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Window On Washington - July 15, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 29

Jul 15, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Congress. After some very contentious debate and a handful of defections, the House late last week passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act on a rare party line vote, accepting and passing hundreds of amendments by “voice vote,” few of which had any meaningful debate. The Senate has passed a vastly different version than the House bill, which foreshadows much work ahead for the two Committees to craft a consensus bill that can pass both chambers again, and that President Trump will accept. The House on Friday also overwhelmingly approved a bill ensuring that a victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money. The 402-12 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader McConnell has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess. The House now braces this week for what should be a lively and contentious debate on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15, with Republicans plotting numerous amendments to try and peel away more moderate Democrats concerned about specific effects in their districts. Due to this concern, top House Democrats are apparently eyeing a major tweak of their own to the caucus’ signature minimum wage proposal (that would make the increase more gradual), part of a last-minute bid to bolster support among moderates just days before a floor vote.

White House. President Trump last Thursday bashed Facebook’s plans to create a digital currency called Libra, saying it would have “little standing or dependability.” In a Twitter thread, the President said that he was “not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air.” He added that “unregulated Crypto Assets” can facilitate the drug trade and other illegal activity. In yet another clash with the President late last week, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee called on President Trump to commit to paying the District of Columbia back for providing public safety support for federal events in the city after Mayor Bowser said that Trump’s “Salute to America” drained their budget reserves.

Budget & Appropriations. On Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi indicated that she was opposed to taking a vote on raising the debt limit before the August recess, however she soon thereafter announced that she had changed her position after two separate discussions with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, and that she believes Congress needs to lift the debt limit and get a spending cap deal this month. On Friday, Mnuchin put his request on paper for Congress to act on the debt ceiling before the August recess, writing to congressional leaders that there’s a chance Treasury could run out of cash in early September. Also last week, Senate Republicans indicated that many of them are coalescing around a push to raise discretionary spending caps and suspend the statutory debt ceiling for two years, rather than the one-year stopgap plan pushed by White House officials. House Majority Leader Hoyer conceded that there was no apparent way forward on the two remaining FY20 Appropriations bills (Homeland Security and Legislative Branch) due to divisions within the Democratic caucus on issues in those two bills, and that he had no plan to bring them to the House floor prior to the August recess.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Judiciary

Mueller Testimony Delayed by 1 Week: Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s highly anticipated Capitol Hill testimony will be delayed one week under an arrangement he reached with House Democrats, the Intelligence and Judiciary committees announced Friday evening. (Politico)

House Judiciary Approves Subpoenas for 12 Key Witnesses, Including Jared Kushner: The House Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to authorize subpoenas for 12 crucial witnesses as part of House Democrats’ ongoing investigations targeting President Trump. (Politico)

Space, NASA & NOAA

Senators Working on “Bold” New NASA Authorization Bill: Senator Cruz (TX) hasn’t gone into details about what the bill would contain, or when it would be introduced, but suggested it would support the administration’s current efforts to return humans to the moon by 2024 as a step towards human missions to Mars, but also support commercial space activities. “We need a bold vision,” he said. “A vision that sees the commercial space industry thriving.” (Space News)

Labor & Workforce

$15 Minimum Wage Would Boost Pay for 17 Million But 1.3 Million Would Lose Their Jobs, CBO Says: Earlier this year, House Democrats led by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., introduced a bill to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. The party has argued that doing so would lift workers out of poverty and kick-start economic growth. Opponents of hiking the pay floor to that level — more than twice the current U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 that took effect in 2009 — argue it would cut positions for minimum wage workers amid higher costs. (CNBC)

Homeland Security

Customs and Border Protection Tells Congress It's Totally Legal to Use Face Recognition on Americans: Homeland Security officials faced a barrage of questions on Wednesday from House lawmakers frustrated—as several put it—over the alleged lack transparency exhibited by Customs and Border Protection when it comes to the legally murky use of face recognition tools at U.S. ports of entry. (Gizmodo)

Energy & Natural Resources

Gardner, Bennet Push Legislation to Improve States’ Energy Security: Sens. Cory Gardner (CO-R) and Michael Bennet (CO-D) introduced the Enhancing State Energy Security Planning and Emergency Preparedness Act that aims to improve state-level planning for attacks on energy infrastructure and helping smaller utilities improve their own security plans. (Clark Hill Insight)

PFAS Provisions Survive House Defense Spending Bill Deliberations: A host of changes to how the federal government views and regulates PFAS cleanup survived debate in the U.S. House of Representatives and now moves forward as part of the body’s version of the 2020 defense spending plan. (MLive)

Lawmakers Express Anxiety about Chinese Investments: Anxiety over Chinese investment in the U.S. natural gas industry hangs over many lawmakers, as many fear that excess shipments of feedstocks critical to the petrochemical industry could leave domestic manufacturers scrambling. The concerns show a new economic front in the trade battles between the two countries, as proposed Chinese investment — potentially billions of dollars — may help develop major projects in Alaska and West Virginia to move natural gas liquids like ethane and butane to export terminals. (E&E News)

Defense

House Democrats Unite to Pass $733B Defense Bill: House Democrats closed ranks to pass a massive $733 billion defense policy bill on Friday, teeing up a partisan clash with Senate Republicans over military funding and contentious foreign policy issues. (Politico)

Confirmation Hearing Planned Tuesday for Trump’s Defense Secretary Pick: The Senate Armed Services Committee intends to hold a confirmation hearing for Mark Esper, the president’s pick to be the next Defense secretary, on Tuesday even though the panel is still waiting to receive his official nomination from the White House. (Roll Call)

Tax

Democrats Press IRS on Guidance Reducing Donor Disclosure Requirements: Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are pressing the IRS about guidance it issued last year that reduces donor-disclosure requirements for certain tax-exempt groups, expressing concerns that the guidelines could hinder criminal investigations. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Health/HHS/NIH

Republicans Ready to Dive Off a Cliff on Obamacare: Republicans have no real plan to establish a new health care system if the courts strike down the Affordable Care Act before the 2020 election. But plenty of them are rooting for its demise anyway — even if it means plunging the GOP into a debate that splits the party and leaves them politically vulnerable. (Politico)

Drugmaker Agrees to Pay $1.4 Billion in Largest Opioid Settlement in US History: A drug manufacturer will pay the U.S. government $1.4 billion to settle allegations that its marketing downplayed the addiction risks of its drugs, the largest settlement yet related to the opioid crisis. Reckitt Benckiser Group, the manufacturer of Suboxone, a treatment for opioid addiction, agreed to the settlement to end criminal and civil probes into the business, but it denied any wrongdoing. (The Hill)

Space, NASA & NOAA

Questions Linger About Reassignment of NASA Exploration Officials: NASA’s leadership offered few details July 11 about the sudden reassignment of two top officials in its human spaceflight program the day before, a move that drew criticism from leading House members. In a memo late July 10, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced he was reassigning Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, and Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, to “special advisor” positions. Gerstenmaier will be replaced, on an acting basis, by Ken Bowersox, a former astronaut who rejoined the agency earlier this year as Gerstenmaier’s deputy. (Space News)

Hawaii Governor Says Construction of Controversial Giant Telescope Will Begin Soon:  The governor of Hawaii, David Ige (D), and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) International Observatory announced on 10 July that construction of the TMT would begin next week, despite sustained protests against the project by some local leaders. (Science Mag)

Immigration

Trump Abandons Effort to Add Citizenship Question to Census: President Trump has dropped his effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — a sudden backtrack on one of his administration's biggest legal battles and a swift course reversal after a week of insisting he would fight till the end. (Politico)

Trade

New Trade Case on Imports of Polyethylene Terephthalate Sheet from Korea, Mexico, and Oman: A new antidumping duty trade case was filed on July 8, 2019 by U.S. producers Advanced Extrusion Inc., Ex-Tech Plastics, Inc., and Multi-Plastics Extrusions, Inc., against imports of polyethylene terephthalate sheet from Korea, Mexico, and Oman. (Clark Hill Insight)

Education

DeVos Sued Over Student Loan Forgiveness Program that Denies 99 Percent of Applicants: One of the nation’s largest teachers unions filed suit Thursday against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, accusing her agency of mismanaging a major program intended to provide student loan forgiveness to public service workers. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

White House Picks Adm. Mike Gilday to Be Next Chief of Naval Operations: President Trump will nominate Navy Vice Adm. Mike Gilday to be the next top officer of the Navy, three U.S. officials said, after the confirmed nominee, Adm. Bill Moran, was ousted earlier this week over an ethics issue. (Wall Street Journal)

Transportation/DOT

Volkswagen, Ford Firm Up Joint Investment in Self-Driving Car AI: German carmaker Volkswagen said today it will team up with U.S. auto giant Ford on artificial intelligence systems for automated vehicles as part of a cooperation deal that also includes electrification. (Volkswagen)

FEC

FEC Says Political Campaigns can Now Get Discounted Cybersecurity Help: In a long awaited decision, the Federal Elections Commission will now allow political campaigns to appoint cybersecurity helpers to protect political campaigns from cyberthreats and malicious attackers. (Tech Crunch)