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Window On Washington - February 17, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 7

Feb 17, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Recess. Both the House and Senate are in recess this week.

Appropriations Kick-off. The Administration released its FY 21 budget request last week, marking the official start to the annual appropriations process. When Congress returns, the Appropriations Committees will begin budget hearings. A National Journal presentation outlining the process and showing top-line levels from the FY 21 budget request is available here.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Without a Budget, How Will Democrats Communicate Their Fiscal Priorities?: House Democrats do not plan to draft a budget resolution this year, so how do they communicate their fiscal priorities with voters ahead of a crucial 2020 campaign? The answer depends on whom you ask, but it boils down to this: Democrats have shown through the appropriations process which programs they think taxpayer dollars should be spent on and through their legislative agenda where they think additional investments are needed. But when it comes to addressing the trajectory of $1 trillion annual deficits, Democrats point the blame at Republicans’ 2017 tax law and have largely opted against offering their own solutions. (Roll Call)

Deficit Spikes 25 Percent Through January: The federal deficit through January climbed to $389 billion, a 25 percent spike over the same period last year, according to Treasury Department data. The Treasury estimates the deficit will surpass $1 trillion this year for the first time since 2012. Overall receipts were down since last year by $68 billion, largely due to a drop in individual corporate taxes. (The Hill)

Health

Pelosi's Staff Huddles with Aides in Both Parties on 'Surprise' Medical Billing: House aides in both parties met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) staff on Friday to try to bridge the gap between rival bills to protect patients from getting massive, “surprise” medical bills. But there was no breakthrough in the meeting, sources said. (The Hill)

McConnell Forces Senate Votes on Anti-abortion Bills: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) set up two votes on anti-abortion bills for later this month, a move intended to excite conservatives and put a vulnerable Senate Democrat in a difficult position. The Senate majority leader teed up votes on a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and also the "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act." Both bills have been rejected by the Senate in recent years after failing to clear the chamber's 60-vote threshold. (Politico)

Environment/Interior

US Carbon Price Group Boosts Lobbying in Congress, Releases Plan: The Climate Leadership Council’s plan aims to halve carbon emissions by 2035 from 2005 levels with a tax starting at $40 per ton. While that would make products like gasoline more expensive, the plan would return dividends to families of about $2,000 in the first year. (Reuters)

Defense

Senate Passes Iran War Powers Resolution Despite Trump's Opposition: The Senate passed an Iran War Powers resolution last Thursday, a rare measure that was approved with bipartisan support despite the fact that it has been opposed by President Trump and aims to rein in his ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval. (CNN)

Inhofe Aims for Late-May NDAA Markup: The Senate Armed Services Committee will likely consider its version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) during the week of May 18. According to an NDAA schedule showed to reporters by Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the full Senate is slated to take up the legislation in June. The House and Senate would begin conference negotiations in July and aim to pass a compromise bill before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. The panel has also set a March 24 deadline for senators to submit letters outlining their priorities they want included in the bill. (Clark Hill Insight)

Education

College Lobbying Declined After Earmarks: All told, the industry spent about $74.5 million to lobby Congress in 2019, roughly $22 million less than the $96.4 million it spent in 2010. (Inside Higher Ed)

Transportation

House Lawmakers Close to Draft Bill on Self-Driving Cars: House lawmakers last Tuesday touted progress toward bipartisan legislation on self-driving cars, with plans to release draft language soon. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

House Democrats Introduced New Immigration Bill: The New Way Forward Act (HR 5383), among other things, would repeal criminal penalties for improper entry and reentry into the country. (Clark Hill Insight)

Agriculture

USDA Watchdog Grilled On Capitol Hill: The Agriculture Department’s internal auditors got an earful from several House Democrats last week over the pace of their probes into various USDA policies, as well as the department’s refusal to investigate Brazilian-owned meatpacking giant JBS, at a hearing to examine USDA policies. (Politico)

Justice

Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows Picked as Top Republicans on Key Committees: The House GOP has selected two of President Trump’s fiercest allies to serve as the top Republicans on a pair of key congressional committees, placing the lawmakers directly on the frontlines of beating back Democratic oversight efforts. (Politico)

Barr to Testify before House Judiciary Panel: Attorney General William Barr has agreed to give testimony before the House Judiciary Committee next month amid growing questions over the administration's alleged interference in the criminal case of a close ally of President Trump. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

Republicans Expect Trump To Withdraw Controversial Fed Nominee: Senate Republican sources expect President Trump to withdraw his nomination of Judy Shelton to serve on the Federal Reserve Board following bipartisan resistance on Capitol Hill. The White House has not made a final decision, since Trump would first need to sign off on the reversal, but Republican sources say it would be “desirable” for her to withdraw from consideration and that her nomination is “trending” in that direction. (The Hill)

Congress Looks at Taxes, Oversight, Crime in Fintech Bills: Cryptocurrencies involve cutting-edge technology, but Congress is aiming at age-old problems when it comes to financial technology legislation: taxation, crime and jurisdiction to set the rules. A review of the latest fintech-related bills by CQ Roll Call shows lawmakers’ latest efforts are focused on fostering innovation by some and making sure the technology isn’t abused by others. (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Hits Medicaid, Food Stamps in Push to Slash Domestic Spending: President Trump‘s budget request proposes billions of dollars in cuts to non-defense spending despite a budget deal he already negotiated with Congress, in addition to seeking major savings by targeting the federal safety net. About half of the savings would stem from the Trump administration’s push to overhaul mandatory spending, including changes that would curb food stamp benefits, implement Medicaid work requirements and tackle improper health payments, among other reforms. (Politico)

Trump Doesn’t Want the FDA to Regulate Tobacco: The Trump administration is proposing to strip the Food and Drug Administration of all authority to regulate tobacco products, according to budget documents. Under the budget proposal, a new agency would be created within the Department of Health and Human Services dedicated solely to regulating tobacco, including e-cigarettes. (STAT News)

White House Warns of Raising Health Costs in Debate Over Surprise Medical Bills: The White House on stepped farther into the contentious debate over legislation to protect patients from surprise medical bills. A statement warned against the overuse of arbitration to resolve billing disputes, saying it could drive up health care costs. That means the White House is raising concerns with an approach from the House Ways and Means Committee in favor of a rival approach favored by both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee. (The Hill)

Defense/DOD

Pentagon Budget Request Increases R&D Funding, Cuts Legacy Planes: President Trump’s defense budget request for fiscal 2021 includes major investments in research and development portfolios as well as “crucial” technologies as part of what the Pentagon is branding an “irreversible implementation” of the National Defense Strategy. (Defense News)

Pentagon to Shift $3.8B for Fighter Planes, Ships Toward Border Wall: The Trump administration plans to sap money intended to build fighter jets, ships, vehicles and National Guard equipment in order to fund barriers on the US-Mexico border, the Pentagon told Congress on Thursday, a move that has agitated Democrats and even drawn condemnation from a top House Republican. (Politico)

Trade

Trump Budget Would Beef up Trade Representative Office to Carry out China and Mexico Deals: The White House proposed a $4 million increase for the US Trade Representative's Office in its fiscal year 2021 budget, indicating that the administration sees a need for a greater capacity to manage trade deals and tariffs. (Washington Examiner)

Labor and Workforce

H-2B Guest Worker Visas Criticized From the Left and Right; Employers Clamor for Foreign Workers: As employers have flocked to the program critics at opposite ends of the political spectrum, including devoted Trump backers and liberal labor activists, have all railed against the program for years, contending that companies exploit it to replace American workers with cheaper foreign replacements. (New Orleans Times Picayune)

Labor Force Participation Rate Mystery: Why Have So Many Americans Stopped Working, and What If Anything Can Policymakers Do? In many ways, it's the best of times in the hot US labor market. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low, with joblessness for minorities at or near all-time lows. However, the US labor force participation rate remains stuck near long-term lows. (Investors Business Daily)

Energy/DOE

Trump’s 2021 Budget Drowns Science Agencies in Red Ink, Again: It’s another sea of red ink for federal research funding programs in President Trump’s latest budget proposal. The 2021 budget request to Congress released today calls for deep, often double-digit cuts to R&D spending at major science agencies. The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science is funded at $5.760 billion, which represents a cut of 17%, or $1.164 billion. (Science)

Dept. of Ed

Another Trump Budget, Likely DOA: President Trump last Monday called for a $5.6 billion, or 7.8 percent, cut in Department of Education funding and reductions for most core funders of academic research, but also proposed a nearly $900 million increase in career and technical education funding that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called “perhaps the largest increase in CTE ever.” (Inside Higher Ed)

DOJ

DOJ Seeks 71 Percent Bump from Congress for Antitrust: The increase — the biggest increase sought for antitrust in recent memory, according to DOJ officials — is another indicator that the agency is serious about its pending investigations into tech giants like Google and Facebook. (Politico)

DHS/Immigration

Trump Administration Diverts $3.8 Billion in Pentagon Funding to Border Wall: The latest funding diversion takes $1.5 billion originally allocated for buying equipment for National Guard and Reserve units, such as trucks, generators and spare parts, as well as fighter jets and ships. (NPR)

Trump’s 2021 Budget Proposal Doesn’t Stop at the Border Wall: President Trump may be proposing trillions in spending cuts over the next decade in his 2021 budget request — but none of the cuts would affect the immigration enforcement agencies, which would instead get a significant boost. (Vox)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Trump Budget Slashes EPA Funding, Environmental Programs: President Trump’s budget would eliminate 50 EPA programs and impose massive cuts to research and development, while also nixing money for the Energy Star rating system. (The Hill)

Cyber

Cyber Winners and Losers from Trump’s Budget: The President’s FY 21 budget proposal spends more money on cyber in some parts of the government (DoD, DOJ) and cuts back elsewhere (CISA, NIST). (Politico)

Agriculture/USDA

Proposed Cuts for USDA in FY21: The White House released the President's budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 last week, which proposes many of the same cuts the Trump administration has proposed for USDA and agricultural programs in past years. Collectively, the budget plan calls for reducing spending on crop insurance and other farm programs by an average of roughly $4.3 billion a year, or $42.3 billion over ten years. The budget also calls for major changes to food-aid programs that would reduce those programs by $181 billion over ten years. (Progressive Farmer)

Transportation/DOT

President Trump’s FY 21 Budget Proposal: What’s In and What’s Out for Transit: President Trump unveiled his budget for Fiscal Year 2021 that includes $88.72 billion for the US Department of Transportation (USDOT). While discretionary funding for USDOT is down more than 11 percent compared to FY20 enacted levels, the total budget represents a slight increase in overall funding. (Mass Transit)

Trump’s $4.8 Trillion Budget Proposal Revisits Rejected Cuts, Addresses Infrastructure: President Trump is offering a $4.8 trillion election-year budget plan that recycles previously rejected cuts to domestic programs like food stamps and Medicaid to promise a balanced budget in 15 years — all while boosting the military and leaving Social Security and Medicare benefits untouched. (Transport Topics)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Administration Proposes 12% Boost in NASA Funding: The Trump Administration released its FY 21 budget request today. Reflecting its directive to NASA last year to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2024, the request includes a substantial increase for the agency for FY 21 and accompanying increases for the next several years. However, the request also again proposes cuts to a number of programs that Congress has rejected in the past, ensuring another intense debate over NASA priorities. (Space Policy Online)

Companies Encourage NASA to Press Ahead With LEO Commercialization Efforts: Companies interested in developing commercial space stations and related facilities in low Earth orbit are wondering if NASA’s support for such efforts has been overshadowed by the agency’s rush back to the moon, as NASA has yet to announce its plans to use $40 million in funding provided by Congress for this purpose in FY 20. (Space News)

NASA Signals Interest in Venus and Volcanoes for Next Planetary Science Missions: NASA scientists must not have had an easy decision this winter as they considered more than a dozen intriguing concepts for Discovery-class missions to explore the Solar System.  But decide they did, selecting four missions for additional study and refinement last Thursday. NASA said the proposals were chosen based on their potential science value and feasibility of development plans, through a competitive peer-review process. (Ars Technica)

Tax Reform/IRS

Trump’s Budget Seeks to Increase Funding for the Internal Revenue Service: Staff would grow by a net 1,700 positions from 2020 levels, if $400 million in “cap adjustments” to exceed spending levels in the 2019 budget agreement is included. (Government Executive)

Kudlow: New Tax Cuts Will 'Probably Come Out Sometime in September': National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow last Friday said that the White House hopes to introduce new middle-class tax cuts by the fall. (The Hill)