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Window On Washington - August 10, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 32

Aug 10, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. While neither the Senate or the House has formally adjourned for their respective August recesses due to the coronavirus relief package negotiations, there are currently no hearings or floor proceedings scheduled for this week in either chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) each indicated that members will be given 24 hours’ notice before there is a vote on a coronavirus package.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Democrats and Republicans were unable to reach an agreement by the White House’s self-imposed deadline of Friday. As a result, President Trump signed four executive orders on Saturday which include a suspension of payroll tax collection, an extension of student loan deferrals, an extension of the eviction moratorium, and a partial expansion of federal unemployment insurance benefits. It is unclear how the orders will go into effect, since only Congress has the legal authority to determine how federal funds will be spent. Whether any legal action will be taken in response to the executive actions is to be seen. Democratic congressional leaders and White House officials said yesterday they are open to continuing negotiations on the next coronavirus stimulus package, even though both sides remain far apart on several issues.

2020 Elections. It is expected that Joe Biden will announce his running mate by the middle of this week. Sources familiar with the matter have emphasized that while Biden has missed several self-imposed deadlines to announce his vice-presidential pick, the only real deadline is next Monday, which is when the Democratic National Convention begins. It was announced last Wednesday that Biden and the rest of the speakers expected at the Democratic National Convention will no longer travel to Milwaukee in person for their speeches due to the pandemic, making the convention almost entirely virtual.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Pelosi, Schumer Slam Trump Executive Orders, Call for GOP to Come Back to Negotiating Table: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) criticized President Trump's decision to issue four executive orders Saturday, bypassing Congress to address the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers also called on their Republican colleagues to meet back at the negotiating table to pass a fifth bill in Congress. (The Hill)

Senators Look to Head Home as Coronavirus Talks Stall: The Senate will technically stay in session this week but will not hold any votes unless there is a breakthrough in coronavirus negotiations. That means senators — like their House counterparts — will be back home, waiting for word from the leadership whether a deal has been reached. (Politico)

Senate Appropriations Delay: Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) suggested to reporters last Thursday that the Senate could focus on passing a stopgap spending bill or including the measure in the next relief package in order to keep the government open and to extend government funding into the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1. (Clark Hill Insight)

Health

Democrats Try to Force Trump to Boost Medical Supplies Production: The measure from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and backed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) requires the Trump administration to use the powers of the DPA to ramp up production of testing supplies, protective equipment for health workers and any other supplies needed to fight COVID-19. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Schumer Says Idea that $600 Unemployment Benefit Keeps Workers Away from Jobs 'Belittles the American People': Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said yesterday that the idea that the now-expired $600-per-week enhanced unemployment benefit disincentivizes workers from returning to jobs "belittles the American people." (The Hill)

Transportation

Democrats Press DOT Watchdog Nominee on Independence: Democratic senators last Thursday accused the nominee to be inspector general of the Department of Transportation of not being “straight up” on whether his position has been politicized, expressing dissatisfaction with his repeated assertions of independence. (Roll Call)

Agriculture

Stabenow Firm on Improved SNAP Benefits in COVID-19 Aid: The Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), says she will not support additional aid to farmers in the next stimulus bill until there’s an increase in the SNAP program. The House-passed HEROES Act contains SNAP increases, while the Senate’s proposed HEALS Act does not. (Brownfield Ag News)

Sen. Moran Leads Senate Colleagues in Urging Administration to not Impose Tariffs on Phosphate Fertilizers: U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) last Tuesday led a group of Senators in urging Chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission Jason Kearns and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to not impose tariffs on imported phosphate fertilizer to make certain Kansas farmers have access to affordable fertilizers for their crops. (Senator Moran Press Release)

Justice

House Democrats Can Sue Trump over U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Funding, Court Rules: In a 7-2 decision, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that lawmakers have the legal right to sue the administration over a financing maneuver that a separate California-based federal appeals court found to be an illegal encroachment of Congress's power of the purse. (The Hill)

Appeals Court Rejects Key Argument Against McGahn Subpoena: A federal appeals court dealt a major setback this past Friday to President Donald Trump’s bid to prevent his former White House counsel Don McGahn from being forced to testify to a House committee. (Politico)

Defense

Lawmakers Aim to Prevent Trump from Bypassing Ban on Armed Drone Sales: Senators from both parties say President Trump cannot be allowed to help drone technology proliferate, and they want it to be kept away from Saudi Arabia in particular. (New York Times)

Next Coronavirus Relief Package Must Include a Big Defense Boost, GOP Leaders Argue: Republican defense lawmakers are pushing for the next emergency coronavirus funding package to include a hefty boost for defense spending, saying that the pandemic’s effects on military spending have cut across an array of program and procurement accounts. (Military Times)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Chad Wolf Defends Trump Administration’s Portland Protest Response: Appearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Chad Wolf said DHS officers and agents were deployed to Portland to protect federal buildings from destructive attacks and claimed they did not interfere with peaceful protests. He faulted city and state officials as cutting off cooperation with the Trump administration, including a Portland City Council resolution that directed local police to sever ties with federal authorities. (Boston Globe)

Cyber

Officials Warn of Increasing Cyber Threats to Critical Infrastructure During Pandemic: Senators and other energy sector officials warned last Wednesday that foreign adversaries are continuing to target the U.S. electric grid, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the dangers. (The Hill)

Senate Passes Legislation to Ban TikTok on Federal Devices: The Senate last Thursday unanimously passed legislation to ban the use of the social media app TikTok on federal devices, weeks after the House approved a similar measure. (The Hill)

Education

Clyburn Says Secretary DeVos Declined to Appear at House Hearing: Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Chairman of the House Coronavirus Subcommittee, shared during last Thursday’s hearing on “The Challenges to Safely Reopening K-12 Schools” that Secretary DeVos refused to accept an invitation to serve as a witness for the hearing. (Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Press Release)

EPA/Interior

After a Year on Job, Public Lands Chief Overdue for Confirmation Hearing, Democrats Say: More than a year into the job that is officially still temporary, William Perry Pendley, the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management, is doing things that may be permanent, and Senate Democrats are seeking a chance to hold him to account. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing

Congressional Panel Slams Fed’s Main Street Lending Program: At the first Congressional Oversight Commission hearing this past Friday, expert after expert said the lending lifeline is falling far short for companies and workers drowning in a coronavirus-ravaged economy. Only 54 loans totaling $580.9 million have been issued to date. For comparison, the Paycheck Protection Program has pushed out more than 5.1 million loans worth $523.4 billion. (Roll Call)

Top GOP Lawmaker Urges Regulators to Extend Relief for Renters, Banks: In a letter to housing and bank regulators that was obtained by POLITICO, Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) urged the officials to use their existing authority to continue eviction protections and looser lending rules — in effect doing an end run around Congress. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Space Weather Bill Clears Senate, Establishes NOAA Pilot Program: The Senate passed the PROSWIFT space weather bill on July 27, another step along what has been a long path for the legislation. It is a compromise with a version adopted by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in January that includes a provision calling for NOAA to create a commercial space weather data pilot program akin to its commercial weather data program. All that is needed now is passage by the House and a signature from the President, which would mark the end of a five-year effort. (Space Policy Online)

China Amendments Pose Hurdle for NASA Authorization: One of the last hurdles before the Senate passes a NASA authorization bill is a disagreement over a pair of amendments that would enact thorough restrictions on keeping China out of NASA programs, but the Committee hopes to resolve those differences and pass the bill in September to set up a conference with the House. (Politico)

Energy

Senate Votes to Confirm Energy's No. 2 Official: The Senate last Tuesday confirmed Mark Menezes for the No. 2 spot at the Energy Department in a 79-16 vote. President Trump nominated Menezes to be the department’s deputy secretary in March. He will replace Dan Brouillette, who previously held the role but was later promoted to Energy’s top job after former Secretary Rick Perry resigned. (The Hill)

Tax Reform

Sanders Offers Bill to Tax Billionaires' Wealth Gains During Pandemic: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) last Thursday introduced legislation to impose a 60-percent tax on billionaires’ wealth gains from March 18 through the end of the year and to use the revenue raised by the tax to direct Medicare to pay all Americans’ out-of-pocket health-care expenses for a 1-year period. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

Trump Signs Executive Orders After Coronavirus Relief Talks Falter: President Trump on Saturday signed orders to extend unemployment benefits, suspend payroll taxes, and offer federal eviction and student loan relief, taking unilateral action that is on shaky legal ground amid stalled negotiations about a fifth round of coronavirus relief in Congress. (The Hill)

Treasury Secretary Says Democrats Must Make the Next Move on Stimulus Talks: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday” that Democrats will need to be the ones to make the next move if stimulus talks between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats are to restart. He said Democratic leaders need to accept a lower amount of assistance for state and local governments. (CNN)

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Signs ‘Buy American’ Executive Order for Essential Drugs: President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Thursday that calls on federal agencies to purchase “essential drugs” and medical supplies made in the U.S., rather than from overseas companies who now provide the bulk of those materials. (Politico)

Trump Signs Order Aimed at Boosting Rural Health Care, Telehealth: President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Monday aimed at boosting struggling health care providers in rural areas, as he also proposed a permanent extension of some telehealth policies that helped fuel virtual care’s explosive growth amid coronavirus lockdowns. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

Controversial Trump Nominee Placed in Senior Role After Nomination Hearing Canceled: A controversial White House nominee has been placed in a senior role at the Pentagon after his confirmation hearing was canceled two weeks ago, according to a Pentagon spokesperson. Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata withdrew his name from consideration to be the undersecretary of defense for policy. (The Hill)

Labor and Workforce

U.S. Unemployment Rate Fell to 10.2 Percent in July: The unemployment rate fell to 10.2 percent in July, the Labor Department reported last Friday, which is down from a peak of 14.7 percent in April but still far above the 3.5 percent rate from February. The economy also added 1.8 million jobs in July, the department said, a slowdown from a 4.8 million gain in June. The number of unemployed is up by 10.6 million since February. (Politico)

Trump Order Aims to Curb U.S. Agencies' Use of Foreign Workers: President Trump last Monday signed an executive order aimed at blocking U.S. agencies from outsourcing jobs to foreign workers, a move partly sparked by outrage among some conservatives over outsourcing plans from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

Proposed Rule Promises Better Organic Enforcement: A proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture aims to bolster the National Organic Program’s oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products. (AgWeb)

Space/NASA & NOAA

India Joins NOAA, Other Nations in Researching Artificial Intelligence for Weather Forecasting: The India Meteorological Department (IMD) announced last week that it is planning to use artificial intelligence in weather forecasting, especially for issuing nowcasts, which can help improve 3-6 hours prediction of extreme weather events, its Director General Mrutunjay Mohapatra said. (Financial Express)

More Quickly Than Anyone Expected, NASA Embraces Reuse for Human Flights: NASA's original commercial crew contract with SpaceX called for the first six operational missions to each use new Dragons. However, a contract modification signed in May allowed SpaceX to introduce reuse much more quickly, and NASA seems ready to allow this, especially with the success of the recent Demo-2 mission. (Ars Technica)

EPA/Interior

Interior Chief's Former Client Among Firms that Secured COVID-19 Relief: A former industry client of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was able to secure significant relief from a government agency at a time when oil prices hit historic lows during the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

EPA, Employee Union Sign Contract After Years of Disputes: Both the EPA and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) praised the contract, saying that it provides significant rights for employees. (The Hill)

Trade

Canada to Impose Tariffs on $2.7 Billion in U.S. Goods after Trump Reignites Trade Feud: Canada said Friday it will slap retaliatory tariffs on $2.7 billion worth of U.S. goods, the latest development in a new trade feud sparked by President Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose aluminum duties on the U.S. ally. (CNBC)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Acting Homeland Security Chief Defends New Limits on DACA: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told lawmakers Thursday he stands by the Trump administration decision to limit the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program following the Supreme Court's decision in June. (CNN)

Acting ICE Chief Announces Retirement Following Clashes with Trump Officials: The acting chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matthew Albence, is leaving the government. A career law enforcement officer who filled a number of positions within the Department of Homeland Security agency, Albence recently sparred with White House officials over how to handle ICE’s mission amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

Banking & Housing/HUD

The Fed is Expected to Make a Major Commitment to Ramping Up Inflation Soon: In the next few months, the Federal Reserve will be solidifying a policy outline that would commit it to low rates for years as it pursues an agenda of higher inflation and a return to the full employment picture that vanished as the coronavirus pandemic hit. (CNBC)

Transportation/DOT

Trump Backs Plan to Give Airlines Another $25 Billion in Aid: President Trump last Wednesday signaled that he supports extending aid to the country's lagging airline industry as Congress continues to debate how its latest coronavirus stimulus bill will look. (The Hill)

Department of Education

Trump Extends Student Loan Relief Through Year's End: President Donald Trump on Saturday signed an executive order continuing the pause on monthly payments and interest for many federal student loan borrowers until the end of the year. (Politico)

Department of Energy

Department of Energy Announces $33 Million for Natural Gas Pipeline Retrofitting Projects: The U.S. Department of Energy last Thursday announced $33 million in funding for 10 projects as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Rapid Encapsulation of Pipelines Avoiding Intensive Replacement (REPAIR) program. REPAIR teams will develop natural gas transmission pipeline retrofitting technology to rehabilitate existing cast iron and bare steel pipes by creating new, robust pipes inside of old ones. (DOE Press Release)

Cyber

Trump Issues Executive Orders Against TikTok and WeChat: The order, set to take effect on Sept. 20, bars Americans and U.S. companies from conducting transactions with the Chinese tech giant ByteDance, citing “national security” concerns. A separate executive order with the same conditions was also issued to WeChat, another Chinese-owned smartphone app. (Politico)

Beyond TikTok, U.S. Mulls Crackdown on Chinese Apps and Cloud: The United States last Wednesday announced it wants to remove more Chinese smartphone applications from U.S. app stores and stop Chinese cloud providers from serving U.S. companies. (Politico)

Tax Reform/IRS

Stimulus Check Missing $500? IRS to Start Sending Parents Payments This Week: The IRS will begin rectifying economic impact payment amounts for individuals who may not have received all that they were eligible for. Households can expect to receive the extra cash within the coming weeks. (Fox Business)

Tax Preparers Warn Unemployment Recipients Could Owe IRS: Tax preparers are concerned that many of the millions of Americans receiving unemployment benefits due to the pandemic are unaware that they might owe money to the IRS next year. (The Hill)