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Window On Washington - July 22, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 30

Jul 22, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Congress. The House returns for a final week of legislative action before breaking for the August recess, while the Senate still has two weeks to go. Even in the volatile Trump era, last week was an extraordinary and historic week in the House of Representatives. In addition to the minimum wage vote, the House voted to condemn a sitting president for "racist" tweets and voted to hold two top Cabinet officials in contempt of Congress. The House also voted on a resolution to impeach the President but both Democrats and Republicans largely voted against the measure and it only received 98 yea votes. Senate leaders have agreed to take up a bill this Tuesday that would extend a financial lifeline to thousands of victims suffering health problems from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The bill sailed through the House last week on a 402-12 vote, but has faced resistance in the Senate from fiscal hawks worried about its price tag.

White House. The House voted on Wednesday to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas, an escalation in House Democrats’ ongoing oversight battle with the Trump administration. The 230-198 vote to hold Barr and Ross in criminal contempt of Congress is largely symbolic, as President Trump’s DOJ will not act on the request. It is, however, another effort by House Democrats to create a “record” of actions by the Administration, in advance of a likely lawsuit to try and get federal courts to order release of materials the Administration is denying under executive privilege claims.

Budget & Appropriations. Democrats said Friday there are "nonstarters" in a new White House offer that includes $1.1 trillion in options to offset spending increases in a two-year agreement that would raise the budget caps and hike the debt limit. The Trump Administration’s demand to at least offset the spending increases represents a significant hurdle to finalizing a deal, with the administration seeking at least $150 billion in cuts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is shooting for getting a deal on and through the House floor by Thursday, so that the House can vote and leave the bill in the Senate’s court. Reports have indicated that Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had reached a deal on new budget caps for FY 20 and 21 as well as an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, but now the issue of offsets remains the final hurdle to a deal.

Race for the White House 2020. CNN's two-night Democratic primary debate next week will offer a rematch of former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose clash over race became the most closely watched moment of the first round of debates. Biden and Harris will debate in Detroit on Wednesday, July 31. The debates will also, for the first time, offer a match-up between Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the two top progressives in the Democratic primary. The duo -- who will debate on Tuesday, July 30 -- were not on the same stage during the first debate.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Health

House Passes Repeal of Obamacare Tax on High-Cost Plans: The House passed, 419-6, legislation Wednesday to repeal the so-called Cadillac tax (which would take effect in 2022), pleasing health insurers, unions and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who have long pushed to scrap the levy, but its path through the Senate is less than certain. (Roll Call)

Space, NASA & NOAA

House Committee Takes Skeptical View of ISS Commercialization Plans: A month after NASA rolled out a strategy to increase commercial use of the International Space Station, some in Congress are skeptical of the effort. At a July 10 hearing of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, some members suggested that allowing commercial activities on the station, including visits by private astronauts, wasn’t an appropriate use for the facility as NASA prepares to return humans to the moon and go on to Mars. (Space News)

Full Artemis Cost Estimate Won’t Be Ready Until 2020: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a Senate committee July 17 that a cost estimate for landing humans on the moon by 2024 likely won’t be ready until the administration submits a budget request next February. Appearing before the Senate Commerce Committee to discuss the agency’s deep space exploration plans, Bridenstine said a detailed estimate of the costs of the Artemis program is in progress, but depends in part on contributions from commercial partnerships as well as upcoming decisions on the development of programs like the Space Launch System. (Space News)

Labor & Workforce

House Votes to Raise Minimum Wage, Uniting Dems After Months-Long Struggle: The House on Thursday passed legislation to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, following through on a key Democratic campaign promise and ending a six-month struggle within the caucus. The vote — which passed largely along party lines — marked a crucial test for Democratic leaders who worked hard to win over centrists without losing progressives as lawmakers battled behind the scenes to shape the proposal. (Politico)

Cyber

Senators Introduce Legislation to Boost Cyber Defense Training in High School: A bipartisan group of senators last Thursday introduced legislation to increase cybersecurity training for U.S. high school students involved in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in an effort to increase overall cyber defense training. (The Hill)

Lawmakers Grill Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple at Antitrust Hearing: House lawmakers grilled executives from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in a hearing Tuesday as part of their wide-ranging investigation into big tech companies and the threats they may pose to competition. (Washington Post)

House Panel Advances Bill to Protect Elections From Foreign Interference: The House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced legislation on Wednesday intended to safeguard elections from foreign interference, sending it to the House floor for a vote following a heated debate among lawmakers over the bill. (The Hill)

Energy & Natural Resources

DOE Talks Cyber Tech as Congress Works Up Grid Modernization Bills: Energy Department officials and energy-sector security experts briefed House members last week on a range of cybersecurity initiatives and other tech advancements they could consider as Congress works to create electric grid modernization legislation. (MeriTalk)

Senate Panel Advances 22 Energy Bills: Bipartisan bills supporting advanced nuclear reactors and expediting the export of small amounts of liquefied natural gas were among 22 pieces of energy-related legislation approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and advanced to the full Senate last week. (Bloomberg)

Energy R&D Legislation Takes Shape in House: The House Science Committee has advanced three bills out of subcommittee that would set policy for the Department of Energy’s solar, wind, and fossil energy R&D programs. The legislation recommends funding increases — particularly for carbon capture, storage, utilization, and removal — and outlines a broad portfolio encompassing the development, deployment, and operation of energy systems. (American Institute of Physics)

Defense

Senate Committee Approves Esper and Milley to Lead Pentagon, Teeing Up Final Vote: The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved President Donald Trump’s picks to the Pentagon’s top two spots: Army Secretary Mark Esper for defense secretary and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Defense News)

Tax

Brady Blasts Lawsuit Against SALT Workaround Restrictions: Attorneys general of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York filed suit to last week challenge federal regulations against state laws that attempt to circumvent the deduction cap by letting residents pay their various state and local taxes through government-established charities. House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady said three northeastern states would get nowhere with their lawsuit against IRS rules to prevent workarounds to state and local tax deduction limit. (Clark Hill Insight)

Justice

Thousands of Prisoners Released as New Reform Effort Takes Effect: Nearly 3,100 federal inmates walked out of prison on Friday as a provision of the sweeping criminal justice reform act passed by Congress takes effect. (CNN)

Democrats Questioning Robert Mueller to Focus on Obstruction: Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who will question former special counsel Robert Mueller next week plan to focus on a narrow set of episodes laid out in his report, an effort to direct Americans’ attention to what they see as the most egregious examples of President Donald Trump’s conduct. (AP News)

Homeland Security

'We're Better than that': Leading Democrat Rips Homeland Security Head Over Trump's Child Separation Policy: Democrats blamed the Trump administration, Republicans blamed Democrats and the Department of Homeland Security blamed Congress for what all parties agreed, at a tense and sometimes contentious hearing on Thursday, was an intractable crisis on the U.S. border with Mexico. (Yahoo)

Education

House Panel Probes Education Secretary DeVos' Personal Email Use: A U.S. congressional committee on Monday sought records from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos relating to her use of private email accounts, expanding an investigation into how President Donald Trump’s top aides use unofficial messaging services to conduct government affairs. (Reuters)

Banking

US Lawmakers Grill Facebook Executive in Charge of Libra: Senate Banking Committee members don't trust Facebook. That was a main takeaway from Tuesday's Senate Banking Committee hearing on Facebook's Libra cryptocurrency. Because of that, they have serious concerns about Facebook's entrance into the largely unregulated cryptocurrency market. (CNN)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Health/HHS/NIH

NIH Issues New Guidance on “Other Support” and “Foreign Components” in Funded Research: In the wake of ongoing concerns expressed about “foreign influence” in U.S.-funded research activities, the National Institutes of Health last week released a series of documents addressing disclosures of “foreign components,” “other support” and affiliations in grant applications and reports. (JD Supra)

World Health Organization Declares Ebola Outbreak an International Emergency: The World Health Organization declared that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which surfaced in August 2018, is an international emergency. The declaration raises the outbreak’s visibility and public health officials hope it will galvanize the international community to fight the spread of the frequently fatal disease. (Science Mag)

Immigration

Trump Administration to Revise Citizenship Test: The Trump administration is revising the civics test immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services announced. (US News)

Trump Officials Pressing to Slash Refugee Admissions to Zero Next Year: The Trump administration is considering a virtual shutdown of refugee admissions next year — cutting the number to nearly zero — according to three people familiar with the plan. (Politico)

Trade

U.S., China Trade Negotiators Talk for Second Time Since Truce: U.S. and Chinese senior officials spoke by phone last week, the second call since the late June summit at which the two sides agreed to a truce in their ongoing trade conflict. (Bloomberg)

Education

Ed Dept, Colleges Disagree on Clarity of Foreign Gift Reporting Rules: The U.S. Department of Education and higher ed groups remain at odds over how colleges should report foreign gifts based on Section 117 of the Higher Education Act following probes by the federal agency into a handful of institutions. (Education Dive)

Interior/DOI

Interior Announces Plan to Move Bureau's Headquarters, and Some Employees, West: The Bureau of Land Management will move 27 of its Washington, D.C.-based employees to Grand Junction in western Colorado, in a move proponents of the relocation say will better position the agency to interact with stakeholders and the land it protects. Currently, about 96% of BLM employees work outside of Washington. (Government Executive)