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Window On Washington - December 7, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 49

Dec 06, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. Congress faces a Dec. 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown, and while there is potential to reach a deal on a coronavirus relief package and an omnibus package, it is becoming increasingly likely that negotiations will continue through the week, requiring the need for a short-term continuing resolution. Separately, the House is set to vote tomorrow on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference agreement, and the Senate is also expected to take up the measure at some point this week. While the NDAA has drawn a veto threat from the president, Congress is preparing for votes to override the veto.

FY21 Appropriations. Congressional leaders are expected to introduce a one-week stopgap funding bill running through Dec. 18 due to outstanding differences that appropriators are continuing to negotiate. Those differences include border wall funding, health care extenders, tax extenders, environmental riders, immigration detention beds, and Veterans Affairs healthcare funding.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) scaled back from their top-line funding request for the next relief package and endorsed a bipartisan $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal as the starting point for negotiations. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed his own “skinny” bill last week as well, McConnell and Pelosi spoke for the first time in weeks last Thursday and agreed to try to combine the annual spending measures with coronavirus relief. Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have indicated that they will not leave for the rest of the year until a relief package is passed.

Biden Transition. President-elect Joe Biden last night announced Xavier Becerra, a former congressman who is now the Democratic attorney general of California, as his nominee for the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Biden is expected to announce additional Cabinet picks this week, including his selection for Agriculture Secretary. The National Journal developed a deck with an overview of President-elect Biden’s nominees announced so far and his potential “shortlist” for other cabinet positions.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Rosa DeLauro Wins Appropriations Gavel: House Democrats last Thursday chose Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in a 148-79 vote to be their next Appropriations chairwoman. It was a three-way race between herself, Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), though Kaptur dropped out of the race and endorsed DeLauro just prior to the vote. (Roll Call)

Congress Eyes 1-Week Stopgap, Longer Session to Reach Deal: Congress is weighing a weeklong stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown since current funding runs out this coming Friday. (The Hill)

Jason Smith Plans Focus on ‘Security’ Issues in New Budget Panel Role: Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) wants Republicans to be the party of “security” with an emphasis on the “working class” in his new role as Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee in the 117th Congress. (Roll Call)

Health

Bipartisan, Bicameral Group Unveils $908 Billion Coronavirus Proposal: The $908 billion proposal released last Tuesday would include $160 billion for states and cities, $180 billion for unemployment insurance, and $288 billion for more small business assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program, along with funding for housing assistance, education, transportation, vaccines, nutrition, and more. (The Hill)

GOP Picks McMorris Rodgers for Ranking Member of Energy and Commerce: House Republicans tapped Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) to lead the Republican party on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, making her the first woman to hold a leadership role on the committee that has jurisdiction over the nation’s health care, technology, environmental, and energy policy. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

In Close Vote, Senate Makes First Lame-Duck Fed Confirmation: The Senate made Christopher Waller the first Federal Reserve Board nominee to be confirmed during a lame duck session in a tight 48-47 vote last Thursday. (Roll Call)

Transportation

Coalition Urges Renewed Safety Focus for Autonomous Vehicles Legislation and Regulations in 2021: If Congress tries again to regulate autonomous vehicles (AVs) next year, it should focus on ensuring that legislation has strong safety provisions to protect all road users, according to a coalition of more than 55 groups last week who also expressed concern about the slow pace of USDOT regulatory efforts. (Smart Cities Dive)

Lawmakers Ask GAO to Study Covid Transmission in Aviation: The request comes amid the conflicting information that has been published about the likelihood of passengers catching the virus while on board a plane and whether it is safe to fly. (Politico)

Defense

Conferees Unveil FY21 NDAA as Veto Threat Looms: Trump opposes this year’s NDAA because of one provision it contains – a mandate to change military base names that commemorate Confederates, and another provision it lacks – a repeal of legal protections for social media companies. Despite the President’s opposition, the House and Senate almost certainly have the votes to override a veto or clear a newly minted version early in the next Congress. (Roll Call)

Congress Hits Fast-Forward to Field New Capability to Counter Drones: Congress wants to rapidly advance a joint program to develop and field a capability for countering drones, requiring the Pentagon to field a system as early as next fall and adding more than $47 million to fuel the effort, according to the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. (Defense News)

Republicans Confirm Rogers as Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee: Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) was officially selected to serve as the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee in the 117th Congress. (Space News)

Judiciary/Justice

House Votes to Legalize Weed: The bill passed by a vote of 228-164, with several Republicans on board. (Politico)

House Approves Bill Banning Big Cat Ownership after Netflix's 'Tiger King': The chamber voted 272-114 to pass the measure, which also makes it illegal for exhibitors to allow people to touch cubs. (The Hill)

Agriculture

Scott Picked as Next House Ag Leader: Rep. David Scott (D-GA) cleared a major hurdle to becoming the next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, installing new leadership for the committee as it prepares to begin work on a new farm bill. Scott will be the first African American chair of the committee and the first African American from Georgia to chair any committee. (Agri-Pulse)

Thompson Named Ranking Member of House Ag: U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) was selected to be the Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. (Clark Hill Insight)

Environment & Interior

Bruce Westerman Tapped as Top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee: Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) will serve as Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee for the 117th Congress. (The Hill)

Energy

Senate Confirms Bipartisan Pairing to FERC: The Senate voted last Monday to confirm the nominations of Republican-pick Mark Christie and Democrat-pick Allison Clements to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (Utility Dive)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Biden Urges Deal on $908B Stimulus: President-elect Joe Biden last Friday urged Congress to pass the roughly $900 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief bill during the lame-duck session as a starting point. (The Hill)

Health/HHS/NIH

Zients, Murthy Tapped to Head Up Biden’s Covid-19 Response: Transition co-chair and former Obama administration official Jeff Zients is set to serve as the White House’s Covid-19 coordinator and Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. surgeon general under Obama, will return to that role, but with a broader portfolio that will include acting as the top medical expert and public face of the effort. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Employment Growth Slows Sharply in November Amid Coronavirus Surge: The unemployment rate met expectations, though it fell along with a drop in the labor force participation rate to 61.5%. A more encompassing measure of joblessness edged lower to 12% while the number of Americans outside the labor force remains just above 100 million. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Devos Extends Student Loan Pause Through January: The Trump administration last Friday granted an extra month of student loan relief to the 41 million Americans who have been benefiting from a freeze on monthly payments and interest that was set to expire at the end of the year. The relief was set to expire on Dec. 31 but will now end on Jan. 31. (Politico)

National Academies Release Guidance on Altering Student Behavior, COVID Testing: “Making a behavior easy to start and rewarding to repeat, tying a behavior to existing habits, providing alternatives to unwanted behaviors, and providing specific descriptions of desired behaviors are strategies that campus leaders can employ to make it more likely that protective behaviors will become habitual for students,” the National Academies said in a press release about the report. (Inside Higher Ed)

Ex-teacher’s Union Boss Makes Play to be Biden’s Education Chief: Lily Eskelsen García is expected to score the backing of more than 40 Hispanic groups that are finalizing a letter endorsing her for the position. (Politico)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Mnuchin in Talks with Fannie-Freddie Overseer on Rushed Redo: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s made no decision on actions that might be taken at the end of the Trump administration to free Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from U.S. control, while raising the possibility that the companies could be released before they are fully capitalized. (Bloomberg)

New PPP Loan Data Reveals Most of the $525 Billion Given Out Went to Larger Businesses: After months of litigation, the Small Business Administration finally revealed the name of every business that received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program last Tuesday, and early analysis reveals that a majority of the forgivable funds—intended for smaller businesses needing emergency relief for payroll, rent or mortgage expenses—actually went to bigger businesses, including some with ties to President Donald Trump and his administration. (Forbes)             

Transportation/DOT    

Biden Administration Has Many Hurdles to Leap in Addressing Surface Transportation Infrastructure: Transportation experts examine the difficult issues involved in both the reauthorization of a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization, as well as any large additional infrastructure stimulus package, including new or existing revenue streams and the difficultly in squaring these decisions with the push to move towards wider adoption of electric or hybrid vehicles. (Logistics Management)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Arecibo Radio Telescope Platform Collapses, What Comes Next? The radio astronomy community was stunned last week by the complete collapse of the 900-ton platform of instruments and other equipment that for more than 5 decades were suspended over the massive Arecibo radio telescope dish in Puerto Rico. The National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the observatory, warned of exactly such a scenario two weeks ago in deciding to decommission rather than repair the telescope after structural damage this summer. The question now is whether to rebuild or move on. (Space Policy Online)

Industry Privately Urges Biden Team to Retain National Space Council: Members of Biden’s transition team held a series of meetings last week with commercial space leaders from across the industry to get their take on the National Space Council, which was largely positive. Biden has not announced whether or not he will retain the panel, which has historically been led by the Vice President. (Politico)

White House Asks Congress to Remove Europa Clipper SLS Requirement: In the last few years, NASA has sought launching Europa Clipper on a commercial launch vehicle, like the Falcon Heavy, rather than the SLS, arguing that it needs initial SLS vehicles for its Artemis lunar exploration program and that using a commercial alternative could save up to $1.5 billion. (Space News)

ESA Signs Contract for First Space Debris Removal Mission: The European Space Agency (ESA) has finalized an 86 million Euro ($104 million) contract with Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to complete the world’s first operational space debris removal mission. (Space News)

Soldiers Don’t Trust Robot Battle Buddies. Can Virtual Training Fix That? One might think that troops would be eager to incorporate robots and automata into combat operations, since military robots are intended to save soldiers, airmen, etc., from the “dull, dirty, dangerous” jobs. But a new survey from the U.S. Air Force’s Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs shows that frontline military personnel are actually more apprehensive than their commanders about it. (Government Executive)

DHS & Immigration

Judge Orders Trump Administration to Restore DACA as it Existed Under Obama: Under the order filed this past Friday, Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn instructed the Department of Homeland Security to begin accepting new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as soon as today. (NPR)

Justice Department Sues Facebook over H-1B Workers: The lawsuit alleges that between January 2018 until at least Sept. 18, 2019, Facebook refused to recruit or actively hire qualified U.S. workers for more than 2,600 positions. (Roll Call)

Judiciary/DOJ

Barr Taps Durham as Special Counsel, Pushing Probe into Biden Era: Attorney General William Barr has appointed U.S. attorney John Durham as a special counsel to investigate the origins of the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Politico)

Cyber

Cybersecurity Regulation And Litigation - the 800 Pound Gorilla in the Boardroom: U.S. Federal regulators have been significantly escalating penalties related to cybersecurity and data privacy, and they have come from a range of regulators that includes the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Department of Health and Human Services. (Forbes)

New Internet Browsing Tools Bolster DoD Cybersecurity: With an increasingly expanding attack surface – exacerbated by droves of employees now working remotely – officials at the Defense Information Systems Agency say the organization’s new cloud-based browsing tool boasts stronger security for the Department of Defense networks. (C4ISR Net)

EPA & DOI

Trump Admin to Sell Oil Leases at Arctic Wildlife Refuge Before Biden Takes Office: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in a statement last Thursday that it expects to conduct the sale on Jan. 6 via video, with a notice announcing the sale is expected to be published in the Federal Register this week, despite opposition from the incoming Biden Administration. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Who is Ali Zaidi? He Might be Biden's Climate Adviser: A top choice to become President-elect Joe Biden's domestic climate adviser is a former Republican and an immigrant from Pakistan, who is currently driving New York's effort to be a national leader on renewable energy. (E&E News)