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Window On Washington - December 23, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 48

Dec 23, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

The Window on Washington will not publish while Congress is in recess and will return to your inbox in the new year on January 6. We wish you and your families a happy and joyous holiday season.

Impeachment Impasse. Since the House voted to impeach the President last week, House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has refused to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate or name impeachment managers and has said that she will not move forward until Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) vows to hold a fair trial based on evidence and facts. McConnell has promised to coordinate a trial strategy with the President. There is little guidance on the mechanics of impeachment, allowing both the Speaker and Majority Leader to harness this lack of clarity to their respective advantages. It was originally anticipated that the Senate would hold the impeachment trial after Congress’ return in January, but the timing is now unclear, as this impasse must first be resolved.

Trade. The House passed the US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal with a bipartisan vote before it recessed for the holidays. The Senate is expected to hold a markup on the deal on January 7. The USMCA legislation cannot be amended, and only needs a simple majority to pass the Senate.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Senate Clears Final Spending Package, Wraps for the Year: The Senate cleared two spending packages last Thursday totaling $1.4 trillion, and sent the measures to President Trump ahead of the continuing resolution expiration. Senators voted 71-23 to clear the $555 billion eight-bill spending package that carries the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, Military Construction-VA, State-Foreign Operations and Transportation-HUD spending bills. The measure also includes $445 billion in tax breaks and a lengthy list of additional measures. A few hours after voting on the first package, senators voted 81-11 to clear the $860 billion combo including the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services and Homeland Security appropriations bills. (Roll Call)

House Swiftly Advances Behemoth $1.4T Spending Deal: The House last Tuesday passed a $1.4 trillion spending pact that would inject federal agencies with $49 billion in extra cash this fiscal year, enact a host of substantial policy changes and avert a repeat of last year's holiday-time government shutdown. The lower chamber early in the afternoon advanced the first of two year-end funding bundles, voting 297-120 on a domestic spending package with money for health, transportation, education and more. The second package, passed 280-138, was a four-bill national security minibus that includes billions of dollars for the military and DHS. Lawmakers pushed through the measure despite opposition from progressives and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who cited funding for the Trump administration’s “immoral“ immigration policies and “unchecked” military spending. (Politico)

Health

Congress to Repeal 3 Major Health Taxes, Fund Gun Violence Research in Spending Deal: Congress permanently repealed three major health industry taxes that were supposed to help pay for Obamacare in a final year-end spending agreement. The deal also provided federal funding for gun violence research for the first time in over 20 years, marking a majority victory for Democrats and gun control groups that have long lobbied Capitol Hill on the issue. It is also extended expiring health care programs through May 22, and notably, it doesn’t include a last-ditch effort from key committee leaders to pass legislation protecting consumers from getting slapped with “surprise” medical bills. (Politico)

Top Republican Blasts McConnell for Derailing Bipartisan Drug Pricing Bill: Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bipartisan duo behind the Senate’s leading drug pricing proposal, both accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of sabotaging their progress on that package. The remarks are especially surprising from Grassley, one of the Senate’s highest-ranking Republicans. He told reporters at a briefing that his package has not gotten more Republican support “because McConnell has asked them not to [support it].” (STAT News)

Defense

Pentagon Finally Gets its 2020 Budget From Congress: The defense appropriations bill dedicates $40 million to establish a new, sixth armed service for space, which was $32 million less than the administration’s request. Even as Congress approved a sweeping defense policy bill this week that re-designates Air Force Space Command, it included language to prohibit any new billets, meaning the organization must be built with existing forces. (Defense News)

The Pentagon’s Revolving Door: Three In, Five Out: The Senate confirmed three of President Trump’s Pentagon picks last Thursday, just as five senior officials at the department are leaving. (Defense News)

Cyber

$425M Allocated for Election Security in Government Funding Deal: The spending deal agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators includes $425 million for states to improve their election security. The appropriations deal also includes a requirement for states to match 20 percent of the federal funds, meaning the eventual amount given to election officials to improve election security would reach $510 million. (The Hill)

Environment/Interior

Grijalva Demands Data on BLM Relocation Plans: House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that he's concerned by an E&E News report last week that found the vast majority of BLM staffers in the Washington, DC, headquarters do not intend to move to Grand Junction, CO, or to other state offices in the West. (E&E News)

Trade

House Passes Trump's Trade Deal with Canada and Mexico: The House of Representatives last Thursday passed President Trump's revised North American Free Trade Agreement, with members sending Trump's foremost legislative priority – just a day after the divided chamber took the historic vote to impeach him – to the Senate. (CNN)

Banking & Housing

Senate Democrats Ramp Up Scrutiny of Trump’s Fannie-Freddie Plan: It’s been three months since the Trump administration released its plan to end government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Democratic lawmakers still have unanswered questions, lots of them. In a recent letter, Senate Banking Committee Democrats put almost two dozen queries to the Treasury Department and Federal Housing Finance Agency, the companies’ regulator. Topics ranged from the potential impact releasing Fannie and Freddie will have on the trillions of dollars in mortgage securities that the companies backstop to whether housing costs will rise. (Yahoo Finance)

Transportation

Winners and Losers In $1.4T Fed Spending Bill: Congress has some stocking stuffers and a few lumps of coal for the transportation sector in the $1.4 trillion spending package passed last week. (StreetsBlog)

Fossil Fuels and Biodiesel Were Tax-Break Winners While Solar and Electric Vehicles Lost: Biodiesel and renewable diesel were winners, on-shore wind power a conditional winner, and small-scale solar and electric vehicles counted among the losers for tax benefits in US Congressional spending bills passed this week. (Market Watch)

Justice

Senate Confirms 12 More Trump Judicial Nominees: The Senate last Thursday confirmed 12 more of President Trump's judicial nominees, just hours before leaving for Christmas recess. (Politico)

Congress Attaches Marijuana, Hemp And CBD Provisions To Federal Spending Bills: Although more sweeping provisions that passed the House—such as measures shielding all state and tribal cannabis programs from federal interference and protecting banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses—were omitted from the Fiscal Year 2020 spending legislation following the merging of the two chambers’ versions, the report language that came out of the bicameral negotiations reflects growing bipartisan interest in researching cannabis and ensuring that hemp legalization is effectively implemented. (Marijuana Moment)

Homeland Security/Immigration

House Homeland Security Rip DHS's 'Unacceptable' Failure to Comply with Subpoena: The top Democrat and Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee are deriding as “unacceptable” a failure from the secretary of Homeland Security to respond to a subpoena from the panel for last week. (The Hill)

Energy

Spending Bill Boosting EPA, Clean Energy Headed to Trump’s Desk: President Trump signed a fiscal 2020 spending bill last week that would provide increases for the EPA and clean energy research. (Bloomberg)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA to Receive $22.6 Billion in Fiscal Year 2020 Spending Bill: That final FY20 spending deal provides $22.629 billion in overall funding for NASA, close to the administration’s original request when including the $1.6 billion amendment for additional lunar funding submitted in May, but the agreement left that program $400 million short of its request. The minibus largely adopted spending levels for the rest of NASA that fell between the marks in the House and Senate versions. That included rejecting proposals to cancel several Earth science missions and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and to close NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, formerly the Office of Education. (Space News)

Education

How Higher Education Fared in the 2020 Spending Package: President Trump signed a $1.4 trillion appropriations package that boosts spending for certain higher education priorities, such as Federal Work-Study, minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and $325 million for historically black colleges and universities. (Education Dive)

Agriculture

Politico AG Round Up - USDA Budget and Biofuel Tax Breaks Pass Congress: The House and Senate passed a $1.4 trillion spending deal and a $426 billion tax cut package, including an extension of the $1-per-gallon biodiesel blenders tax credit that lapsed after 2017 — a top priority for the biofuel sector and Midwestern lawmakers. Also a new bipartisan bill would overhaul financing tools like private activity bonds for first-time farmers, aiming to help ag producers and other small manufacturers grow their businesses, buy equipment and hire workers. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

Congress Examines How to Leverage Tech Without Displacing Workers: As organizations increasingly implement automated technologies, artificial intelligence and other new technologies, a panel of workforce experts argued before the House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee last week for a series of innovative and preemptive actions Congress and employers should take to prevent technology-driven displacement of workers. (Government CIO Media)

Tax Reform

SALT Tax Increase That Burned Blue States is Targeted by Democrats: The House voted last Thursday to temporarily eliminate a tax increase on some high-earning residents of states like California and New York that was included in President Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul, with some Republicans joining Democrats in support. (New York Times)

Spending Bill Would Extend Expired Tax Breaks: The amendment, which was included as a manager’s amendment to one of the two spending bills, largely extends the expiring and expired tax breaks through 2020. Some of the tax breaks had expired at the end of 2017 and are being retroactively extended, such as tax breaks about energy efficiency and provisions benefiting the racehorse and motorsports industries. Others were set to expire at the end of this year, such as the GOP tax law's tax credit for employers who offer paid family and medical leave and its excise tax relief for brewers, winemakers and distillers. (The Hill)

Impeachment Inquiry

Trump Becomes Third US President to be Impeached as House Approves Both Articles Against Him: The House voted after nearly 12 hours of debate last Wednesday night to impeach President Trump for his conduct toward Ukraine and his refusal to cooperate with the inquiry, making him only the third president in US history to receive that sanction. (Washington Post)

Pelosi Says She Will Delay Impeachment Until Dems Are Guaranteed a ‘Fair Trial’ in the Senate: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) suggested last Wednesday that she will delay transfer of the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate until the Democrats are guaranteed a “fair” trial. (National Review)

Trump Has Been Impeached, But He's Still President. What's Next?: What comes next is a trial in the Senate early next year that could, but probably won't, cost him the White House. (CNN)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Administration Announces Move Aimed to Increase Organ Donations: The Trump administration announced a proposal to overhaul the organ donation process to encourage more donations and hold organizations that facilitate them accountable. The Department of Health and Human Services said that 20 people die each day while on the waitlist for a life-saving organ transplant, and that the new rules are intended to reduce that number and save lives. (The Hill)

Trump Administration Unveils Plan to Allow Prescription Drug Imports: The Trump administration introduced its long-awaited drug importation plan, marking the first time in history that federal health agencies have embraced such imports as a mechanism to reduce prescription drug prices in the US. The Food and Drug Administration is issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking, which, if finalized, would allow states to work with wholesalers and pharmacies to develop programs for importing drugs from Canada — a strategy the Trump administration has long championed as a key tenet of its drug pricing blueprint. (Morning Consult)

Individual Mandate Ruled Unconstitutional, ACA in Limbo: A federal appeals court struck down part of the Affordable Care Act, ruling that its requirement that most Americans carry insurance is unconstitutional while sending back to a lower court the question of whether the rest of the law can remain without it. The long-awaited decision by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has little immediate practical effect on consumers because Congress already has removed the penalty for people who flout the insurance requirement. (The Washington Post)

Defense/DOD

Trump Signs Defense Bill Creating Space Force: President Trump signed the annual defense policy bill last Friday night, establishing his much-touted Space Force and giving federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave. (The Hill)

Fifth Pentagon Official Announces Resignation in Seven Days: The Defense Department’s senior adviser for international cooperation left the Pentagon last Friday, marking the fifth top official to leave or announce their departure last week. (The Hill)

Trade

Trump Says Signing of China Trade Deal 'Being Arranged': President Trump said last Friday that he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the “phase one” trade agreement with Beijing and said a formal signing of the deal is “being arranged." (The Hill)

Cyber

Government Study Finds Racial, Gender Bias in Facial Recognition Software: The research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a federal agency within the Department of Commerce, comes amid pushback from lawmakers and civil rights groups to the software which scans faces to quickly identify individuals. (The Hill)

DHS/Immigration

Trump Nominates DHS Senior Cyber Director: President Trump last Wednesday formally submitted the nomination for a new assistant director of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the top-ranking cyber officials at the agency. (The Hill)

Justice/DOJ

DOJ Tells Court McGahn Subpoena is Moot After Impeachment Vote: The Trump administration told a court last Thursday that the House subpoena ordering former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify in the impeachment inquiry "appears to be moot" now that the president has been impeached. (The Hill)

Department of Justice Cracks Down on Live Nation and Ticketmaster: Following an antitrust investigation into the business practices of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, the Department of Justice has reached a deal with the two companies to amend and extend the regulatory agreement they signed when their merger was approved in 2010. (Pitchfork)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Farm, Ethanol Groups Angered at Final EPA Ethanol Rule: Some farm groups and farm-state lawmakers expressed anger at the Trump administration last Thursday over final ethanol rules that they said failed to uphold the president’s promises to the industry. (AP)

Transportation/DOT

Boeing to Temporarily Shut Down 737 Max Production: The decision, after a two-day board meeting, is the culmination of the worst crisis in the company’s 103-year history and follows two crashes that killed 346 people. Boeing had repeatedly signaled that the plane would be cleared to return to the sky before the end of the year. (New York Times)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Look Out: Some Chinese Thinkers Are Girding for a “Financial War”: As the details of a trade deal between the US and China have emerged over the past week, the international community and the business world have reacted with guarded relief. That relief may be premature however, as a careful reading of the conversation inside China suggests that the next front line of the US-China conflict may already be taking shape, with an ominous name: Financial war. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Boeing Starliner Fails Key NASA Mission as Autonomous Flight System Malfunctions: Starliner was supposed to fly to the International Space Station, deliver cargo, and return safely – to demonstrate its capabilities and safety. But the spacecraft will not dock with the space station after its autonomous flight-control system misfired shortly after the launch, putting Starliner in the wrong orbit. (CNBC)

SpaceX Gets OK to Re-Space Starlink Orbits: The US Federal Communications Commission approved SpaceX’s request to increase the number of lanes its Starlink satellites can orbit, a modification the company said would accelerate service rollout across the United States. (Space News)