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Window On Washington - August 31, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 35

Aug 31, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are not in session this week. The Senate is set to return on Sept. 8, and the House on Sept. 14. While there are no votes scheduled for either chamber, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing tomorrow with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the Administration’s response to the country’s economic crisis.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows put forward a $1.3 trillion figure to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Friday, but Pelosi emphasized that negotiations will resume when Republicans agree to a $2.2 trillion figure, which is $200 billion lower than what Democrats had initially lowered their halfway mark to. Meadows’ comments came a day after he and Speaker Pelosi had a 25-minute call, the first conversation they’d had since Aug. 7. Meadows added last week that he does not believe a new coronavirus relief deal will be reached before the end of September, predicting that Speaker Pelosi will wait until the end of the month to combine a relief package with a continuing resolution in order to avoid a government shutdown. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continues to work internally to gain support for a slimmed down version of the HEALS Act that also includes funding for the USPS.

2020 Elections. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence formally accepted their nominations during the Republican National Convention last week. The first of the three presidential debates between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will be held on Sept. 29, and the only vice-presidential debate between Vice President Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) will be held on Oct. 7. Additionally, Biden is expected to travel today to discuss the rising tensions in Portland, OR and Kenosha, WI, though his campaign shared that he will not be speaking from Kenosha. However, President Trump plans to travel to Kenosha tomorrow despite calls from Kenosha’s Mayor and Wisconsin’s Governor and Lieutenant Governor that he not visit. 

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Senate Republicans Look to Add Money for Child Care in COVID Relief Measure: Senate Republicans are likely to include a provision to provide billions of dollars for child care providers in the GOP’s narrow coronavirus relief bill, according to GOP sources. (Politico)

Democrats Offer Lower Price Tag for COVID-19 Aid but Stalemate Persists: Democrats and the Trump administration made little to no progress last Thursday during renewed negotiations over a COVID-19 relief package, as the two sides remain far apart on hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency aid. (The Hill)

Congress Faces Tough Call Next Month on Stopgap Funding Length: Partisan tensions are set to color talks on how long the stopgap funding bill for federal agencies needed next month should run, on top of already fraught coronavirus aid discussions. (Roll Call)

Postmaster General Defends His Actions in Acrimonious Marathon House Hearing: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended his management of the U.S. Postal Service to the House last Monday amid concerns that his cost-cutting measures have jeopardized the agency's ability to serve Americans. The hearing came after the House passed a $25 billion bill on the USPS the prior weekend. (NPR)

Health

Democrats Press CDC Director Over Coronavirus Testing Guidelines: House Democrats are taking CDC Director Robert Redfield to task over his agency’s coronavirus testing guidelines amid backlash over recent changes. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Capitol Hill COVID-19 Cases Now Top 100: There are now more than 100 Legislative Branch employees or contractors who have tested positive — or are presumed positive — for COVID-19 on Capitol Hill, a workplace that doesn’t require testing for members of Congress or staff. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing

House Panel to Hold Hearing on Treasury, Fed Pandemic Response: The House Financial Services Committee announced they plan to hold a hearing on Sept. 22 on the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Bloomberg Tax)

Tax Reform

Land Deals Function as Abusive Tax Shelters, Senate Finance Says: Promoters of tax-advantaged land deals gamed the law to provide billions in inflated deductions to investors, a bipartisan Senate Finance investigation concluded. The Finance panel, led by Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR), spent more than 16 months probing a class of transactions known as syndicated conservation easements. (Bloomberg Tax)

Space/NASA & NOAA

‘Starfleet’ Amendment Puts Space Force in a Political Bind: Introduced by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), the proposal to use navy ranks got a prominent endorsement from the Starfleet captain himself, William Shatner. However, the Starfleet amendment has turned into a polarizing issue inside the Space Force, sources said. (SpaceNews)

Defense/Intelligence

Ratcliffe Defends End of Election Security Briefings, Accuses Lawmakers of Leaks: Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Sunday defended his announcement that in-person election security briefings to Congress will end, saying the move was necessary to prevent leaks. (The Hill)

Democrats Press Esper on “Concerning” Rise in Pentagon's COVID-19 Cases: A group of Senate Democrats is reviving its concerns about the Pentagon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing a spike in cases in July, in another letter on the issue to the Secretary of Defense. (The Hill)

House Prefers New Vehicles Over Quick Fix to Military Rollovers: The House has denied most of the Pentagon's proposal for a quick fix to deadly rollover accidents in the military's fleet of older Humvees, instead opting to buy new vehicles produced in Indiana, the home state of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Peter J. Visclosky (D-IN). (Roll Call)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Wolf Says DHS Will Still Brief Congress on Election Security: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said his department will continue briefing Congress on election security despite the Director of National Intelligence’s announcement it would switch to written briefings on the subject. (The Hill)

Democrats Seek Probe into DHS Chief For Possible Hatch Act Violations: House Democrats are seeking a federal investigation into whether the head of the Homeland Security Department participated illegally in the Republican convention last week. (The Hill)

Judiciary/Justice

House Set to Vote on Marijuana Legalization: The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and erase some cannabis criminal records. (Politico)

Cyber

What’s Left on the Congressional Cyber Agenda: Important federal agency cybersecurity funding and policy language is wrapped up in some of the biggest things remaining on Congress’ to-do list by the end of the year. (Politico)

Agriculture

House Ag Chair Backs Biden On Killing Trump Tariffs: House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) supports Joe Biden’s plan to eliminate President Donald Trump’s tariffs on China but isn’t sure what the alternative is for countering Chinese trade practices. (Agri-Pulse)

Environment & Interior

Senate Democrats Map Out Climate Change Strategy: Senate Democrats last Tuesday released a more than 200-page climate plan that they’re billing as a roadmap for what they’ll do if they can take back the majority after this year’s election. (The Hill)

Energy

Texas GOP Lawmaker Calls For 'Carbon Neutral' But 'Energy Dominant' Future: Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) last Monday called for the U.S. to become carbon neutral as early as 2040, with major clean energy investments leading the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

Kudlow on Coronavirus Relief Spending Says 'There Has To Be A Limit': Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said last Thursday the Trump administration would be willing to compromise with Democrats on a new coronavirus relief package, but continued to draw a red line at the multitrillion-dollar price tag House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pushed for. (Politico)

Health/HHS/NIH

CDC Director Clarifies Change in Coronavirus Testing Guidelines After Backlash: CDC Director Robert Redfield issued a clarification of earlier guidance on coronavirus testing, days after a quiet change sparked protests from the scientific and medical communities. (The Hill)

HHS Extends Provider Bailout Deadline Amid Confusion: The Trump administration is now giving providers until Sept. 13 to seek COVID-19 bailout funds, as applications lag due to confusion over the rules. (Politico)

Trump Administration Orders Hospitals to Report Data or Risk Losing Funding: The Trump administration threatened hospitals last Tuesday with revoking their Medicare and Medicaid funding if they did not report coronavirus patient data and test results to HHS. (The New York Times)

Top FDA Spokeswoman Ousted After 11 Days: Top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokeswoman Emily Miller has been removed from her position after 11 days on the job, according to multiple reports. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Trump Considers Orders to Keep Airline Workers on Job: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last Wednesday signaled that President Donald Trump is considering the use of executive orders to help prevent hundreds of thousands of airline employees from being laid off this fall. (Roll Call)

Another Million Applied for Jobless Benefits: The number of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits for the first time came in above 1 million for the 22nd time in 23 weeks as the economy struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department said last Thursday. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Secretary DeVos Issues New Distance Learning Regulations: The regulations will officially take effect July 1, 2021, but institutions can voluntarily utilize the new flexibilities as soon as the regulation is officially published in the Federal Register. (Department of Education Press Release)

Banking & Housing/HUD

FHA Extends Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium for Homeowners Through Year End: The FHA announced the third extension of its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through December 31, 2020, for homeowners with FHA-insured single-family mortgages covered under the CARES Act. (HUD Press Release)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Will Keep Buying Loans in Forbearance Through Sept. 30: The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced last Wednesday that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would continue to buy qualified loans in forbearance until Sept. 30, extending the previous deadline of Aug. 31. (HousingWire)

Powell Announces New Fed Approach to Inflation that Could Keep Rates Lower for Longer: In a move that Chairman Jerome Powell called a “robust updating” of Fed policy, the central bank formally agreed to a policy of “average inflation targeting,” which means it will allow inflation to run “moderately” above the Fed’s 2% goal “for some time” following periods when it has run below that objective. (CNBC)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS Issues Guidance Implementing Trump's Payroll Tax Deferral Order: Under the guidance, employers can opt to not withhold Social Security payroll taxes from their employees’ paychecks from September through December. (The Hill)

Transportation/DOT

U.S. Cities Fight to Revive Public Transport: Temperature sensors, silent train cars, bleach-like odors - U.S. city officials and transport experts are pulling out the stops to lure residents back on rails and buses after the coronavirus pandemic sent ridership plummeting. (Reuters)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Increases Cost Estimate for SLS Development, Slips First Launch to November 2021: The new estimates are both approximately 30% above the original (2014) baseline cost estimates, which is the threshold to trigger a formal congressional notification and rebaselining of the program. (Space Policy Online)

Space Force Buyers Want a Classified Cloud to Manage Satellite Programs: The Space and Missile Systems Center has recently issued a “request for information” that says it needs a digital workflow system for the development of classified early-warning and communications satellites, with responses due Sept. 28. (SpaceNews)

Tales from the Storm: How Four Scientists Tracked Hurricane Laura: Different teams of NOAA scientists and academic researchers rushed to gather new hurricane observation data when Laura tore ashore along the coast of Louisiana after building strength through the Gulf of Mexico. (Science)

SpaceX Satellites’ Effect on Night Sky Can’t be Eliminated, Astronomers Say: Broadband satellites being launched by SpaceX and other companies will inevitably have a negative impact on astronomers' ability to observe the night sky, according to a new report by astronomers, which says there are no mitigation strategies that can completely eliminate the satellites' impact on astronomical observations. (Ars Technica)

Defense/DOD

DoD Has Tough Road Ahead on Supply Chain Decisions: A new analysis by Govini – based in part on work the company has been doing for DoD – finds the department has a tough road ahead when it comes to deciding which parts of is sprawling domestic supply chain to invest in. (Federal News Network)

Federal Judge Rules DoD’s Policy Unlawfully Slows Immigrant Troops’ Path to Citizenship: A federal judge Tuesday struck down a Defense Department requirement that service members serve for six months or a year before being eligible for an expedited path to citizenship. (Military Times)

DHS & Immigration

Trump to Nominate Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to Top Role: Wolf has been the acting secretary since November 2019. The department has not had a confirmed secretary since April 2019 when former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign. (CNN)

Furlough Canceled for 13,000 Immigration Services Workers: The financially strained U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said last Tuesday it would cancel the planned furlough of 13,000 workers scheduled for yesterday after sustained bipartisan pressure from Congress. (The Hill)

Top ICE Lawyer Tony Pham to Take Over Leading Agency: The top Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lawyer Tony Pham will take over to lead the agency, officials announced last Tuesday. Pham has served as ICE’s principal legal adviser and now will replace acting ICE Director Matthew Albence. (The Hill)

Cyber

Wired: Space Force. Tired: Cyber Command? U.S. Cyber Command, launched just over a decade ago, faces a potential reckoning over whether it has enough digital warriors to keep pace with multiplying online threats from countries like Russia and China, while some attention and resources shift to the new Space Force Branch. (Politico)

Agriculture/USDA

Food Boxes Get $1 Billion Bump Amid Mismanagement Claims: House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis Chairman Jim Clyburn (D-SC) has launched an investigation into the Farmers to Families Food Box program. The same day Democrats opened their investigation, President Trump dedicated an additional $1 billion to the program. (Bloomberg Government)

USDA Waiver Impasse May Hamper School Meal Distribution: The Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option Programs are ending Sept. 30, or earlier if a school district begins its fall term before that date, but U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has pushed back on lawmakers' requests for extensions, contending further funding and authorization are needed. (Education Dive)

EPA & DOI

Court Finds EPA Skirted Air Laws with 'Pernicious Loophole': The suit from the Sierra Club against the EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection challenged a permit governing the state’s air quality standards. (The Hill)

Alaska Mine 'Cannot Be Permitted,' Trump Administration Rules in Major Reversal: The current proposal for the Pebble Mine at Bristol Bay "cannot be permitted," the Army Corps of Engineers said, and it called for a series of strict conditions the project's developers would need to meet offset the environmental harms that the massive project would have on world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. (Politico)

Department of Energy

Clean Energy Group Recommends Federal Policy Strategies to Advance Battery Storage: New policy recommendations from the CEG were filed in response to the Energy Storage Grand Challenge Draft Roadmap and an accompanying Request for Information from the U.S. DOE released in late July 2020. The Draft Roadmap proposes that the federal government pursue a long-term federal strategy to expand the storage market along the lines of the successful federal SunShot Initiative. (Solar Power World)