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Window On Washington - June 1, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 22

Jun 01, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

The House. House Democratic leaders have released an updated calendar and letter detailing their legislative priorities for the remainder of the year and how the lower chamber will do its work as the coronavirus pandemic maintains a grip on the country. The updated floor schedule has lawmakers staying in their home districts for most of June before returning to Washington, D.C. for votes on June 30. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wrote that the Appropriations Committee will continue to hold necessary COVID-19 hearings before beginning subcommittee and full-committee markups at the end of June and beginning of July.

The Senate. Senators could vote this week on legislation, passed by the House last week, to loosen restrictions on small businesses receiving billions in federal aid due to COVID-19. The bill’s sponsors say urgent action is needed because the eight-week period when proceeds must be spent for loans to be forgiven expired last week for the program’s first round of loan recipients. However, the Senate may seek changes to the measure, which could delay passage. Differences over certain matters, including the amount of time businesses have to spend the money, as well as language that Republicans say could create disincentives to take out the loans or to rehire workers, could lead the Senate to amend the bill and send it back for further House action.

Also in the Senate this week, Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the panel’s probe into the FBI’s investigation into links between Russia and President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The Senate will also consider multiple nominations, including the nomination of Russell Vought to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Next Coronavirus Package. As Congress continues to be split over how next to address the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last Friday that Congress will decide in the coming weeks whether to pass a “final” coronavirus relief package. Meanwhile, lawmakers are beginning to discuss the next phase of legislation dealing with the health and economic effects of the coronavirus, after passing four packages since March. Some of the new programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program and certain unemployment benefits, are set to expire this summer. McConnell, meanwhile, has continued to stress that he wants to see how the gradual reopening of businesses across the country will impact the economy before he would pass more legislation, and that liability protections for businesses must be included in any upcoming package.

President Trump’s Response to Protests. As rage over racial inequality and police brutality fueled violent protests in cities across the nation throughout the weekend, there is debate within the White House over whether President Trump should give an Oval Office address. Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, wouldn’t commit to whether the President would make a national address. However, many continue to wonder if and when the President will step up. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called on the President to “bring dignity to the office that he serves” and to be “a unifying force in our country,” rather than “fuel the flame.”

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

House Scheduled to Return for Votes in Late June: An updated House legislative calendar for 2020 has only one scheduled voting day in June, twelve in July and none in August, according to a letter from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) on Friday. Hoyer wrote that the Appropriations Committee will continue to hold necessary COVID-19 hearings before beginning subcommittee and full-committee markups at the end of June and beginning of July. (The Hill)

Next Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Will Be the ‘Final’ One, Mitch McConnell Says: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that Congress will decide whether to pass a “final” coronavirus relief package in the coming weeks. (CNBC)

Health

HHS Watchdog Vows Independence Amid Trump Actions: The health department's top watchdog vowed to Congress last Tuesday that President Trump's moves to fire or replace inspectors general — including his recent effort to effectively oust her — would not affect more than a dozen ongoing probes into the administration’s Covid-19 response. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Senate Democrats Pump Brakes on New Stimulus Checks: House Democrats looking to deliver another round of $1,200 relief checks to Americans are encountering skepticism from an unexpected source — fellow Democrats in the Senate. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants the next round of coronavirus relief to be more focused on the households that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

House Passes Bill to Grant Flexibility for Small Business Aid Program: The House last Thursday passed bipartisan legislation to provide struggling small businesses with more flexibility while using loans provided through the Paycheck Protection Program. (The Hill)

Agriculture

Stabenow Rolls Out Bill Aimed at Supply Chain Woes: Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee – as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) – introduced The Food Supply Protection Act, which would provide $5.5 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees to help small- and medium-sized companies shift their operations to respond to COVID, including procuring more personal protective equipment and testing. (Politico)

Justice

Rosenstein to Testify as Part of Graham's Russia Investigation Probe: The hearing, scheduled for June 3, marks the first public hearing Graham will hold as part of his deep dive into “Crossfire Hurricane,” the name for the investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference and the Trump campaign. (The Hill)

Cyber

Effort to Renew FISA Crumbles: House Democrats have pulled a bill to reauthorize parts of the federal surveillance program known as FISA, a setback for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legislative machine that followed a veto threat from President Trump. (Politico)

Defense

Senate Schedules NDAA Markup in Two Weeks: The Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up its annual defense policy bill the week of June 8, mostly in closed sessions, its leaders announced last Tuesday. The Military Personnel Subcommittee set an open markup June 9 for its section of the NDAA, and the other subcommittee markups will be closed, per the panel’s custom. The full committee markup is set for June 10, said SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-RI). (Defense News)

House Tentatively Aims to Pass NDAA by August: The House Armed Services Committee is tentatively looking to report the NDAA to the floor by early July so that the House can potentially pass the measure later that month. Though House leaders have yet to finalize the NDAA schedule, the respective House Armed Services subcommittees could mark up their portions of the measure during the week of June 22, with the full committee potentially acting the following week. (Clark Hill Insight)

Pentagon Has Spent 23% of its COVID-19 Response Funds: Congress Asks Why Not More: Citing the Trump administration’s most recent reports to Congress, Democratic senators say the Pentagon has placed on contract 23 percent of the funds it was provided nine weeks ago as part of the CARES Act. It’s the latest criticism in a sharp back and forth between congressional Democrats and the Pentagon over the latter’s response to the global pandemic. (Defense News)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Federal Immigration Agency to Furlough Employees Unless Congress Provides Funding: US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency responsible for visa and asylum processing, is expected to furlough part of its workforce this summer if Congress doesn't provide emergency funding to sustain operations during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNN)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Budget and Appropriations

Kudlow Says Trump Admin ‘May Well’ Support Back-To-Work Bonus: Larry Kudlow said last Tuesday the Trump administration “may well” get behind the idea of a back-to-work bonus for workers in the next coronavirus aid package, a proposal that’s starting to gain momentum among some GOP senators. (Politico)

Health/HHS/NIH

White House Bids for 'Surprise' Billing Fix Ahead of Next Rescue Package: The White House is renewing a push to end “surprise” medical bills — possibly as part of the next coronavirus rescue package — in a bid to deliver on protecting insured patients from sometimes staggering costs of emergency or out-of-network care. (Politico)

Trump Announces U.S. Withdrawal from the World Health Organization: President Trump on Friday said he is terminating the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, making good on his threat to withdraw from the U.N. health agency he's blamed for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

Pentagon Watchdog Resigns After Being Sidelined by Trump: Glenn Fine, who was ousted last month as the Pentagon's acting watchdog by President Trump, has resigned from the Defense Department inspector general's office in the latest of a series of departures across the executive branch. (Politico)

Dept. of Education

Trump Backs DeVos Plan to Limit Student Debt Relief: President Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have blocked a policy by DeVos that limits debt relief for defrauded student loan borrowers. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

Breaking Precedent, White House Won’t Release Formal Economic Projections this Summer that Would Forecast Extent of Downturn: White House officials have decided they will not release updated economic projections this summer, as part of the "mid-session review" in July or August for the federal budget proposal, which budget experts have said would be the first time it's happened since at least the 1970s. (The Washington Post)

2.1 Million New Unemployment Claims Filed Last Week: The ten-week total for claims reached 40.8 million, suggesting about a quarter of the workforce has lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

Trade

To Punish China, Trump Begins to Revoke Hong Kong Trade Privileges: President Trump on Friday threatened to increase tariffs on imports from Hong Kong and to take other action to punish China for what he called "deeply troubling" moves to exert more control over the former British colony. (Politico)

Agriculture/USDA

Potato Farmers Seek Changes to USDA’s COVID-19 Payments: The National Potato Council urged its members to apply this week for COVID-19 aid while it works to increase Agriculture Department payments to potato growers and tries to sell Congress on a plan to buy $300 million of surplus spuds. (Roll Call)

USDA Plans Second Round of Farmers to Families Box Contracts: The USDA is planning another round of contracts for the 400 firms that were not initially awarded contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, according to Bruce Summers, administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. (The Packer)

Space/NASA & NOAA

“The Trampoline is Working”—SpaceX Returns Human Spaceflight to America: A flawless launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered their Crewed Dragon and two NASA astronauts first to low earth orbit and 19 hours later a smooth docking with the International Space Station. Before Saturday, only the national space programs of Russia, the United States, and China had launched humans into orbit. Now, SpaceX - with NASA's funding and considerable help - has joined that exclusive club. (Ars Technica)

China Outlines Intense Space Station Launch Schedule, New Astronaut Selection: China is preparing to carry out 11 missions in two years to construct a space station and will soon select a new batch of astronauts for the project, starting with the launch of the first module next year. The three-module, 66-metric-ton space station will host three astronauts for six month rotations. Planned experiments include international projects in the areas of astronomy, space medicine, space life science, biotechnology, microgravity fluid physics, microgravity combustion and space technologies. (Space News)

U.S. Space Force to Expand Presence Inside the Pentagon: The U.S. Space Force headquarters offices at the Pentagon will begin a gradual expansion over the next year as new positions are filled and officers from the former Air Force Space Command transfer into the new service, which will also see the headquarters of former Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs phased out. (Space News)

Baking & Housing/HUD

Fed Days Away from Emergency Lending to Midsize Companies: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday said the central bank will open the doors of its emergency lending program for midsize businesses in a matter of days. (Politico)

Transportation/DOT

Amtrak Says it Needs Additional Bailout of Bearly $1.5 Billion to Stay Afloat: In a letter to Congress, Amtrak chief executive William J. Flynn said that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has become “clearer” and that the company needs a larger subsidy to offset revenue losses, prevent interruptions to capital investments and support Amtrak’s state-funded routes. (Washington Post)

Cuomo Describes Productive Discussion with Trump on Infrastructure: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his meeting with President Trump last Wednesday focused on investing in infrastructure projects to “supercharge” a U.S. economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Tax Reform/IRS

Millions of Paper Tax Returns Go Unopened at Short-Staffed IRS: The IRS estimates that nearly 5 million unopened paper tax returns had piled up at the agency by mid-May amid the closure of its offices nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

DHS/Immigration

Trump Administration Considers Further Restrictions on Foreign Workers: The White House is expected to consider further restrictions on foreign workers following President Trump’s pledge to "suspend immigration" last month, according to administration officials tasked with a 30-day review of all visiting workers. (ABC News)

Cyber

Trump’s Order on Social Media Meets Swift Resistance: Even before it was signed Thursday, President Trump’s executive order encouraging federal regulators to reconsider legal immunity for social media companies was pilloried by a diverse coalition of opponents who questioned the order’s legality and Trump’s motivations. (Roll Call)

Department of Energy

Oil Lobby says Low Prices Still Hurting Industry: Mike Sommers, president of the major oil and gas industry group American Petroleum Institute (API), acknowledged last Wednesday that lower prices are hurting the oil and gas industry. (The Hill)

Oil Price Decline Overview: The National Journal published a helpful overview of the Saudi Arabia-Russia price dispute, US and OPEC+ responses, the WTI oil price collapse, and the impact of COVID-19 on the oil and gas sector.