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Window On Washington - August 3, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 31

Aug 03, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. After passing a massive spending package that included six annual appropriations bills, the House departed for a tentative five-week recess subject to return as negotiations continue on the effort to aid the coronavirus-ravaged U.S. economy. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said last Friday that members will be given 24 hours’ notice before there is a vote on an aid bill. The Senate is in session for one more week before beginning its August recess, and will meet today to consider the nomination of Mark Menezes to be deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. The Senate will also continue work on the legislative vehicle for a Republican proposal on pandemic relief (S. 178), which the chamber voted 47-42 last week to move on to the measure. The Senate will consider multiple Defense Department nominations as well, including John Whitley to be director of cost assessment and program evaluation, Shon Manasco to be undersecretary of the Air Force, and Michele Pearce to be general counsel for the Army.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. As cases climb across the country and the economy continues to be bludgeoned by the pandemic, Congressional Democrats and the Trump Administration are still struggling to reach an agreement on a potential fifth response package after days of negotiations. Last week, the Senate left town knowing that failed talks would ensure the expiration of enhanced jobless benefits for millions of Americans laid off and furloughed amid the pandemic. However, a deal remains elusive, as a closed door meeting on Saturday between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows failed to foster much progress on bridging gaps between the two parties. Though the two biggest areas of disagreement are the GOP’s structuring of enhanced unemployment insurance and a liability overhaul, the two sides are also still far apart on funding for schools, new money for the Postal Service, new money for elections and nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments. Additionally, Democrats are pushing for hazard pay for people making up to $200,000, while Republicans want to lower that threshold to closer to minimum wage. All told, the timeline for the next coronavirus response package remains incredibly fluid.

2020 Elections. Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead President Donald Trump in Great Lake (or Rust Belt) battlegrounds. These gains have big implications for the electoral college, as they suggest Biden’s easiest path to victory may be through these three states. To learn more about the Biden campaign, here is a helpful overview from the National Journal detailing advertising spending, campaign staff, and more.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

What's Next: COVID Stimulus Negotiations: Now that the extra $600 weekly unemployment benefits have expired, lawmakers from both parties feel a sense of urgency to cut a deal. While the White House negotiates with House Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to run through a series of amendments to see if he can find the sweet spot of agreement on the outstanding issues. (Axios)

McConnell says 15-20 GOP Senators Will Not Vote for Any Coronavirus Deal: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last Friday that more than a third of Republican senators will not vote for any coronavirus relief package, underscoring division with his caucus. (The Hill)

'Progress' But No Deal as Coronavirus Talks Head Into This Week: Trump administration officials and Democratic leaders negotiating a new coronavirus relief package said they made "progress" during a rare Saturday meeting but aren't yet close to a deal. The meeting marked the first time Democratic leaders and administration officials have come out of a closed-door negotiating session and spoken positively about their discussions. Staffers had follow-up discussions yesterday, and the Congressional Democratic leaders will meet again with Mnuchin and Meadows today. (The Hill)

House Approves $1.3 Trillion Spending Package for 2021: The package, passed in a largely party-line 217-197 vote, included the spending bills for defense; labor, health and human services, and education; commerce, justice and science; energy and water; financial services and general government; and transportation and housing and urban development. The House has now approved all but two spending bills. (The Hill)

Health

Senate's COVID-19 Package Tees Up Fight Over Medicaid Funding, Hospital Bailout: Senate Republicans’ coronavirus relief package, released last Monday evening, includes $25 billion for a hospital bailout fund, no additional dollars for Medicaid, $16 billion for testing, contact tracing, and surveillance, expansive telehealth legislation through the end of 2021, liability protections, and more leeway on repaying Medicare loans. (Politico)

Graham Legislation to Bring PPE Supply from China Included in HEALS Act Stimulus Package: Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) legislation, Restoring Critical Supply Chains and Intellectual Property Act, includes establishing a $7.5 billion medical manufacturing project tax credit to buildout and retrofit factories to meet increased PPE demand, HHS increasing procurements of domestic PPE for the Strategic National Stockpile incrementally, and HHS submitting a plan to Congress that details how they will reach 100 percent domestic sourcing of PPE. (Senator Graham Press Release)

House Report Accuses Trump Administration of ‘Waste, Fraud or Abuse’ in U.S. Ventilator Contract: The U.S. House Oversight Committee accused the Trump administration of “incompetent negotiating” for ventilators at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it “squandered” more than $500 million in taxpayer funds for the essential equipment. (CNBC)

Labor & Workforce

Millions to Lose $600 Weekly Jobless Aid Amid Senate Stalemate: With federal unemployment benefits expiring last Friday, the Senate became bogged down in partisan fighting and left town without a resolution to the crisis. The talks continued this weekend, but a deal seems far off at this point. (Politico)

Liability Shield Fight Threatens to Blow Up Relief Talks: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared he will not bring coronavirus relief legislation to the Senate floor unless it includes liability protections crafted by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Cornyn’s bill would limit liability for personal injuries arising from COVID-19 exposure at businesses, schools, colleges and nonprofit organizations. It also would protect health-care providers and facilities from coronavirus-related liability claims for five years. (The Hill)

Grassley Releases Finance Committee Provisions in Next Coronavirus Relief Legislation: The legislation, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), direct payments to individuals, enhanced employee retention credits, extended federal unemployment benefits, and a Medicare premium increases waiver for 2021. (Senate Finance Committee Press Release)

Rubio, Collins Introduce Phase IV Small Business Relief Package: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, introduced the Continuing Small Business Recovery and Paycheck Protection Program Act. The bill includes long-term recovery sector loans, a second draw of PPP loans, PPP programmatic improvements, and a small business growth and domestic production investment facility. (Senator Rubio Press Release)

Scott Provision Aiding Restaurant Workers Included in Relief Package: The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act will include Senator Tim Scott’s (R-SC) Supporting America’s Restaurant Workers Act, which provides a 100% deduction for business meals through the end of 2020. Currently, the deduction is available for only 50% of such expenses. (Senator Scott Press Release)

Transportation

House Dems Introduce Bill to Require Masks on Planes and in Airports: The Healthy Flights Act, spearheaded by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and the panel’s Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rick Larsen (D-WA), would clarify that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the authority to impose the mask requirements. (The Hill)

Agriculture

Jacobs, Balderson Join House Ag GOP Roster: In a statement, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), the House Agriculture Committee’s Ranking Member, said Reps. Chris Jacobs (R-NY) and Troy Balderson (R-OH) have joined the ranks of the panel. (Agri-Pulse)

Justice

McConnell Wants FBI Money Out of Coronavirus Bill: Speaking to reporters last Tuesday, McConnell said he hopes that provision and other “non-germane” items will be removed from the legislation before it’s sent to President Trump’s desk. (The Hill)

5 Takeaways from a Combative Barr Hearing: Democrats launched a full-scale assault against Attorney General William Barr at last Tuesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing, clashing with Barr repeatedly as the hearing jolted from topic to topic. (CNN)

House Passes Minibus Including Funding for Civil Rights and Police Reform: The Commerce, Justice, and Science funding bill includes $400 million for grants to carry out police reform initiatives and a $17.8 million increase for the DOJ Civil Rights Division. (House Appropriations)

Defense

Senate GOP Coronavirus Bill Includes $29.4B for Pentagon: The Pentagon would get nearly $30 billion under the Senate Republicans’ coronavirus relief plan, including $8 billion for weapons systems. The $29.4 billion for the Pentagon is included in the $1 trillion coronavirus aid package Senate Republicans released last Monday night. (The Hill)

Armed Services Panel Cancels Hearing for Controversial Pentagon Nominee: The Senate Armed Services Committee last Thursday canceled at the last minute the nomination hearing for Anthony J. Tata, President Donald Trump's controversial pick to be the Pentagon's policy chief. (Roll Call)

Trade

Trade Groups Push for More Access to PPP Loans in Coronavirus Relief Package: The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) is lobbying to remove the barriers that 501(c)(6) PPP loan applicants can only receive loans if lobbying does not account for 10 percent or more of their total activities. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Senate Uses Pandemic Bill to Fill Accounts Raided for Trump’s Border Wall: Billions of dollars included in Senate Republicans’ proposed $1 trillion installment of coronavirus emergency relief funding would restore money for military hardware that was redirected to pay for President Trump’s border wall. (Roll Call)

House Democrats Yank Homeland Security Spending Bill From Floor: House Democrats last Tuesday were forced to pull their Homeland Security spending bill from the floor, just days before it was slated for a vote, after it faced strong blowback from both progressives and centrists within the caucus. (Politico)

Cyber

House Throws Kitchen Sink at Tech CEOs: The antitrust hearing didn't nail a case that these companies are harmful monopolies. But the representatives succeeded in wringing some surprising admissions from the executives about how they wield their market power, providing ammunition for regulators now conducting investigations — and possibly a spur for Congress to strengthen antitrust law for the digital era. (Axios)

Education

To Respond to COVID-19, Alexander Introduces Bill to Help Manage Student Debt, Expand School Choice and Provide More Child Care: The Act would allow student loan borrowers to have a $0 monthly payment if they have no income, and provides scholarships to students to have the opportunity to return to the private school they attended before the pandemic, and gives other students a new opportunity to attend private school. (Senate Help)

House Appropriations Minibus Includes $73.5 Billion in Discretionary Funding for the Department of Education: The funding includes $2.6 billion for higher education programs, with $808 million to assist primarily Minority Serving Institutions. (House Appropriations)

Banking & Housing

Susan Collins to Oppose Trump's Fed Nominee Judy Shelton: The opposition from Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), comes after Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) became the first Republican to say he will vote against Shelton. (The Hill)

Sens. Warren, Schatz Call on Fed to Suspend Bank Dividends and Increase Transparency: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) are urging Federal Reserve officials to suspend bank dividends and to provide more transparency on the way the Fed measures the ability of banks to weather a crisis, according to a letter provided exclusively to Morning Consult. (Morning Consult)

House Adopts Ocasio-Cortez Housing Bias Amendments to Block HUD: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) took to the House floor last Thursday to castigate President Donald Trump for his recent remarks suggesting to suburban voters that increasing racial integration would lead to lower home values and more crime. She and Blumenauer spoke in favor of two amendments to prevent the Housing and Urban Development Department from undoing two Obama administration rules designed to end housing discrimination, which were adopted by voice vote into the spending package. (Roll Call)

Senate Confirms Dana Wade as New FHA Commissioner: The Senate has confirmed Dana Wade to serve as the Federal Housing Administration commissioner. The Trump Administration nominated Wade in February to replace Brian Montgomery. Wade was the acting FHA commissioner from July 2017 to June 2018. (HousingWire)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Senate Pandemic Relief Bill Offers $1.5 Billion for NASA: The coronavirus pandemic spending package introduced in the Senate last week would provide $1.5 billion in supplemental funding for NASA, although agency leadership says the exact amount of money the agency needs to cover its costs remains to be determined. (SpaceNews)

Trump's 2024 Moon Goal Faces 'Challenge' in Senate, GOP Chair Predicts: It will be a “challenge” to provide NASA the money it needs to follow through on President Donald Trump’s goal of returning astronauts on the moon in 2024, given competing priorities for the space agency, says Sen. Jerry Moran, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. (Politico)

Tax Reform

Amid Virus Aid Divide, Parties Find Common Ground on Tax Breaks: There are big-ticket funding and philosophical differences between the parties on the next round of coronavirus relief, including on tax policy. But there’s a surprising amount of common ground on a handful of provisions that are likely to serve as the basis for eventual agreement, including on another round of direct payments to individuals, tax credits for companies to keep workers on payroll and aid to families with children. (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

White House Willing to Cut a Stimulus Deal without ‘Liability Shield,’ Breaking with McConnell: The White House is willing to cut a deal with Democrats that leaves out Senate Republican legislation aimed at protecting employers, hospitals and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits, according to two people with knowledge of internal White House planning. (The Washington Post)

Meadows Says 'I'm Not Optimistic There Will Be a Solution in the Very Near Term' on Coronavirus Package: Yesterday when asked about Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) saying some progress had been made, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows responded, “I would characterize it that way, but we still have a long ways to go.” (The Hill)

Health/HHS/NIH

Testing Czar Says Nursing Homes to Get Nearly 1M Rapid Tests by End of Week: The federal government will deliver nearly 1 million rapid, point-of-care coronavirus tests to be delivered to 1,019 high-risk nursing homes, HHS testing czar Brett Giroir told a House committee this past Friday. The announcement comes after Giroir told reporters last Thursday that the administration hopes to deliver 2,400 machines for processing point-of-care antigen tests to nursing homes in states experiencing coronavirus outbreaks in the coming weeks. (Politico)

Vaccine Distribution Will be ‘Joint Venture’ Between CDC and Pentagon: Nationwide distribution of any coronavirus vaccine will be a “joint venture” between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which typically oversees vaccine allocation, and the Department of Defense, a senior administration official said last Thursday. (Politico)

Coronavirus Data No Longer Going Through CDC Contains Errors, Misinformation: According to data analysts interviewed by NPR, the new system using data aggregated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allegedly contains errors and inconsistencies, with listed accounts of medical facilities reporting difficulties sending information to HHS. (The Hill)

Federal Push for Faster, Cheaper Coronavirus Tests Focuses on 7 New Technologies: This past Friday the NIH announced the first seven winners of a competition to produce next-generation coronavirus tests to help battle the spread of COVID-19. Together, they will receive $248.7 million to further develop their tests and hopefully make them available by the fall. (NPR)

Defense/DOD

White House Objects to Border Wall Limits, Renaming Bases in Defense Spending Bill: The Trump administration is objecting to a raft of provisions in House Democrats' annual defense spending legislation, including limits on border wall spending, removing the names of Confederate leaders from bases and restricting President Trump's war powers. Last Thursday, the White House issued a formal veto threat against a $1.3 trillion package of six annual government funding measures, H.R. 7617, which includes $695 billion in fiscal 2021 Pentagon funding. (Office of Management and Budget)

Labor and Workforce

U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Rise for a Second Straight Week, Total 1.434 Million: The number of Americans who filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week totaled 1.434 million, the Labor Department reported last Thursday. In a separate report, the government said second-quarter gross domestic product plunged a historic 32.9% on an annualized basis. (CNBC)

Mnuchin on $600 Unemployment Benefit Says We Can't Be 'Paying People More to Stay Home': In an interview yesterday with ABC's "This Week," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested that the payments, which expired last week, led to some out-of-work Americans being "overpaid" and indicated that he believed they were slowing the return of workers to the labor market. (The Hill)

U.S. Watchdog Sees Signs of 'Widespread' Potential Fraud in Small Business Disaster Loans: The Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) said it has been “inundated” with contacts to investigative field offices, receiving complaints of more than 5,000 instances of suspected fraud from financial institutions receiving economic injury loan deposits through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Advance grant programs, according to a public memo last Tuesday. (Reuters)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Examining Unidentified Seeds Mailed from China: “At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a 'brushing scam,' where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the agency said. “USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents to determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.” (Roll Call)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Perseverance Rover on its Way to Mars: NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover, carrying the Ingenuity helicopter, began its journey to Mars last Thursday. It is the third Mars probe to launch from Earth in the past two weeks, joining spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates and China as the Red Planet continues to entice scientists to unveil its past, especially whether life existed there in ancient times. (Space Policy Online)

Report Proposes Actions to Strengthen U.S. Space Industry and Military Capabilities: A group of more than 120 experts from the U.S. military, government space agencies and the private sector issued a report July 28 calling for investments in technology and education to ensure the United States remains the dominant space power. (SpaceNews)

DARPA Has No Plans for Another Space Launch Prize Competition: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will not sponsor another space launch prize competition after the last one ended without a winner. “We don’t need to do that at this moment,” DARPA acting director Peter Highnam said last Thursday during a video chat with reporters. (SpaceNews)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Fed Holds Rates Steady, Says Economic Growth is ‘Well Below’ Pre-Pandemic Level: In a move widely expected, the central bank kept its benchmark overnight lending rate anchored near zero, where it has been since March 15 in the early days of the pandemic. (CNBC)

The Fed is Extending its Lending Programs Until the End of the Year: The Fed will run the lending and credit programs aimed at countering the economic downturn until the end of the year, which were initially set to run out Sept. 30. (CNBC)

Postal Service Reaches Agreement for $10B Loan from Treasury 'Should The Need Arise': The up to $10 billion loan authorized by the March CARES Act will allow USPS access to the money if it determines “it will not be able to fund operating expenses without borrowing money” because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Treasury Department release. (The Hill)

Transportation/DOT

White House Threatens to Veto Minibus Over Mask Mandate: The White House last Thursday issued a veto threat against the fiscal 2021 "minibus" spending bill that covers the Transportation Department and several other agencies, specifically calling out the bill’s mask mandate among other objections. A statement of administration policy released last Thursday said the bill’s, H.R. 7617, requirement for passengers and employees to wear masks on commercial airplanes, Amtrak trains and public transit systems was “overly restrictive,” insisting “such decisions should be left to states, local governments, transportation systems, and public health leaders.” (Office of Management and Budget)

Department of Justice

Senators Urge U.S. Justice Department to Probe TikTok, Zoom: Senators Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Josh Hawley, a Republican, wrote to the U.S. Justice Department last Thursday to urge a probe of video technology company Zoom and Chinese-owned social media company TikTok. (Reuters)

Department of Education

Pence, DeVos Visit North Carolina School to Advocate Reopening: Pence and DeVos visited the Thales Academy in the swing state of North Carolina to meet with students and host a roundtable with school faculty. The private school reopened with in-person learning earlier this month. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

DOE Releases Budget Estimate for Nuclear Modernization Activities: The Energy Department’s fiscal 2021 budget request for nuclear modernization would likely require spending cuts elsewhere in order to keep the defense budget in check, the Government Accountability Office notes in a new report. (GAO)

Cyber

Tech's Take Grows as Economy Tanks: Last Thursday morning, government economists reported a 30% drop in GDP for the second quarter — the largest decline, by far, since the numbers have been reported. Meanwhile, that afternoon, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google — whose CEOs had spent last Wednesday answering questions from Congress about their market dominance — reported better than expected financial results, despite the pandemic's ravages. (Axios)