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Window On Washington - December 21, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 51

Dec 21, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are set to adjourn for the rest of the year once they pass the omnibus and coronavirus relief package, which the House plans to vote on today and the Senate shortly afterwards. Separately, Congress is anticipating President Trump to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, leading discussions among lawmakers about the possibility of voting to override the veto on the morning of Jan. 3 before the new Congress is sworn in.

 FY21 Appropriations and COVID Package. The House and Senate completed their negotiations on the FY21 omnibus and coronavirus relief package last night. As of early this morning, the bill language for the package was still being finalized, though a topline summary of the COVID-19 agreement can be found here, and a general breakdown of the entire year-end package can be found here. The package is slated to be considered by the House and Senate today, though the bill will contain a 7-day continuing resolution to allow the Senate more time (if needed) to complete its work on the measure after the House passes it given that the current continuing resolution expires at midnight tonight. The package contains $1.4 trillion in FY21 appropriations, $900 billion in coronavirus relief provisions, an energy package, legislation to end surprise billing, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, certain tax break extensions, and numerous other policy matters and reauthorizations. The House plans to structure its vote into two tranches: one vote on the Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Financial Services appropriations bills, and another vote on the remaining eight appropriations bills, the COVID-19 relief package, and the additional measures included in the legislation. Together with the omnibus spending bill, the total package is worth $2.3 trillion. The White House has indicated that President Trump is prepared to sign the package.

Biden Transition. The Electoral College made President-elect Joe Biden’s win official last week, and we are now just under one month away from the inauguration. President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ swearing-in ceremony will happen outside of the U.S. Capitol as usual, but various aspects of the ceremony and other inaugural traditions will be reimagined due to the pandemic. Separately, President-elect Biden continues to roll out his nominees, though he has yet to announce his picks for Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Commerce, and Secretary of Education. The National Journal has updated their deck of nominees announced so far as well as the potential “shortlist” for the remaining cabinet positions.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Congress Clinches Sweeping Deal on Coronavirus Relief, Government Funding: Congressional leaders last night reached a mammoth deal to fund the government and provide long-sought coronavirus relief as lawmakers race to wrap up their work for the year. (The Hill)

New Members of the House Appropriations Committee for the 117th Congress: The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee approved six Democrats to join the Appropriations Committee: Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Josh Harder (D-CA), Susie Lee (D-NV), David Trone (D-MD), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA). (Clark Hill Insight)

Health

Surprise Medical Bill Prevention Included in Year-End Legislative Package: The legislation will protect patients from getting medical bills for thousands of dollars in common situations like going to the emergency room and getting care from a doctor who happened to not be covered by the patient’s insurance plan.  (The Hill)

Lawmakers Begin Receiving COVID-19 Vaccines: All members of Congress have been encouraged to schedule appointments to get vaccinated through the Office of the Attending Physician. A handful of members received their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine last week, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). (Roll Call)

Education

Congress Clinches Deal to Restore Pell Grants for Prisoners After a 26-Year Ban: Congressional leaders struck a deal to reinstate Pell grants for incarcerated students more than a quarter century after banning the aid for prison education programs. The legislation is expected to be included as part of the year-end spending deal and is part of a package of higher education policies that the leaders of the House and Senate education committees negotiated over the last several weeks. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

Senators Reach Deal on Fed Powers, Setting Stage for Coronavirus Relief Passage: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) reached an agreement last Saturday night on language to curtail the Federal Reserve's special lending authorities. (The Hill)

Transportation

FAA Punished Whistleblowers, Protected Industry and Covered Up Flaws, Senate Report Says: The FAA has stymied congressional investigators, allowed Boeing to coach pilots so they performed better on simulator tests of the Boeing 737 MAX, and continued a decades-long pattern of punishing whistleblowers — all at the expense of the safety of millions of passengers – according to a Senate report released last Friday. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Senate Passes NASA Reauthorization Act at Close of 116th Congress: The Senate passed an amended version of S. 2800, the NASA authorization bill, by unanimous consent at the end of last week. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) acknowledged that the bill will not pass the House in the few remaining days of the 116th Congress, but he expects it to serve as the starting point for legislation next year. (Space Policy Online)

Defense

Congress Girds for Possible Veto Override Votes on Defense Bill: With President Donald Trump’s latest threat to veto the defense policy bill still fresh in their minds, lawmakers are likely soon facing the prospect of casting politically charged override votes. The key question now is not so much whether Trump will veto the bill but whether enough Republicans who voted for the measure a week ago would change their tune and vote to sustain a Trump veto in the days ahead. (Roll Call)

Judiciary/Justice

In a GOP Senate, Biden’s Cabinet Faces a Gauntlet: Democrats are worried that President-elect Joe Biden will struggle to get his Cabinet in place after Inauguration Day. (Roll Call)

Cyber

Citing Mega Hack, Lawmakers Urge Trump to Sign Defense Bill: Pointing to the massive hack of U.S. government agencies last week, lawmakers of both parties are calling on President Donald Trump to sign the sweeping national defense policy bill because it contains a host of cybersecurity provisions. (C4ISR Net)

Energy

Kathleen Rice Beats Out AOC for Spot on Coveted House Committee: Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) has captured a prized seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee after a contentious showdown with fellow New Yorker, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The Committee legislates on a variety of issues, including energy, climate, health care, communications and technology, commerce, and consumer protection. (Politico)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Trump Signs One-Day Stopgap to Fund Government:  President Donald Trump signed a one-day interim funding resolution late last night that will keep federal agencies open through the end of today, Dec. 21. (Bloomberg)

Health/HHS/NIH

CDC Approves Use of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has approved a CDC advisory panel’s endorsement for the use of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine for Americans 18 and older, paving the way for Moderna’s vaccine to be the second administered in the U.S. as soon as today. (Politico)

Pence Gets COVID-19 Vaccine in Public Event: Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams received a COVID-19 vaccine last Friday at the White House in a televised event. President Trump, who has not received the vaccine, did not join Pence in person for the event, nor did he comment on the event on Twitter. (NPR)

Trump's Drug Cards Clear Key Hurdle Following Pressure from White House: President Donald Trump’s stalled campaign promise to send $200 drug-discount cards to seniors has new life after an obscure-but-important industry panel last Monday gave its blessing, ending weeks of resistance to the plan. The panel's approval clears one of the last major barriers to Trump's plan, but the cards still face logistical hurdles that could ultimately prevent their rollout. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Weekly Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Rise, Hit Highest Level Since Early September: Jobless claims unexpectedly rose last week as states reimposed coronavirus restrictions and as lawmakers struggled to push through new government aid, according to a Labor Department report last Thursday. (CNBC)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Fed Sees Less Severe Recession this Year but Warns of Tough Winter: Federal Reserve officials last Wednesday said they expect the U.S. economy to shrink by 2.4 percent this year, a brighter forecast than they offered just three months ago, when they predicted output could drop much as 3.7 percent. Still, the hit to the GDP roughly equals that of 2009. (Politico)

Fed Joins Global Network to Fight Climate Change through Financial System: The Federal Reserve Board announced last Tuesday that it has joined an international network of central banks and regulators devoted to fighting climate change through the global financial system. (The Hill)

FHFA Extends GSE’s Affordable Housing Goals through 2021: The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced on Wednesday that its single-family and multifamily affordable housing goals for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will remain unchanged from those set in 2018-2020. However, unlike previous goals set for a three-year period, the FHFA announced the benchmarks for 2021 only, citing economic uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. (HousingWire)

Transportation/DOT

What Buttigieg’s Nomination to Transportation Secretary Means for Cars: President-elect Joe Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation, and the former mayor could have an impact on the auto industry, including overseeing a ramp up in the building of electric-vehicle charging stations as well as the regulation of autonomous and advanced driver-assist technologies. (Car and Driver)

Northeast States to Unveil “Cap‑and‑Invest” Plan for Cars: A collection of Northeastern states are expected to unveil today a final agreement to cap carbon emissions from cars. The announcement follows years of negotiations and represents one of the most significant developments in state climate policy. (E&E News)

Trade

Biden to Name Hill Staffer Katherine Tai for Top Trade Job: Democratic trade leaders in Congress coalesced around Katherine Tai soon after the election, regarding her as a skilled negotiator with appeal to moderates and progressives alike. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Trump Signs Space Policy Directive-6 on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion: Nuclear power will be a big part of the United States' space exploration efforts going forward, a new policy document affirms. One goal laid out in SPD-6 is the testing of a fission power system on the moon by the mid- to late 2020s. (Space)

Pence Announces Space Force Members Will Be Called 'Guardians': America's newest branch of the military is about to celebrate the end of its first year, and now members of the Space Force will have something to call each other. Vice President Mike Pence announced last Friday that members will be called "guardians." (Politico)

Blue Origin’s New Glenn Added to NASA Launch Contract: NASA has added New Glenn, the large launch vehicle under development by Blue Origin, to the list of vehicles eligible to compete for future agency missions under its NASA Launch Services (NLS) 2 contract vehicle, as part of an annual “on-ramp” process. (Space News)

Chinese Official Unveils Future Moon Mission Plans Including Possible Lunar Base: The announcement by Deputy Chief Commander of the China Lunar Exploration Program Wu Yanhua comes on the heels of China's successful Chang'e 5 probe landing back on Earth Wednesday after it collected nearly 2 kilograms of moon rock samples, and indicates China’s ambition to build a lunar base for human exploration. (The Hill)

Defense/DOD

Row Explodes Between Pentagon, Biden Transition Team: The U.S. acting defense secretary has canceled planned meetings between Defense Department officials and the Biden transition team. It’s a move the department is categorizing as a temporary delay rather than a wholesale blockade of the incoming administration, but a spokesman for the Biden team has expressed frustration and concerns about the breakdown. (Defense News)

Pandemic Focuses Military on Supply Chain Risks: When the COVID-19 outbreak began, some supply lines necessary to sustain production within the defense industry were frozen, highlighting the vulnerability of the defense industrial base to being cut off – a problem the DOD is now addressing more aggressively with help from industry and allied nations. (National Defense Magazine)

DHS & Immigration

Supreme Court Punts on Trump Bid to Exclude Immigrants from Census: The Supreme Court has rejected as premature a legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s bid to exclude all unlawful immigrants from apportionment data for the 2020 census. (Politico)

Judiciary/DOJ

Barr to Step Down as Attorney General: Attorney General William Barr plans to leave the Justice Department this Wednesday, Dec. 23, according to his resignation letter last week. President Trump said that Jeffrey Rosen, the current deputy attorney general, will take over Barr’s role. (The Hill)

Cyber

Hacked Federal Networks Will Need to be Burned “Down to the Ground”: It’s going to take months to kick elite hackers widely believed to be Russian out of the U.S. government networks they have been quietly rifling through since as far back as March in Washington’s worst cyberespionage failure on record. (Associated Press)

Krebs Says U.S. Should be 'Cautious' About Escalating Cyber War with Russia: Former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) chief Christopher Krebs in an interview yesterday poured cold water on lawmakers' calls for retaliation in response to a cyber intrusion at numerous government agencies believed to be carried out by Russia. (The Hill)

EPA & DOI

Who is Michael Regan, the Potential Next Head of the EPA?: Michael Regan is currently North Carolina's top environmental regulator and has previously worked for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. (The Hill

For Native Americans, Rep. Haaland's Nomination as Interior Secretary Signals a New Start: Biden's pick of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) had drawn concern among some Democrats over the threat of losing another seat and narrowing of the party's slim hold in the U.S. House. (NBC News)

Department of Energy

Biden Picks Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm for Energy Secretary:  Drawing on her efforts to diversify her state’s economy and rescue its auto industry, Granholm is a longstanding advocate for using federal funding to promote regional economic development based on clean energy technologies. (American Institute for Physics)