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Window On Washington - February 15, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 7

Feb 15, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is not in session this week, and the House is in a committee work week. On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on expanding broadband access, and on Thursday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will hold a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 briefing, and the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on pathways to a clean energy future. On Friday, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on COVID-19 vaccines.

FY22 Appropriations. It is expected that Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the new chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations panels, will announce in the coming weeks that Democrats will reinstate earmarks for the FY22 appropriations bills. Democrats indicated there will be transparency throughout the process, such as in disclosing who requested the earmark and which entity would get the money. The eligibility for earmarks will be limited to state and local governments and nonprofits that carry out quasi-government functions, and there will be limits on how much of each spending bill can be allocated towards earmarks. Members also will not be able to request earmarks for entities that they have financial ties to. More details on the return of earmarks can be found from Punchbowl News here.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Several House committees have advanced their portion of the next COVID-19 package, and the House Budget Committee will now start to assemble the different pieces into one bill and begin to mark up the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation this week. The bill is expected to pass the House by the end of February, but it remains unclear whether there will be any Senate hearings or committee markups on the bill. There is a chance that House and Senate leaders will instead privately work out any issues rather than have the Senate go through a committee process. As it stands, there are some provisions in the current House bill that do not have the support of all Democratic Senators, which may prevent the Senate from passing the bill unless it is revised. Should the Senate amend the House’s version of the bill, it will be sent back to the House for another vote. Congressional Democratic leadership hopes the bill will pass both chambers and reach President Joe Biden’s desk before unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

Biden Administration. President Biden will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin tomorrow to participate in a CNN Presidential Town Hall, where he will discuss his plans to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be his first official presidential trip. He will also visit Kalamazoo, Michigan on Thursday, where he will visit Pfizer’s manufacturing site that is producing their COVID-19 vaccine.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Power-Sharing Rules Spark Big Senate Appropriations Realignment: Senate Appropriations Committee leaders last Friday announced subcommittee leaders and membership for the 117th Congress, including big changes in Democratic leadership that are the result of a new power-sharing rule. In total, nine of the 12 subcommittees have new Democratic leaders. (Roll Call)

House Oversight Committee Advances COVID-19 Relief Legislation: The House Oversight and Reform Committee’s provisions of the broader coronavirus package will allocate $350 billion for states, localities, Tribes, and territories; $570 million for emergency leave for federal and postal workers; and $117 million for oversight entities to promote transparency and accountability of all federal coronavirus relief funds. (House Oversight Committee)

Health

House Energy and Commerce Advances Committee’s Portion of COVID-19 Relief Package: The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week passed four proposals for the COVID-19 relief budget reconciliation package. The legislation includes funding for vaccines, testing, contact tracing, behavioral and mental health services, expanding broadband access, and more. (House Energy and Commerce)

GOP Rep. Ron Wright Dies After COVID Diagnosis: Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX) has died after a recent battle with coronavirus, his campaign office said last Monday. Wright, 67, tested positive for Covid-19 last month and had been hospitalized in Dallas. He also was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 and had been hospitalized last September for complications related to his cancer treatments. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Senators Advance Walsh for Labor: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee last Thursday advanced the nomination of Martin J. Walsh to be Labor secretary by a vote of 18-4. (Roll Call)

House Panel Advances $15 Minimum Wage as Democrats Try to Include It in Covid Relief Bill: The House Education and Labor Committee advanced its piece of the $1.9 trillion aid package in a 27-21 party-line vote last Wednesday. The proposal includes a provision to gradually raise the federal pay floor to $15 an hour by 2025. (CNBC)

House Ways and Means Panel Advances Portion of Relief Package That Includes $1,400 Checks: The House Ways and Means Committee last Thursday advanced a key portion of Democrats’ coronavirus relief package that includes stimulus payments of up to $1,400 per person and an expansion of the child tax credit. (The Hill)

Education

Senators Advance Cardona for Education: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Thursday advanced the nominations of Miguel Cardona to be Education secretary by a vote of 17-5. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing

Reddit, Robinhood, and Citadel CEOs to Testify at GameStop Hearing this Week: Executives at the center of the GameStop trading saga — including from Reddit and Robinhood, plus hedge funds Melvin Capital and Citadel — will testify before Congress this week, the House Financial Services committee announced last Friday. (Axios)

Committee Approves $50 Billion in Small Business Aid for COVID Relief Package: The House Small Business Committee approved legislation last week to provide small businesses with $50 billion in emergency aid to recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The bill includes funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, $15 billion for the Targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan, $25 billion for a new program at the SBA to support restaurants and other food/drinking establishments, $1.25 billion for the SBA’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program, and a handful of other provisions. (House Small Business Committee)

Transportation

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Advances Their Portion of Relief Package: The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s portion of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget reconciliation bill includes $50 billion for FEMA’s disaster relief fund, $30 billion for transit, $8 billion for transit, $3 billion for the Economic Development Administration, $3 billion to support aerospace manufacturing, and $1.5 billion for Amtrak. (House Transportation Committee)

Space/NASA & NOAA

House Science, Space and Technology Panel Announces Subcommittee Chairs: Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) announced the subcommittee chairs last Friday. Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced the slate of Republican ranking members last Thursday. (House Science Committee)

Defense

Senator Tester of Montana to Chair Defense Appropriations Panel: The role gives him new power to advocate for his state’s lone military installation - Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls - which is home to a portion of the nation’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, and state politicians hope the defense installation will be the site of its intended replacement, the new Ground Base Strategic Deterrent. (The Hill)

Homeland Security & Immigration

House Dems Push DHS to Stop Working with Local Police on Immigration: The push comes as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under recently-confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, is set to release new guidelines on how the agency will handle enforcement after four years of the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration agenda. (Politico)

Judiciary/Justice

Senate Acquits Trump of Inciting Deadly Capitol Attack: The Senate voted last Saturday to acquit former President Donald Trump of inciting the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6. In the end, seven Republicans supported a conviction — 10 votes short of the two-thirds threshold required. The 57-43 vote marked the first time since 1868 that a majority of the Senate voted to convict a president on an impeachment charge. (Politico)

Cyber

Lawmakers Concerned CISA Lacks ‘Centralized Visibility’ to Hunt Agency Cyber Threats: A provision in the NDAA gives CISA the authority to proactively hunt for threats across civilian federal networks, but some Members said CISA doesn’t yet have the “centralized visibility or authority” to respond quickly to incidents - Chris Krebs, CISA’s former director, told the committee it will need to deploy detection capabilities, hire more analysts and get cooperation from the agencies it’s protecting to make the most of these new authorities. (Federal News Network)

Agriculture

House Ag Advances Bill to Provide $16B to Industry for Pandemic Relief: House Democrats last Wednesday evening advanced a proposal to provide more than $16 billion in relief for the food and agriculture industry. The House Agriculture Committee approved the measure 25-23 along party lines after considering about a dozen amendments during a lengthy markup. (Politico)

Energy

Gina Raimondo Nomination Rekindles “Fish vs. Turbine” Fight: Wind supporters and critics alike see her nomination as an attempt to address the logjam of federal offshore wind permits piled up along the East Coast – the Governor battled with fishermen and former President Trump’s NOAA in 2019 over a plan to limit fishermen's financial losses associated with a proposed $2 billion offshore wind project in Rhode Island. (E&E News)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Biden Budget Release Faces Extended Delay: The Biden administration still has no public timeline for sending the president's first budget request to Congress. While first-year presidential budget delays have become something of a tradition, initial "skinny" versions have often come sooner. This year, that might be an aggressive timeline since administration officials say the Office of Management and Budget is still dealing with the aftereffects of obstinance from the outgoing Trump administration during the presidential transition. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

White House to Ship COVID-19 Vaccines Directly to Community Health Centers: Community health centers will be receiving coronavirus vaccines directly from the federal government this week, White House officials announced last Tuesday. The goal of the new program is to focus on equitable vaccine distribution in order to reach traditionally underserved areas. (The Hill)

Biden Announces Deal for 200 Million More COVID-19 Vaccines: President Biden has finalized deals to buy 200 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of July, increasing the likelihood of delivering on his promise to have all Americans inoculated by mid-summer. (NPR)

Department of Education

CDC Presses for Schools to Reopen with Precautions: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last Friday released long-awaited guidance on safely reopening schools, emphasizing the importance of having schools open as long as proper safety precautions are followed. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Main Street Lending Program Spent Only 3% of Total: The Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program, which was designed to provide emergency support to midsize U.S. companies during the pandemic, lent out a total $17.5 billion — or just 3% of its potential capacity — according to data released Feb. 9 by the central bank. (Transport Topics)

Transportation/DOT

Automakers Signal Support for Biden’s Electric-Vehicle Vision: Just weeks into Joe Biden’s presidency, some of the same automobile companies that once pushed Donald Trump to loosen Obama-era fuel economy standards are now lining up to embrace the idea of an emissions-free future. (Roll Call)

Biden Administration Talks Infrastructure — But Not a Price Tag: President Joe Biden met in the Oval Office last week with senators and others who will be key to moving his climate and infrastructure goals through Congress, but after the meeting officials made clear that they still are figuring out just how big to go with any eventual legislative package, illustrating the challenges ahead. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA to Use Commercial Launch Vehicle for Europa Clipper: NASA is no longer considering launching the Europa Clipper mission on the Space Launch System, deciding instead to launch the spacecraft on a commercial rocket it will procure in the next year for a planned launch in 2024. While using a commercial rocket will increase travel time to Europa and operations costs, it will greatly reduce launch costs and schedule risk. (Space News)

Report Recommends NASA Redouble Nuclear Propulsion Efforts: A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes that if the goal is to send humans to Mars in 2039, an aggressive nuclear propulsion research and development program is needed and there is no time to waste. (Space Policy Online)

Industry Questions U.S. Government Support for Commercial Remote Sensing: Remote sensing startups moving into the defense market would like to see DoD and other agencies develop long-term plans to procure commercial capabilities - while a number of programs fund studies and experiments, some companies say that is not enough to help the industry generate revenue and attract more private investment. (Space News)

Defense/DOD

The U.S. Navy’s Postgraduate School is Taking a Stab at Metal 3D Printing: The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., took delivery late last year of a new Xerox 3D metal printer that the school hopes will advance what’s possible to manufacture at sea, easing the burden on the Navy’s supply chain. (Defense News)

DHS & Immigration

Biden to Begin Admitting Migrants Forced by Trump to Wait in Mexico: As part of the new administration’s efforts to overhaul the immigration system, the Department of Homeland Security, starting this Friday, will begin the first phase of a program to gradually let in migrants with active cases under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. (Politico)

EPA & DOI

Thousands of Drilling Permit Applications Await Decisions by Interior: The onshore permit application backlog was at 5,477 when President Biden took office in January and has risen to 5,505 as of Feb. 4. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Big Business Squirms as Biden Tightens Climate Regulations: Corporate America is entering the Biden era with bold public pledges to fight climate change. But as Democrats seek to hold businesses to those promises using a wide range of regulatory agencies and tools, they're facing a big battle. (Politico)