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Window On Washington - July 13, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 28

Jul 13, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is in recess this week, and will return Monday, July 20. House appropriators plan to approve all twelve of their FY 2021 spending bills in full committee by the end of this week. The full committee will markup Energy-Water and Labor-HHS-Education today, Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD tomorrow, and Homeland Security and Financial Services on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Senate’s appropriations process continues to be stalled, due to an impasse over a Democratic push to add additional COVID-19 response funding and policy changes affecting police departments in next year’s spending bills. At this point, it’s likely that the upper chamber won’t begin their appropriations process until September, after the August recess. Most observers have already concluded at least one stopgap funding bill will be needed to get past the end of the fiscal year and through the November elections. It’s typical for spending bills to be carried over into the following calendar year, particularly if there’s a change in control of the White House or one or both chambers of Congress.

Next COVID-19 Package. Over the past several weeks, the White House, Senate Republicans and Democrats have been laying down markers over what each side wants to be included in the final package, and negotiations will begin in earnest during the second half of July. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he expects Congress to pass a package by the end of the month that will include liability reform and funding to help reopen schools, jobs, and healthcare. Though McConnell also said additional federal aid to state and local governments is “another category we will be looking at,” the Senate’s state and local aid package is anticipated to be significantly less than the $915 billion in direct aid contained in the House’s HEROES Act. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is expected to be a major figure in the coming talks on the next rescue package, but will arrive at the table as someone who, for more than seven years in Congress, did anything but broker bipartisan peace.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected the Trump administration’s calls to limit the next coronavirus relief package to $1 trillion, arguing that Congress will need to approve at least double that amount amid a surge in cases. One can suspect that whatever is ultimately passed will be a compromise between the Senate’s SMART Act and the House’s HEROES Act. At the very least, the Senate should provide more flexibility to local governments in how they use the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund aid that was part of the CARES Act.

Legislative Forecast and Appropriations Tracker. National Journal’s Legislative Forecast for July provides an overview of enacted coronavirus response legislation and potential provisions to be included in Phase 4 legislation. This deck also includes an FY21 appropriations tracker and upcoming legislative deadlines for the 116th Congress.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

McConnell Opens Door to Direct Payments in Next Coronavirus Bill: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared to open the door last Monday to including some direct payments to Americans in a future coronavirus relief bill. (The Hill)

Pelosi Rejects White House's $1 Trillion Price Tag for Pandemic Relief: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last Thursday rejected the Trump administration’s calls to limit the next coronavirus relief package to $1 trillion, arguing that Congress will need to approve at least double that amount amid a surge in cases. (Politico)

Health

Labor-HHS-Education Spending Bill Advances Out of Subcommittee: A House Appropriations subcommittee last Tuesday advanced a bill that would provide $221 billion for the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services departments along with other agencies in fiscal 2021, including $196.5 billion in regular discretionary funding. The bill will be marked up by the full committee today. (Clark Hill Insight)

Top Vaccine Developers to Testify Before House Subcommittee: Officials from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna and Pfizer will testify on July 21 before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee. All but Pfizer have received federal funding to develop their coronavirus vaccines, and all are also participating in Operation Warp Speed, which aims to deliver 300 million safe and effective vaccine doses by January. (Politico)

Health Insurers Call on Congress to Provide New Funding for Coverage Amid Pandemic: The two main health insurance lobbying groups, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, wrote a letter to congressional leaders on Friday making a range of requests for the next coronavirus response package, expected later this month. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Congress Wary on Future Aid as Well-Connected Businesses Rake in Millions: The revelation that well-heeled businesses and nonprofits benefited from emergency small business loans is making it more likely that Congress will impose new limits on aid in its next rescue plan for employers and workers. (Politico)

Transportation

House Subcommittee Advances Transportation-HUD Spending Bill: The House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee last Wednesday agreed by voice vote to advance a $75.9 billion fiscal 2021 spending bill as well as emergency funding of an additional $75 billion in spending for the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments and related agencies. The bill will move to a full committee markup on Tuesday. (Clark Hill Insight)

Wicker, Bennet Introduce Infrastructure Bonds Bill: Legislation that would create certain “direct-pay” taxable municipal bonds as a way to finance public projects during the pandemic was recently introduced by two key senators. (Transportation Topics)

Banking & Housing

Senate Panel to Vote on Controversial Trump Fed Pick Shelton: The Senate Banking Committee announced Friday that it will vote July 21 on Judy Shelton’s nomination to the Fed board. Democrats are expected to unanimously oppose her nomination and several Republicans have expressed concerns about her unconventional economic stances. (The Hill)

Agriculture

Senate’s Ag Relief Will be in Line with House’s: Senator Hoeven (R-ND) says that the Senate’s coronavirus aid package is likely to include a similar level to what was in the House-passed HEROES Act: $33 billion. (Agri-Pulse)

House Backs State Suit to Reverse Trump Attempts at SNAP Work Rule Crackdown Amid Pandemic: Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), Chair of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, shared last Wednesday the House filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York to reverse the USDA’s rule to strip SNAP benefits away from able-bodied adults without dependents. (House Agriculture Committee)

Justice

Commerce-Justice-Science Bill Pushes Police Overhaul: The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a $71.5 billion Commerce-Justice-Science fiscal 2021 funding bill last Tuesday with a package of police overhauls that could kick off a battle with the administration over the federal government’s role in local law enforcement. Overall, the bill would cut $1.7 billion from the current enacted spending authority, reflecting the completion of the 2020 census, but it includes increases for the National Science Foundation, Commerce and Justice Departments compared to President Trump’s budget request from earlier this year. The bill will move to a full committee markup tomorrow. (Clark Hill Insight)

Ousted Manhattan Federal Prosecutor Tells House Panel That Barr's Plans to Replace Him Were 'Unprecedented, Unnecessary and Unexplained': Geoffrey Berman, the former US attorney in Manhattan fired last month following a tense standoff with Attorney General William Barr, told a congressional panel Thursday that Barr had pressured him to resign and had warned he could be harming his future job prospects if he did not do so. (CNN)

Defense

House Appropriations Defense Panel Approves Pentagon Spending Bill: The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee last Wednesday approved its fiscal 2021 Pentagon funding bill. The panel met in a closed session. No other details of the markup were made public. The defense panel was the last of the 12 Appropriations subcommittees to approve its annual spending bill, which will move to a full committee markup this Tuesday. (Clark Hill Insight)

Defense Spending Bill Finds Creative Ways to Shift Billions: As is their custom, appropriators have managed to write a fiscal 2021 Defense spending bill in the House, which will soon be mirrored in the Senate, that adds billions of dollars for programs that did not make the cut in the president’s budget. (Roll Call)

House Defense Spending Report Shows Bad Blood with Pentagon: A House panel report accompanying the latest Pentagon spending bill reveals enormous ill will between defense appropriators and the department they fund. (Roll Call)

Military Construction-VA Spending Bill Advances to Floor: House appropriators last Thursday approved a $115.5 billion measure that would fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction and housing projects for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, but not without a bit of partisan acrimony. Republican appropriators said they don’t fully support the Democrat-drafted Military Construction-VA bill, citing emergency spending on veterans’ health care programs and language blocking the Trump administration’s ability to divert funds from military bases to border wall construction. (Clark Hill Insight)

Space/NASA & NOAA

House Republicans Criticize NASA Spending Bill: While NASA Administrator Bridenstine tried to put a positive spin on it, several Republican members of the House criticized their colleagues for a draft FY 2021 spending bill they believe inadequately funds NASA, as it rejects a requested 12% increase intended to ramp up lunar robotic and human exploration programs, and instead proposes to leave the agency’s funding at FY20 levels. (Space News)

Senator Cantwell Opposes Jacobs NOAA Nomination After IG Report Release: The top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), came out in opposition to the nomination of Neil Jacobs to be Administrator of NOAA last week after release of the full Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General report on “Sharpiegate”, putting a final Senate vote on his stalled nomination further in doubt. (Space Policy Online)

Energy

House Subpanel Advances Energy-Water Spending Bill: The House Appropriations Committee subpanel that oversees spending for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and other energy and water agencies approved its $49.6 billion funding bill by a voice vote last week. The bill, made public last Monday, would provide $41 billion to the Department of Energy in annual funding, a $2.3 billion boost over fiscal 2020, $7.63 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers and $1.66 billion to the Bureau of Reclamation – both slight decreases. The bill will move to full committee markup today. (Clark Hill Insight)

Energy-Water Bill Urges Grid Security, Bars Army Corps Revamping: An energy and water spending measure for fiscal 2021 that would block President Donald Trump’s revamping of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and protect the U.S. power grid from cyber threats will head to the House Appropriations Committee today. (Bloomberg)

Environment/Interior

House Interior-Environment Bill Advanced with Party-Line Vote: The House Appropriations Committee last Friday voted 30-19 to advance a $36.8 billion fiscal 2021 Interior-Environment spending bill, setting up the measure for floor consideration. The bill was advanced along party lines by the Democrat-led panel as Republicans objected to provisions they said would add controversial policy riders and enable federal fiscal irresponsibility. Democrats rejected a GOP amendment to remove policy riders that the minority described as “poison pills.” (Clark Hill Insight)

Committee Votes to Block Trump's 'Secret Science' EPA Rule: Scientists have decried the 2018 rule, which the administration sought to broaden in March, as an effort to block the EPA from being able to use significant amounts of research in its rulemaking. (The Hill)

EPA Sets Date to End Reduced Enforcement; Democrats Are Unmoved: House Democrats say the EPA’s agreement to end its controversial decision to relax enforcement of air and water pollution regulations during the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t absolve the agency of other transgressions. (Roll Call)

Homeland Security

House Homeland Security Funding Bill Advances to Full Committee: A House Appropriations subcommittee approved by voice vote its fiscal 2021 Homeland Security funding legislation, advancing the measure Tuesday to the full committee. No amendments were offered. The legislation provides a gross total of $50.7 billion in discretionary funding. It includes no money for President Trump’s border wall and imposes several restrictions on the ability of the administration to transfer money from other accounts for this purpose. It also dramatically limits immigrant detention. (Clark Hill Insight)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

Republicans Discussing Coronavirus Aid Package Contours: The Trump administration would support another round of tax rebate checks and help for restaurants, hotels and airlines as part of the next coronavirus aid package, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last Thursday. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

HHS Allocates Gilead's COVID-19 Drug Remdesivir to Four Hardest Hit States: More than 11,000 courses of remdesivir have been distributed to Texas, Florida, California and Arizona on Friday and today. HHS said that other states will also receive the drug today. (Reuters)

Pence, Azar Reassure Governors Trump Won't End Virus Emergency Declaration: Vice President Pence and HHS Secretary Azar strongly indicated to governors that the Trump administration will extend the coronavirus public health emergency before it expires later this month, providing the firmest assurances yet the administration won’t pull back the declaration as infections continue to surge. (Politico)

Trump Administration Moves to Formally Withdraw US from WHO: The White House has officially moved to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO), a senior administration official confirmed last Tuesday. (The Hill)

Defense/DOD

Milley says Confederates Committed ‘Treason,’ Backs Review of Army Base Names: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley last Thursday condemned Confederate leaders as traitors and said he supports a review of Army bases named after those who fought against the Union, a viewpoint that puts him at odds with the commander in chief. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

Jobless Claims Fall, Even as States Reimpose Restrictions: 1.3 million people applied for initial unemployment claims, down from 1.427 million the week before, but the number of people applying for help under the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program spiked. (The Hill)

Mnuchin Says Next Stimulus Bill Must Cap Jobless Benefits at 100 Percent of Previous Income: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last Thursday that the Trump administration is unwilling to extend a boost to unemployment benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic if it allows jobless workers to make more money than they did before losing their jobs. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

U.S. Government's Boxed Food Aid Promise Falls Short: The USDA delivered far less food aid than it had pledged by the end of June through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, according to food bank managers and data from the agriculture department sent to Reuters. (Reuters)

USDA Adds More Commodities to be Eligible for CFAP: Secretary Perdue announced an initial list of 40 additional commodities that have been added to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture made other adjustments to the program based on comments received. (AgDaily)

Space/NASA & NOAA

UCAR’s President Talks Space Weather, Radio Occultation and Earth Science Approaches: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) President Antonio Busalacchi provides insights on how his 120 members and NSF funded National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are coping with COVID issues and still working to develop a fundamental understanding of how the sun and Earth are connected as part of their mission. (Space News)

How Small Satellites Are Radically Remaking Space Exploration: NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division is exploring new concepts and technologies that should allow for much less expensive small or “cubesat” sized missions to other planets in the solar system for a small fraction of the usual $450 million cost of a Discovery-class mission. (Ars Technica)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Small-Business Loan Funding Details Released: The Paycheck Protection Program has provided loans to nearly 4.9 million small businesses employing 51.1 million workers in all corners of the country, according to newly released data from the Small Business Administration. (Roll Call)

Transportation/DOT

American Airlines Has Threatened to Cancel Some Boeing 737 MAX Orders: American Airlines Group Inc. has threatened to cancel some of its orders for Boeing Co.’s troubled 737 MAX jets, people familiar with the matter said, a sign of deepening financial stress in the aviation industry. (Wall Street Journal)

As Payroll Support Nears an End, Airline Unions Seek Renewal: United Airlines’ announcement that it could furlough nearly 40 percent of its employees after a spending bill aimed at protecting airline workers expires in September has spurred labor unions to call for another round of aid for the industry. (Roll Call)

DHS/Homeland Security

Trump Says He'll Sign Order with 'Road to Citizenship' for DACA Recipients: President Trump said Friday he intends to sign an executive order on immigration within the next month that he said will include a "road to citizenship" for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (The Hill)

IRS/Tax Reform

Trump Tells Treasury to Review Universities' Tax Exempt Status: President Trump on Friday threatened the tax-exempt status of and funding for universities and colleges, claiming that “too many” schools are driven by “radical left indoctrination.” (The Hill)

Department of Justice

Barr Says Black Lives Matter 'Distorting the Debate': “I'd make a distinction between the organization, which I don't agree with, they have a broader agenda,” he said. “But in terms of the proposition that Black lives matter, obviously Black lives matter. I think all lives — all human life is — is sacred. And entitled to respect. And obviously Black lives matter.” (The Hill)

Department of Education

How the Trump Administration Backpedaled on its Threats to Cut School Funding: President Donald Trump and his administration are pushing hard for schools to reopen, viewing it as essential to economic recovery and his chances for reelection. (Politico)

Trade

Trump Administration to Impose Tariffs on French Products over Digital Tax: The tariffs are set to take effect on Jan. 6, 2021. Products that are set to be subject to the tariffs include makeup, soap and handbags, according to a notice issued by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). (The Hill)

Cyber

Does Zuckerberg Understand How the Right to Free Speech Works?: Far too often Mr. Zuckerberg has chosen to allow posts spewing bigotry and lies to remain on Facebook in the name of free speech. Now, a thorough and damning audit of the company, two-years in the making and solicited by Facebook, confirms those fears. (NYT)