Window On Washington - July 1, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 27
Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital
Congress. The House and Senate stand in recess during the week of July 4th, and will return to action the following week.
White House. The President was attending the G20 Summit in Japan last week and over the weekend, when on Sunday he took a step no other sitting American president had before, crossing into North Korea with its leader, Kim Jong Un — a theatrical gesture meant to kick start stalled nuclear negotiations between the two countries. An invitation for Kim to visit him in Washington was also extended. On the trade front, the President also moved to assure allies that trade talks with China continued, while also cautioning that no deal may be struck and trying to frame that outcome as a “win”.
Budget & Appropriations. Last week saw yet another flurry of appropriations activity in the House, as the second FY20 “minibus” appropriations package of 5 separate bills crossed the finish line early in the week, with the House then moving to consider and pass the 10th bill of the year, the Financial Services bill. The week ended in bitter acrimony however, when the Senate sent over a bipartisan (84-14 vote) border supplemental package telling the House that they would not consider going to conference or voting on a bill the House further amended. Progressives urged their leadership to push back, but ultimately Speaker Pelosi brought the unamended Senate bill to the floor and it passed 305-102 with some key Democrats on leadership and appropriations voting against it. The House Democrats came up two short of their goal of passing all 12 FY20 bills by the recess, only the Legislative Branch (hamstrung by disagreement over the issue of a Congressional pay raise) and DHS bills remain, and as of now, Democrats have no plans to put the DHS bill on the floor, according to a Democratic aide, but they are intent to keep trying to win over the caucus.
Race for the White House 2020. The first Democratic debates of the 2020 race took place late last week, featuring the “top 20” candidates and lively arguments and clashes on the topics of “medicare for all,” race relations, the use of military force abroad and other issues. With a record number of viewers tuning in between the two nights, a record number of candidates talked over one another, contorted themselves ideologically, evaded straightforward questions and traded insults both implicit and explicit. After the debates, Politico reported that top party officials are increasingly concerned that the unifying objective of defeating Trump in 2020 likely won’t be sufficient to ward off what everyone now believes will be a long, divisive primary. On the Republican side, no clear realistic alternative to Trump has emerged, and his campaign has already held its big kick off rally in Florida – a swing state of critical importance to the President.
Last Week in the Nation's Capital
House Democrats Launch Investigation into Trump Administration's Medicaid Changes: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) sent a letter Thursday to the Department of Health and Human Services that asks for information about the administration’s attempts to convince states to make conservative changes to their Medicaid programs. The administration has been trying to sell states on the merits of imposing block grants, or a per-person spending cap, without congressional approval. (The Hill)
Internal Cracks Emerge in GOP Strategy to Avoid Shutdown: Senate Republicans are struggling to unite behind a plan to fund the government after budget talks have ground to a halt. Congress has until the end of September to prevent the second government closure of the year, but Republicans are struggling to overcome the first roadblock — agreeing to top-line defense and nondefense figures or deciding what comes next if they can’t. (The Hill)
Senate Backs Massive Defense Bill, Targets China, Sets Iran Vote: The Senate last week passed a $750-billion defense policy bill with provisions that target China on issues from technology transfers to the sale of synthetic opioids, pushing to counter growing Chinese influence around the world. (Reuters)
House Panel Floats New Cybersecurity Grants for State, Local Governments: As ransomware incidents against state and local governments continue to pile up, officials would likely leap at increased federal assistance for their cybersecurity needs, witnesses at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing said. (State Scoop)
Battle Lines Drawn for Mueller Testimony: The sudden announcement that special counsel Robert Mueller will testify publicly before Congress is setting the stage for an explosive mid-July on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are eager to grill Mueller for hours during back-to-back House hearings on July 17 about the findings of his 22-month investigation into Russia’s election interference in 2016 and potential obstruction by President Trump. (The Hill)
Energy & Natural Resources
Senators Try – Again – To Solve the Nuclear Waste Debacle: Last Thursday, Senators tackled the radioactive question of the nation's nuclear waste, this time with a new plan to circumvent the hot-potato politics that doomed Yucca Mountain and other proposals. A combination of new legislation that spreads out the nuclear waste burden and perhaps new technology could offer a new way forward. (Wired)
House Democrats Find Common Scapegoat for Border Bill Split — Senate Democrats: Moderate and progressive House Democrats were split last Thursday as a majority of their caucus reluctantly joined Republicans in clearing the Senate’s border funding bill for the president’s signature. But the two factions uniformly agreed on one thing: Senate Democrats had sabotaged their negotiations. (Roll Call)
Here's What's in the $4.6 Billion Border Aid Bill Passed by Congress: Amid a raging nationwide debate over the dire conditions of migrant detention centers, the U.S. House and Senate rushed to pass legislation this week to address a crisis at the U.S-Mexico border. (Texas Tribune)
House Passes Spending Bill with IRS Funding Increase: The House last week passed the financial services and general government appropriations bill H.R. 3351 (116), which includes a funding boost for the IRS in the coming fiscal year to $12 billion. It is a 6.2 percent boost, or almost $700 million, from the currently enacted level, reversing nearly a decade of budget cuts or flat funding for the agency. Among major spending categories, the legislation includes about $5.2 billion for enforcement, $4 billion for operations support and $2.6 billion for taxpayer services.
New JCT Analysis Shows SALT Cap Repeal Mostly Benefits the Rich: Repealing the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions would mostly benefit the rich, a new analysis shows. (Fox Business)
House Votes to Clamp Down on DOT Ethics Rules After Elaine Chao Reports: The House last Monday voted to forbid Department of Transportation funding from being used to violate federal ethics rules that guard against using a public office for personal gain, in response to investigations into Secretary Elaine Chao. (Politico)
NIH Probe of Foreign Ties Has Led to Undisclosed Firings—and Refunds From Institutions: An aggressive effort by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to enforce rules requiring its grantees to report foreign ties is still gathering steam. But it has already had a major impact on the U.S. biomedical research community. A senior NIH official tells ScienceInsider that universities have fired more scientists—and refunded more grant money—as a result of the effort than has been publicly known. (Science Mag)
Labor & Workforce
Democrat Senators Come Out Against DOL ‘Joint Employer’ Rule: Six of the seven senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 voiced their “strong opposition” to the Labor Department’s proposal to narrow liability for franchised businesses and companies that rely on temps and other contractors. (Bloomberg)
Space, NASA & NOAA
Propelling Exploration: Drones Are Going Interplanetary: Drones have already conquered Earth, and now they're heading out into the solar system. NASA has announced that it will launch a life-hunting rotorcraft called Dragonfly toward Saturn's huge moon Titan in 2026. Dragonfly will be much larger and more complex and capable than the tiny helicopter scout that will accompany NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission. (Space.com)
NASA Seeks Proposals for Commercial ISS Modules: NASA issued a call for proposals for commercial modules that could be added to the International Space Station, although one industry executive warns that such facilities may not be as lucrative as NASA believes. The solicitation is an appendix to the agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, a program that uses public-private partnerships to develop key exploration-related technologies. (Space News)
Trump’s Latest Acting Pentagon Chief Faces Immediate Stress Test: As the third person chosen by the Trump administration to occupy the Pentagon’s top civilian position, Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper assumes the unspoken, de facto role of serving as a bulwark to the president’s untethered tweets and occasional threats to disrupt the NATO alliance. (New York Times)
Trump Declares China Trade Truce: President Trump at the G20 summit said he'll allow U.S. companies to sell to Chinese tech giant Huawei and won't put new tariffs on China for the "time being.” Trump and President Xi Jinping's G20 meeting is only a "temporary cease-fire" in the U.S.-China trade war, but ratcheting down trade tensions with China removes "an immediate threat looming over the global economy even as a lasting peace remains elusive," Bloomberg reports. (Axios)
Supreme Court Deals Blow to Trump's Push to Add Citizenship Question to Census: The Supreme Court last week dealt an unexpected blow to the administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, prompting a threat by President Donald Trump to try to delay the count. (Politico)
Nearly 160,000 Former For-Profit College Students Sue DeVos: More than 158,000 former students at predatory for-profit colleges sued Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department on Tuesday, demanding that the Department of Education continue reviewing applications for federal loan relief. (Yahoo)
Betsy DeVos: Education 'has not Been at the top' of Trump Priorities: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that education has not been a main agenda item for President Donald Trump but that he’s been supportive of her agency’s work. (Politico)
DOE Invests Nearly $50M at National Laboratories and Universities: The U.S. Department of Energy announced $49.3 million in nuclear energy research, facility access, crosscutting technology development, and infrastructure awards for 58 advanced nuclear technology projects in 25 states. (Department of Energy)
Labor & Workforce
Michigan Prepares Today’s Workforce for Tomorrow’s Jobs: The State of Michigan is using a mix of higher education initiatives and workforce readiness programs to try and prepare its future workforce for the different manufacturing and technology jobs of the future, as automation will increasingly drive jobs away from some existing manufacturing sectors. (Machine Design)
Interior Replaces Top Regulator: The Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has replaced its top offshore regulator, Douglas Morris, according to an internal email sent to bureau staff by BSEE Director Scott Angelle. Morris is being replaced as chief of the Offshore Regulatory Program by Stacey Noem, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who has been at the bureau for four years. Noem, who is BSEE's national program manager for investigations, will fill the position on an acting basis, according to Angelle's one-paragraph email addressed to his "BSEE teammates." (E&E News)
Homeland Security Chief’s Future Uncertain After a Right-Wing Media Assault: After another tumultuous shakeup, all three US agencies responsible for immigration policy are being led by new officials. Now there’s growing concern that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees it all, might soon need to find a new leader too. (Quartz)