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Window On Washington - December 21, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 51

Dec 21, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Clark Hill wishes you and yours a happy holiday season. The Window will be on hiatus until the New Year, as our next publication will be on January 2nd unless the news warrants an earlier issue.

Partial Government Shutdown Looms Over Wall Funding Fight and Coming Change of Power in the House:  We have arrived at the end of the most recent short-term continuing resolution (CR) that has been providing funding at FY18 levels for a wide variety of federal agencies, including many key science agencies, while Congress and the President continue to negotiate their final funding parameters for FY19.  The Senate on Wednesday passed a “clean” CR to extend funding until February 8th, thinking the White House had acquiesced to this approach.  By Thursday Trump had changed his mind, and House Republicans were forced to narrowly pass their own version of a CR (also to Feb. 8th) that includes more funding for the Wall and Disaster Supplemental funding that the Senate version excluded. The Senate today will try to take up and vote on this new House bill, but Senate Democrats insist they will not provide the votes needed for it to pass.  The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to use the “nuclear option” of changing the Senate filibuster rules to allow the bill to pass with only 51 votes, which the President has urged him to do. With no other deal in sight that will satisfy the White House, at midnight tonight a long list of cabinet departments and agencies will all “shutdown” (no non-essential employees will report to work until this impasse is resolved).  Trump will lose the “leverage” of a House Republican majority to negotiate within two weeks’ time when the 116th Congress commences, which is why he feels he needs to dig in on the wall funding issue now. 

Congress Sends Trump Numerous Bills to Sign in Waning Days of 115th Congress:  Both a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill and the Farm Bill eked over the finish line as the Congress is drawing to a close, and the House and Senate also passed a number of mostly “non-controversial bills,” which will soon go to the President for signing.  The Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did not agree to a customary final package of judicial nomination approvals, and as a result, several non-controversial Executive Branch nominees may also not be approved, requiring their nominations to be resubmitted in the new Congress.

White House:  President Trump had planned to leave Washington on Friday to spend 16 days at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., for Christmas and New Year's. However, that trip is now in doubt with a partial shutdown looming.  Friday morning, Senate GOP leaders were scheduled to meet with Trump, and he will likely have similar meetings in coming days with House GOP leaders. 

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

Rise of the Appropriators: Key Issues and New Legislative Strategies for the 116th U.S. Congress:  The U.S. Congress’ most fundamental power — the power of the purse — is often overlooked in policy discussions. It is especially important in today’s Congress because in addition to giving lawmakers the ability to dictate how taxpayers’ money is spent, the appropriations process gives Congress a way to enact contentious policy initiatives unrelated to government spending that have stalled through traditional legislative means. In a divided Congress, like the one set to begin in January, appropriations legislation becomes an important tool to bypass gridlock.  Appropriators will also soon have to grapple with a decision on whether or not to restore earmarks and how to deal with the Budget Control Act caps in place for FY20 and FY21. (Lexology)

Tax Reform

House Passes Year-End Tax Package: In one of the GOP’s last acts as the majority party in the lower chamber, the House passed a year-end tax package on Thursday that addresses several Republican priorities. The bill includes provisions on a number of different tax-related issues, including disaster tax relief, the delay and repeal of some ObamaCare taxes, technical fixes to the 2017 GOP tax-cut law, improvements to the IRS, and a repeal of the ban on nonprofits endorsing political candidates known as the Johnson Amendment. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the legislation would lower federal revenue by almost $100 billion over 10 years. (The Hill)

Health

Outgoing GOP Chairman Urges Colleagues to Oppose Trump Drug Pricing Proposal:  Outgoing Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote a letter to GOP colleagues on Wednesday urging them to oppose a proposal from President Trump to lower drug prices.  Hatch’s letter, obtained by The Hill, is an illustration of the divide among Republicans over proposals to lower drug prices, with some Republican lawmakers breaking with Trump.  The letter outlines opposition to Trump’s proposal in October to lower certain Medicare drug prices by linking those prices to lower costs in other countries, an idea well outside of mainstream Republican proposals. (The Hill)

Energy

Congress ‘Dropped the Ball’ on LWCF Reauthorization: Senate Energy Chairman Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) proposal to pass a broad western public lands bill, which included a permanent reauthorization of the LWCF (Land and Water Conservation Fund), failed to move forward in the U.S. Senate thanks to an objection from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Sen. Murkowski did, however, win a commitment from Senate leaders to take the bill up as one of the first orders of business in the New Congress. The LWCF, which enjoys wide bi-partisan support, supports more than 1,000 state and regional conservation and recreation organizations, and is projected to lose $2.5 million per day due to the Senate’s failure to permanently reauthorize the program. (SNews)

Oversight & Government Reform

Cummings Puts Trump on Notice for Wave of Investigations: Democrats still have two weeks until they take control of the House, but a top Democratic investigator is already putting President Trump on notice. Incoming House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings on Wednesday sent more than 50 letters to multiple agencies and departments as well as the Trump Organization and Trump’s personal attorneys requesting documents on a series of scandals that have plagued the White House. The Maryland Democrat is asking for more information on the administration’s handling of hurricanes Irma and Maria, Trump’s controversial family separation policy at the border, the White House decision to revoke the security clearances of high ranking former officials who became Trump critics, and more. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

House Democrats Prepare to Push for $15 Federal Minimum Wage, Setting up Clash With Big Business:  In winning control of the House, Democrats earned a chance to put their economic priorities front and center.  They will soon push for a higher federal minimum wage — setting up a fight between labor rights advocates who say bosses have shortchanged workers and opponents who argue the policy will hamstring small businesses. (CNBC)

Criminal Justice

House Passes Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Sending it to Trump’s Desk: Congress approved a sweeping bipartisan criminal justice reform bill on Thursday, handing President Trump a major legislative victory on an issue championed by his White House. The First Step Act would give federal judges more leeway when sentencing some drug offenders and boost prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also would reduce life sentences for some drug offenders with three convictions, or "three strikes," to 25 years. Another provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty. (Fox News)

Agriculture

Trump Signs 2018 Farm Bill: President Trump signed into law the 2018 farm bill that modestly strengthens the farm safety net, loosens farm subsidy rules, and legalizes industrial hemp as a crop and then announced he was taking “immediate action on welfare reform” through stricter enforcement of time limits on food stamps to able-bodied people on Thursday. (Successful Farming)

Infrastructure

Trump Threatens Infrastructure Legislation Over Border Wall Demand: In a tweet on Thursday, President Trump threatened to kill any infrastructure legislation lawmakers might pass next year unless Democrats agree to fund his proposed southern border wall. Infrastructure is one of the few issues that has broad bipartisan support on the Hill, and Trump made upgrading the country’s roads, bridges, airports, tunnels and ports a top campaign promise in 2016. However, his Twitter threat cast doubt on Congress’ ability to pass any actual bipartisan legislation in 2019.  (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health

NIH Official Commits to Continued Funding for Some Fetal Tissue Research: The National Institutes of Health pledged Tuesday at a private meeting of scientists who use fetal tissue that the government’s largest funder of biomedical research would continue to support such work despite a conservative broadside against it. The commitment by a senior official of NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases to continue funding for researchers who work for nongovernment labs came at the end of a seven-hour meeting with about 40 scientists from around the country, according to three participants. (The Washington Post)

NIH-Developed Test Detects Protein Associated With Alzheimer’s and CTE:  An ultrasensitive test has been developed that detects a corrupted protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. This advance could lead to early diagnosis of these conditions and open new research into how they originate, according to National Institutes of Health scientists and their colleagues. (NIH.gov)

Affordable Care Act Held Unconstitutional – What’s Next?: On Friday, December 14, 2018, a federal district court in Texas ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. The immediate impact of the ruling will be limited, as the district court could not stop enforcement outside its district.  Accordingly, all of the ACA’s mandates and requirements for 2019 remain in effect. However, long term changes could be significant for many. (Clark Hill Insight)

Space, NASA & NOAA

What a Holiday Government Shutdown Means for U.S. Weather Activities:  While some agencies have been funded under previous actions, several weather-climate focused agencies would be impacted by the shutdown. They include NOAA, NASA, the NSF, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey. For NOAA, about 50% of its workforce would be shuttered. However, National Weather Service personnel that provide critical weather forecasts for the nation will still work.  Many private companies that support the operations of NOAA, NASA, and other federal agencies will also be impacted. (Forbes)

NASA Chief Speaks Out on a U.S. Return to the Moon:  Spaceflight has changed immensely over the past half century, with the differences highlighted by the contrast between the Apollo program's feverish push and the fitful discussions and abandoned moon missions of recent decades.  That modern pattern ends now, at least if NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has his way. Less than a year into his tenure, he's been a vocal advocate of establishing a long-term human presence at the moon as preparation for a future journey to Mars. (Space.com)

Weather and Data Fun – The 12 Datasets of Christmas!:  Every month, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), which houses NOAA’s environmental data, serves millions of requests for data from its vast archives. Much of this data is free and open to the public.  While you could easily spend days, if not weeks, exploring NCEI’s treasure trove of environmental observations, here are 12 noteworthy databases worth a browse. (Weather Nation)

Education

Federal Commission on School Safety Releases Comprehensive Resource Guide for Keeping Students, Teachers Safe at School: After months of research, visiting successful programs around the nation, and receiving testimony from experts and concerned citizens, today the Federal Commission on School Safety released a 177-page report detailing 93 best practices and policy recommendations for improving safety at schools across the country. Utilizing the information gathered, the Commission report offers a holistic approach to improving school safety, ranging from supporting the social and emotional well-being of students to enhancing physical building security. (Ed.gov)

Immigration

Migrants Seeking Asylum Must Wait in Mexico, Trump Administration Says: The Trump administration, mired in a battle with Congress over funding of a border wall, announced on Thursday that the United States would begin requiring people seeking asylum at the southwest border to wait in Mexico for a court ruling on their cases. After weeks of talks, the Mexican government reluctantly agreed to accept the waiting migrants, which could substantially reduce the number of people trying to gain entry into the United States and deter even those with the most credible asylum claims. (New York Times)

DOE

Department of Energy Announces $18 Million for Transformative Energy Technologies: This week, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced its latest funding opportunity designed to support early stage, transformative energy technologies. The “Solicitation on Topics Informing New Program Areas” funding opportunity will allow ARPA-E to investigate potential new program areas while studying energy challenges of critical interest to American competitiveness and security. (DOE News)

Defense

Jim Mattis, Defense Secretary, Resigns in Rebuke of Trump’s Worldview: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Thursday in protest of President Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria and his rejection of international alliances. Secretary Mattis’ surprise resignation came a day after Trump shocked American allies and overruled his advisers, (including Mattis), by announcing a withdrawal from Syria. (New York Times)

Space Force Proposal Creates an Independent Service under the Department of the Air Force: The Pentagon is finalizing a proposal for the establishment of a U.S. Space Force as a sixth military branch. According to a draft of the proposal, the Space Force would be organized under the Department of the Air Force, and would be made in the same mold as the Marine Corps. (Space News)

Trade

Mattis Departure Leaves Space for More 232 Tariffs: The resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could mark a turning point in an effort by President Trump to impose tariffs on imports of automobiles and auto parts for national security reasons. Mattis offered lukewarm support for similar tariffs on steel and aluminum, pushing back against global tariffs in favor of targeted penalties on certain countries. Those tariffs ultimately went forward, but his departure means that opponents of the same action on autos could lose a key moderating voice. (Politico)

CFPB

Kraninger Reverses Mulvaney’s CFPB Name Change in First Move as Director: Kathy Kraninger, the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is reversing the name change that her predecessor, Mick Mulvaney, tried to impose on the agency, according to an internal email Wednesday. Mulvaney, who was installed by President Trump as acting director of the bureau in November 2017, had maintained that he was only following the statute in insisting that the agency be called the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, or BCFP. (Politico)

DOJ

U.S. Charges China Intelligence Officers Over Hacking Companies and Agencies: The Department of Justice unsealed criminal charges Thursday against two Chinese nationals allegedly tied to a campaign to steal sensitive information from technology-service providers around the world and several U.S. government agencies, including the Navy. U.S. officials also accused China of violating a 2015 bilateral pact under which both countries vowed to not engage in state-sponsored hacking for economic gain. (Market Watch)

IRS

2019 Benefits Limits and Recent Changes to 401(k) and Other Qualified Retirement Plans: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and recently proposed IRS regulations have made significant changes to the rules governing 401(k) and other qualified retirement plans. (Clark Hill Insight)