: A bipartisan group of senators are urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to support international food assistance programs amid concerns about the coronavirus's impact on the supply chain and potential global food shortages. (The Hill)

Justice

Democrats Demand Answers on Whether Amazon 'Lied' About Data Tactics: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and other prominent big tech critics seized on a Wall Street Journal report that said Amazon employees have used information collected from third-party sellers to launch competing products — even though the company testified to the House Judiciary Committee in July that it does not. (Politico)

McConnell Says GOP Will Confirm Trump Court Picks Through Pandemic: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last Tuesday that Republicans will keep trying to confirm President Trump's judicial nominees once the chamber returns to Washington, despite the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Environment/Interior

Bipartisan Senators Announce $19.5B Water Infrastructure Proposal: Lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee have announced two pieces of draft legislation that together would invest $19.5 billion into the country’s water infrastructure. (The Hill)

Oversight Democrats Ask EPA for Briefing on Controversial Compliance Memo: House Democrats are questioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a March memo in which the agency said it may not seek penalties against companies that don’t monitor their pollution during the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Cyber

Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Boost American 5G Efforts: A bipartisan group of House lawmakers last Friday introduced legislation to financially boost American fifth generation, or 5G, wireless technologies following concerns that Chinese telecommunications groups such as Huawei or ZTE pose national security threats. (The Hill)

Energy

Democrats Line Up Against Mnuchin’s Proposal to Help Oil Companies: A new Treasury Department plan to save struggling oil companies would almost certainly face roadblocks from Congressional Democrats who argue that no coronavirus relief money should go toward large fossil fuel extractors. (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Trump Signs $484 Billion Coronavirus Relief Package: President Trump last Friday signed legislation providing $484 billion to replenish a popular small business lending program and support hospitals and COVID-19 testing amid the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

CBO Details Coronavirus Economic Shock: The COVID-19 pandemic is sending the unemployment rate soaring, economic output plunging and the federal deficit hitting near-record heights. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

HHS Reveals Plans to Pay Hospitals, Cover Uninsured in Pandemic: The Trump administration announced last Wednesday how some of the $100 billion from a COVID-19 response law enacted last month would be allocated to cover the uninsured and how much of the rest of the money will be distributed. (Roll Call)

White House Weighing Plan to Replace Azar: Among the names on the short list to replace Azar are White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx, Medicare chief Seema Verma and deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan, said the four people familiar with the talks. (Politico)

Fauci Calls For At Least Doubling Virus Testing Before Reopening Country: The U.S. should at least double coronavirus testing in the coming weeks before easing into reopening the economy, the government's top infectious disease expert said on Saturday. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

Fox News Regular Anthony Tata to be Tapped as Pentagon Policy Chief: Anthony Tata, a retired Army brigadier general, novelist and Fox News regular, will be tapped as the next Pentagon policy chief, according to three people with knowledge of the decision. (Politico)

Inside Trump's Obsession with Iranian Gunboats: President Trump's declaration about directing the Navy to "shoot down and destroy" Iranian gunboats brings to a head his years of urging military leaders to get tougher on Iranian harassment at sea. (Axios)

The Military Diagnosed About 1,000 Troops with Coronavirus for the Third Week in a Row: With the services reporting 3,919 cases of COVID-19 among troops, Defense Department data released last Friday shows a third consecutive week where cases grew by roughly 1,000. (Military Times)

Homeland Security/Immigration

New Trump Immigration Order Does What Congress Rejected In 2018: President Trump has issued a proclamation that would block indefinitely immigrants in categories the administration failed to eliminate in a bill before the U.S. Senate in February 2018. (In Homeland Security)

Trade

Trump Pulls Punches and Clings to His China Trade Deal as Backlash Against Beijing Grows: President Trump needs China to be a symbol of his victory in the trade wars that he promised voters in 2016 that he would fight and win. (CNBC)

Dept. of Education

Elite Colleges Back Away from Rescue Cash Amid Criticism of Endowments: Even though a big chunk of the money set aside by Congress is intended to directly target students with emergency grants for needs like housing and food, the nation’s wealthiest universities are under intense pressure from the Trump administration to reject the funds because of their multi-billion-dollar endowments. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

Unemployment Claims Top 26 Million 5 Weeks into Pandemic: Americans filed 4.4 million jobless claims last week, the Labor Department reported last Thursday, pushing the five-week total of coronavirus-driven job losses to more than 26 million. The new report, which covers the week ending April 18, lent plausibility to economists' prediction that the unemployment rate will by summer be within range of the 25 percent peak recorded in 1933 during the Great Depression. (Politico)

Department of Energy

Oil Prices Begin Recovery Amid Pressure to Finance the Struggling Industry: Oil prices rose nearly 20 percent last Wednesday, a sign of a stabilizing market after trading went into negative pricing for the first time in history at the start of the week. (The Hill)

Treasury Considers Lending Program for Oil Producers: The Trump administration is considering the creation of a lending program to provide money for U.S. oil producers, which have seen falling prices in recent days. (The Hill)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Supreme Court Rejects Trump-backed Clean Water ‘Loophole’ in Major Environment Case: The Supreme Court last Thursday sided largely with environmentalists in a case over the reach of the landmark Clean Water Act, ruling that a “loophole” in the law backed by the Trump administration was unlawful. (CNBC)

Agriculture/USDA

Farm Workers to Be Exempt from Trump’s Immigration Ban: President Trump's plan to suspend immigration into the U.S. will not apply to foreign farm workers, according to three industry sources familiar with the decision. (Politico)

USDA Unveils $19 Billion Aid Plan for Farmers, Food Industry: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue rolled out a $19 billion rescue plan last week for a long list of agriculture sectors that say the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic through supply chains and markets will force many farmers out of business. (Roll Call)

USDA Let Millions of Pounds of Food Rot While Food-Bank Demand Soared: Tens of millions of pounds of American-grown produce is rotting in fields as food banks across the country scramble to meet a massive surge in demand. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Sharpens ISS Commercialization Plans and New CASIS Leadership: NASA is reorganizing its human spaceflight office to sharpen its efforts at commercializing low Earth orbit (LEO). NASA’s goal is to become only one of many customers using the International Space Station (ISS) and future LEO space facilities. The agency is moving out quickly to respond to a highly critical review of how non-NASA research is managed on the ISS, but acknowledges that it has work to do in convincing Congress that it has a viable plan. (Space Policy Online)

FCC Punts Controversial Space Debris Rules for Extra Study: The Federal Communications Commission on April 23 voted to require more safety disclosures from satellite operators seeking licenses and U.S. market access, but stopped short of introducing stricter orbital debris criteria. The agency’s five commissioners voted unanimously in favor of requiring satellite operators to quantify their collision risk, probability of successfully disposing spacecraft, the casualty risk associated with spacecraft that re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, and other details. More specific space debris rules, which garnered praise from some space safety advocates but strong rebukes from industry, were deferred for additional study. (Space News)

Coronavirus Has Created Conditions for Unique Environmental Science 'Global Experiment': Stay-at-home orders enacted to slow human movement, and consequently the spread of COVID-19, have had obvious benefits for the environment, but they are also impacting environmental science. Researchers are racing to collect atmospheric and other data, which they can use to assess their climate models and determine the extent of the impact of the coronavirus on the environment and human health as it relates to pollution and air quality. (Physics Org)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS says it Issued $158 Billion in Coronavirus Payments Through April 17: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said last Friday that it issued about 88 million coronavirus relief payments to households through April 17, with the payments totaling almost $158 billion. (The Hill)

Cyber

Coronavirus Pandemic Has Not Stopped Cyberattacks on Hospitals and Other Vital Infrastructure: Attempted cyberattacks against several hospitals and an airport in the Czech Republic show the coronavirus pandemic has not slowed down the West’s digital adversaries. (Washington Post)

Federal Watchdog Finds Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities in FCC Systems: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) last Friday urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take steps to boost the security of its comment submission process following a review that revealed dozens of cyber vulnerabilities. (The Hill)

Facebook Launches Zoom rival, "Messenger Rooms": Facebook said last Friday that it's launching a new video chat feature called "Messenger Rooms" that looks and functions similar to Zoom, except it allows far more people — up to 50 — to join at once for free. (Axios)

Baking & Housing/HUD

Federal Reserve Eases Bank Access to Intraday Fed Credit: The U.S. Federal Reserve last Thursday temporarily eased requirements for banks to access intraday credit from Fed banks to ensure that lending continues during the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters)

Mnuchin Says US Has No Plans for Mortgage Servicer Lifeline: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. has no current plans to create a Federal Reserve facility to inject funding into non-bank mortgage servicers, as recent government moves will help the firms get through the risk of millions of borrowers missing their mortgage payments. (Bloomberg)

Housing Regulator Bows to Pressure to Aid Struggling Mortgage Companies: Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria, says mortgage servicers will only have to advance four months of missed payments on single-family loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Politico)

Transportation/DOT

FAA Scrambling to Fix Congress’ Faulty Airport Stimulus Grant Math: The CARES Act included $10 billion for airports, along with a new formula for the FAA to use when distributing them. But that formula, developed by the Senate Appropriations Committee, ended up giving a disproportionate advantage to some smaller airports. After publishing a list of how much airports would receive that contained some eye-popping figures, the FAA has told some airports they're not actually getting that top-line amount, at least not right away. (Clark Hill Insight)

Treasury Department Releases $2.9 Billion in Payroll Support for Airlines: The Treasury Department announced last Monday that six airlines had reached agreements with the Trump administration to accept Payroll Support Program (PSP) agreements to keep workers on the payroll during the coronavirus outbreak. (The Hill)

Transport Workers Give Low Marks to Federal Virus Protection: As the economic standstill triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic drags into its second month, transportation workers say they are desperate for more personal protection equipment and other safety measures and that the federal government should help. (Roll Call)