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Window On Washington - July 6, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 27

Jul 06, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is in recess this week, and will return Monday, July 20. Though the House has no floor action scheduled this week, House appropriators aim to hold all twelve subcommittee markups from July 6 to 8, with full committee markups planned for later this week and into next week. Today, the subcommittees will mark up the State and Foreign Operations, Agriculture-FDA, and Military Construction-VA bills. Tomorrow, the subcommittees will mark up the Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Legislative Branch, Energy & Water, and Labor-HHS-Ed bills. And on Wednesday, the subcommittees will finish up with the Commerce-Justice-Science, Transportation-HUD, Financial Services, and Defense bills. Full committee markups will begin July 9, starting, once again, with the State and Foreign Operations, Agriculture-FDA, and Military Construction-VA bills, before continuing with the Energy & Water and Interior-Environment bills on July 10. Full committee markups are set to finish by July 16.

Next COVID-19 Package. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave his clearest signal yet that Republicans are willing to move swiftly on another coronavirus relief package, after some states have seen a spike in cases. But with just an 11-day window in late July to act on a new virus stimulus, Congress may choke on the package that many economists say is needed to keep the economy upright. Alternating recesses mean the House and Senate will have to reach a deal on the Phase 4 package between July 20 and July 31. Further complicating matters, negotiations are likely to be even more painful in this round of talks, with Republicans and Democrats divided over what to do with billions of dollars in programs that are set to expire at the end of July. The looming deadlines for boosted unemployment benefits and provisions protecting residents from evictions increases the pressure on the Senate to reach a swift agreement when it returns.

Upcoming Issues of Importance. The National Journal publishes a helpful Monthly Briefing that looks ahead at what will be driving the Washington news cycles in the upcoming month. The presentation starts with an overview of the top-line items for Congress and the White House and then covers sector-specific issues.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

McConnell Eyes Next Coronavirus Package After July Recess: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the Senate will focus on the next coronavirus package when it returns from the two-week July 4 recess, with the goal of finishing before both chambers depart for their lengthy August break. (Politico)

Health

Senators Concerned About COVID-19 Vaccine Price Controls: Senate appropriators last Thursday expressed concern about whether the government was doing enough to ensure that coronavirus vaccines developed with federal assistance are made affordable. (Politico)

GOP Congressman Calls on White House to Disband Coronavirus Task Force: Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) last Thursday called for the White House to dissolve its coronavirus task force. (Axios)

House Fires Back at Trump by Passing Obamacare Expansion: The legislation, which passed in a largely party-line vote of 234 to 179, would increase the 2010 health law’s subsidies that help people afford their premiums and add more federal funding for Medicaid expansion. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Senate Democrats Offer Plan to Extend Added Jobless Benefits During Pandemic: The American Workforce Rescue Act, introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR) would extend the $600 federal increase in weekly unemployment benefits beyond July 31, when the current federal enhancement of benefits is due to expire. (The Hill)

Transportation

Passing Infrastructure Bill, Democrats Go All-in on Climate: The $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill the House passed 233-188 on Wednesday has little chance of advancing in the Republican-controlled Senate. But it fired a political warning shot: Democrats view climate change as a top issue for an already turbulent election year. (Roll Call)

Democratic Senator Will Introduce Bill Mandating Social Distancing on Flights After Flying on Packed Plane: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced last Friday he intends to introduce a bill banning the sale of tickets for middle seats on flights for as long as the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the U.S. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

House Follows Senate in Passing Extension of COVID-19 Business Loans: House members unanimously passed an extension of the PPP, a day after the Senate approved the measure. If President Trump signs the extension, the program will operate through Aug. 8. (NPR)

Agriculture

Select Committee Democrats Release ‘Solving the Climate Crisis’, A Congressional Roadmap For Ambitious Climate Action: The Climate Crisis Action Plan calls on Congress to grow the economy and put Americans back to work in clean energy jobs, protect the health of all families, make sure communities and farmers can withstand the impacts of climate change, and protect America’s land and waters for the next generation. (House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis)

A Bipartisan Group of House Lawmakers is Pressing USDA to Finalize a Long-Awaited Rule on Organic Livestock: The rule is aimed at closing loopholes in the process for transitioning dairy cows from traditional production to organic status. Congress last December directed USDA to finish the regulation within 180 days, but the department has now missed the deadline. (Politico)

Justice

Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook CEOs Agree to Testify Before House Judiciary Committee: The hearing would mark the first time all four executives testified together in front of Congress, though it’s not yet clear if the event would take place in person or virtually given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. (CNBC)

Defense

House Panel Approves $740.5B Defense Policy Bill: The House Armed Services Committee has unanimously approved its version of a mammoth defense policy bill. The committee voted 56-0 to approve the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after a nearly 14-hour markup. (The Hill)

Big Pay Raise, Limits on Troop Moves Highlight Defense Budget Measure: A House panel late Wednesday approved plans for a $740.5 billion defense authorization bill which would provide a 3 percent raise for troops, limit the president’s ability to withdraw troops from Europe and Afghanistan, and force the military to reckon with Confederate symbols and legacy on its bases. (Military Times)

House Slides Money into B-21 Bomber Procurement Account: An amendment to the House version of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill would move some funding for the secretive B-21 bomber program from its research and development account to procurement, a sign that production activities could be picking up. (Defense News)

House Panel Spurns Trump’s Germany Troop Withdrawal: The House Armed Services Committee delivered a near-unanimous bipartisan rebuke to President Trump’s plans to pull about 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany. (Defense News)

Space/NASA & NOAA

House, Senate Continue Work on Space-Related Legislation: Key members of the House and Senate say they continue to work on space-related legislation, including a NASA authorization bill, but the two branches of Congress appear to remain far apart on their bills. The House Science Committee never proceeded with a planned full committee markup of their version of the bill in March, but the key Committee members recently said they will likely soon take up the bill. (Space News)

Energy

Senate Undoes Proposed Power Shift in Nuclear Arms Budgeting: The Senate voted quietly Thursday to undo a proposal in its fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill that would have given the Pentagon extraordinary new power to shape the Energy Department’s future nuclear weapons budgets. (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

White House Officials Say Second Stimulus Check Still on the Table, Despite Better-Than-Expected June Jobs Report: Another direct cash payment to Americans is still on the table in the next coronavirus relief package, despite the better-than-expected June jobs report, two Trump administration officials said last Thursday. (Fox Business)

As Budget Blues Set In, Get Ready for a Democratic Food Fight: What mayors and governors, especially in blue states and cities, are discovering is that with no economy, you have no funding for government and the many services it provides – some necessary, some not so much. Democrats in charge of most of the country’s biggest cities for decades as well as blue-state governors notorious for their high-tax, big-spending budgets have finally run out of road to kick the can. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

HHS Extends Partnership with Retailers to Boost COVID-19 Testing: HHS said last Tuesday it would extend its partnership with private pharmacies and grocery chains to provide better access to COVID-19 testing. (Reuters)

Outside Experts Could Decide Who Gets COVID Vaccines First, NIH Chief Says: A panel of experts at the National Academy of Medicine may decide who is first in line in the U.S. to receive Covid-19 vaccines, public health officials told a Senate hearing last Thursday. (Politico)

FDA Commissioner Says He Can't Predict When Vaccine Will Be Ready After Trump's Timeline Claims: FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said Sunday that he would not make a prediction about when a coronavirus vaccine would be available after President Trump claimed that a vaccine or therapeutic would be ready "long before the end of the year." (The Hill)

Defense/DOD

U.S. Sends Aircraft Carriers to Exercise in South China Sea: The U.S. is sending the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz aircraft carriers to the South China Sea for military exercises as China ramps up its own drills in the area, drawing protests from Washington. (Bloomberg)

Labor and Workforce

Unemployment to Average 6.1 Percent Through 2030, CBO Says: The COVID-19 pandemic will leave lasting scars on the U.S. economy, which will have an average unemployment rate of 6.1 percent through 2030, according to new projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). (The Hill)

Unemployment Rate Fell to 11.1 Percent in June Before New Shutdowns: The economy added 4.8 million jobs in June and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1 percent as states reopened, the Labor Department reported in a survey taken mid-month before a resurgence of the coronavirus led to new shutdowns. Americans also filed 1.4 million new applications for unemployment benefits last week, the department reported. (Politico)

Agriculture/USDA

Trump Says He Will Nominate William Perry Pendley to Permanently Run the BLM: President Donald Trump said he intends to nominate William Perry Pendley to be the permanent director of the Bureau of Land Management. Pendley has been acting director of the agency since July. (CPR)

USDA is Extending Regulatory Flexibilities to Make it Easier for WIC Clinics to Serve Low-Income Women and Children During the Pandemic: The administration took the move after a request that was signed by nearly all members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Commerce Department IG, Congress Frustrated on Political Interference of Investigation: The Department of Commerce Inspector General has issued a harshly critical assessment of how Department officials handled “Sharpiegate” last year where NOAA rebuked the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, AL when it disagreed with a statement by President Trump about Hurricane Dorian. Only a summary was released, however, not the full report, which has key Democrats on Capitol Hill now demanding the entire report. (Space Policy Online)

What is Joe Biden’s Plan for Space? The next president will face key decisions that will shape not just the future of space exploration, but also American technological and economic superiority, and the topic deserves scrutiny. However many are beginning to notice that it is not apparent that Joe Biden, who is running for the job, has developed any space policy ideas to date which could mean Congress would play a bigger role should he be elected in November. (Quartz)

NASA’s Next Mars Mission Has Now Burned Nearly Half of its Launch Window:  Now delayed until at least July 30 but lacking a firm estimated launch date at this time, this is the third delay in the launch campaign for Perseverance, formerly known as Mars 2020. This delay is the most concerning because mid-August is the end of the window to launch to Mars, missing it would mean waiting 26 months and a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. (Ars Technica)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Banks ‘Not Getting a Ton of Interest’ In Main Street Program, Says Powell: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Main Street Lending Program loans are not in high demand, but he reiterated the central bank’s commitment to continue making adjustments that could attract more borrowers. (American Banker)

HUD Rule Would Dismantle Protections for Homeless Transgender People: The Department of Housing and Urban Development last Wednesday proposed allowing homeless shelters to deny transgender people access to single-sex shelters of their gender identity. (New York Times)

Transportation/DOT

New COVID-19 Surge Dashes Travel Industry's Hopes for July 4 Weekend: Independence Day promises to be no better than Memorial Day, perhaps even worse. The recent surge in coronavirus cases in states across the U.S. is expected to keep more Americans homebound over the July Fourth weekend. (The Hill)

DHS/Homeland Security

Homeland Security Establishes Task Force to Protect Monuments, Memorials and Statues: The Protecting American Communities Task Force will coordinate the DHS response, which may include assessing any potential unrest or deploying personnel, according to the press release. DHS will also partner with the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to share information. (CNN)

Department of Energy

Energy Companies Cancel Construction of Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Dominion Energy and Duke Energy have canceled their Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, a natural gas pipeline that was to stretch hundreds of miles across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, citing "legal uncertainty." (CNN)

IRS/Tax Reform

Treasury Decides to Stick with July 15 Tax Deadline: The Treasury Department announced last Monday that it will not be moving the tax-filing deadline for a second time, despite some pressure to do so because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

IRS, Taxpayers Face Obstacles Ahead of July 15 Filing Deadline: The IRS and taxpayers face a number of obstacles before crossing the finish line in this year's longer-than-usual tax filing season. (The Hill)

Department of Justice

Justice Dept. Considering Replacing Outgoing US Attorney in Brooklyn with Barr Deputy: Weeks after the firing of former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, a top Washington deputy to U.S. Attorney General William Barr is under consideration to replace an outgoing prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York. (The Hill)

EPA/Interior

EPA to End Policy Suspending Pollution Monitoring by End of Summer: The policy, unveiled in a March 26 memo in an effort to help companies reduce regulatory burdens during the coronavirus, alerted companies they would not face penalties for failing to monitor their pollution emissions as required under a host of environmental laws. (The Hill)

Trade

Trump’s North American Trade Deal Starts Now: President Trump’s biggest trade achievement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, goes into effect Wednesday, replacing NAFTA and ending his threat to break apart the three-nation free trade zone. Here’s what to expect. (Politico)