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Window On Washington - June 15, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 24

Jun 15, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

The House. Though no votes are currently scheduled for this week, the House will begin marking up two sweeping bills on Wednesday. Along with the House Judiciary markup of the “Justice in Policing Act of 2020” (see more information below), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will also mark up the “INVEST in America” Act, which would authorize nearly $500 billion over five years to bolster U.S. infrastructure, including improving roads and bridges and reducing carbon pollution. There will also be various hearings related to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the week, including a House Education & Labor Committee hearing on COVID-19’s impact on education and a Small Business Committee hearing examining loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program.

The Senate. Senate Republicans have kicked off a four-week push to pass a handful of priorities before the July 4 recess. The effort, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will highlight the work of GOP senators facing competitive re-elections and starts with a popular bipartisan plan to boost resources for heavily visited national parks. After clearing a hurdle early Friday morning, the Senate is anticipated to pass the Great American Outdoors Act early this week, a bill many consider to be the most significant conservation legislation in a generation. The bill would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at its $900 million annual, authorized level. It’ll be followed by a batch of President Trump’s judicial picks and the annual spending plan for the Pentagon, which will be set for a final vote shortly before lawmakers depart for their annual July 4 recess.

Next COVID-19 Response Package. Over the weekend, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro signaled that President Trump is looking for at least $2 trillion in the next COVID-19 relief package to help buoy an economy devastated by the pandemic. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stressed to the President that he would prefer a smaller package to the tune of $1 trillion, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) shepherded a $3 trillion package through the House last month with a major focus on providing direct relief to American families and state, local and tribal governments. Lawmakers continue to push back the timeline for a new relief package, with some lawmakers optimistically hoping for legislation to be passed in July and others anticipating an August passage.  

Policing Reform. This week, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up the “Justice in Policing Act of 2020,” its comprehensive police reform bill that would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, limit “qualified immunity” for police officers, and create a nationwide police misconduct registry, among other provisions. Republicans are readying their response to calls for police reform, and are working across chambers and with the White House on proposals. The House GOP will focus on “performance, transparency and accountability,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told reporters last week, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) taking the lead in the House and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) in the Senate.

McCarthy said there are areas of their proposal that will be similar to the Democrats’ measure, including a call for better data to track police violence and violence against police as well as an end to chokeholds in at least some form. But McCarthy faulted Democrats for putting out a partisan bill without involving Republicans, who he said are ready to work together on a policing bill.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Republicans Start Bracing for Shutdown Fight in Run-Up to Election: Some Senate Republicans are discussing moving legislation that would prevent a government shutdown even if the annual appropriations bills haven’t been passed. The GOP senators say they’ve gotten a commitment from GOP leaders for a vote in the coming weeks. (The Hill)

Trump OMB Nominee OK’d by Budget Panel, Ready for Floor Vote: The Senate Budget Committee last Thursday approved the nomination of Russell Vought to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, amid recriminations from Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) that backing Vought was an abdication of responsibility. (Roll Call)

Hoyer Details Upcoming House Floor Schedule: House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), speaking during a BakerHostetler webinar last Thursday, offered some details about the floor schedule for late June and July, including plans to spend three days debating an infrastructure package. (Roll Call)

Health

Alexander Pushes for Passage of Pandemic Planning Law this Year: Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released a 40-page white paper last Tuesday with his recommendations for addressing future pandemics. (Roll Call)

Dem Chairmen Urge CMS To Prevent Nursing Homes from Seizing Stimulus Payments: Two House Democratic committee chairmen are urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue guidance aimed at preventing nursing homes and assisted living facilities from seizing their residents' coronavirus relief payments. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Scalia Open to Extending Jobless Benefits, But With Changes: Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia told a Senate panel last Tuesday that he's open to extending jobless benefits given by Congress this spring, but added that the strong May jobs report meant the policy should change. (Roll Call)

Transportation

With Transportation’s Future Unclear, Some Question Spending: Save for an initial investment of $83.1 billion for pandemic-strapped state and local transportation departments, the recently introduced $494 billion House highway bill didn’t specifically address how the coronavirus might spark long-term changes in the way Americans use transportation. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing

Senate Panel Grills Housing Regulators on Racial Bias, Pandemic: The Senate Banking Committee channeled the nation's concerns about racial disparities and COVID-19 into an oversight hearing with federal housing regulators last Tuesday. (Roll Call)

Senate Democrats Seek Simpler Loan Forgiveness Process for PPP: In a letter Friday to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, all 47 Senate Democrats are calling on the Treasury and SBA to simplify the process for businesses applying for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program. (American Banker)

Agriculture

House’s Peterson Laments Lack of Influence in Farm Relief Aid: House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-MN) said coronavirus legislation that gave billions of dollars to the Agriculture Department for an economic relief package left his committee little say about the distribution of $16 billion in payments to farmers and ranchers. (Roll Call)

Senate Democrats Are Calling On USDA to Step Up Assistance for So-Called Food Deserts Amid the Pandemic: In a letter led by Agriculture Committee members Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), 20 senators asked Secretary Sonny Perdue to “support local and regional food development projects” to minimize areas with less access to healthy food options. (Politico)

Justice

Senate Committee Approves Over 50 Subpoenas for Investigation of Mueller Probe: The move is the latest escalation of the Republicans probe that Democrats say is simply an election-year political move to appease the president. (NBC News)

‘Stop the Pain’: George Floyd's Brother Calls on Lawmakers to Overhaul Policing Laws: Philonise Floyd appeared last Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing on policing and law enforcement accountability. (CNN)

Defense

Senate Panel Approves $740B Defense Policy Bill: The Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced its $740.5 billion annual defense policy bill, the panel said last Thursday. (The Hill)

Smith Unsatisfied With Pentagon Answers on Protest Response: House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith last Thursday remained locked in a stalemate with Pentagon leaders amid requests for them to testify before the oversight panel on the military's role in response to recent nationwide protests, and particularly those within Washington, D.C. (Roll Call)

Senate Armed Services on Collision Course with Trump Over Confederate Names: The Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday voted to require the Pentagon to rename military bases and other assets named after Confederate generals, a move that puts the Republican-led panel on a collision course with the White House. (Roll Call)

SASC Prohibits DOD From Complying With “Misguided” FCC Ligado Decision: The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its version of the FY2021 defense authorization bill last week and among the provisions included was one that prohibits DOD from spending money to comply with the FCC’s decision to allow Ligado to use frequencies close to those used for the GPS system until certain conditions are met. DOD and many SASC members strongly oppose the FCC decision. (Space Policy Online)

Environment/Interior

Senate Advances Public Lands Bill in Late-Night Vote: The vote, conducted after 1:00 a.m. Friday morning, was required to advance the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). (The Hill)

Cyber

Senate Democrat introduces legislation to protect US against crippling cyberattack: Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) last Friday introduced two bills designed to protect and defend the United States in the event of a nationwide cyberattack that impacts critical systems and cripples the economy. (The Hill)

Education

State, City Education Officials Press Congress for More COVID-19 Funds: Officials from Tennessee, Nebraska and Denver told members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that school budgets are stretched thin by the combination of funding cuts and much-needed enhancements to allow students to resume learning safely in classrooms. (The Hill)

Energy

Senate Advances Deputy Energy Secretary Nominee: A Senate committee last Tuesday advanced the nomination of President Trump’s pick for the second-in-command role at the Energy Department. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

White House Adviser: Trump Wants ‘At Least $2 Trillion’ in Next Coronavirus Relief Package: White House trade adviser Peter Navarro signaled that President Trump is looking for at least $2 trillion in the next relief package being considered to help buoy an economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

Mnuchin Backs Push for More Emergency Economic Relief: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last Wednesday strongly backed the move for new legislation to put more money into the economy but said the aid must be targeted at helping specific businesses reopen. Possible avenues he floated included changes to the small business-focused Paycheck Protection Program and tax credits. (Politico)

White House, GOP Push Coronavirus Relief Talks to Late July, Sources Say: White House and Republican negotiators are not planning to hold formal negotiations on a fourth coronavirus stimulus package until late July, when Congress returns from recess, according to two senior administration officials and two senior GOP aides. (CNBC)

Health/HHS/NIH

Hoyer Says House Will Vote Soon on Bill to Improve ObamaCare: The House will vote the week of June 29 on a bill aimed at improving the Affordable Care Act (ACA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said last Thursday. (The Hill)

HHS Announces Plan to Send Out COVID-19 Medicaid Payments: The Trump administration announced last Tuesday how $25 billion from COVID-19 response legislation enacted this spring will begin to be distributed to eligible providers serving low-income patients during the pandemic. (Roll Call)

Pentagon Announces $135M in Deals Under Defense Production Act: The Department of Defense (DOD) on Wednesday announced $135 million in deals under the Defense Production Act (DPA), which President Trump invoked twice in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Labor and Workforce

Unemployment Claims Climbed by 1.5 Million Last Week, Despite Jobs Gains in May: Workers filed another 1.5 million claims for jobless benefits last week, the Labor Department reported. The latest figure indicates that the coronavirus-induced recession has forced roughly 44 million workers to seek unemployment aid in just 12 weeks. (Politico)

EPA/Interior

EPA Tells Amazon, EBay to Stop Shipping Unproven Covid Goods: Under the EPA orders, the companies are obligated to take the products off their websites and certify they have done so. Failure to comply with the stop-sale notices could expose the companies to civil penalties of as much as $20,288 per sale. (Yahoo!)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Ensures All Kids Can Get Free Meals This Summer as Nation Reopens: Secretary Perdue announced last Wednesday a nationwide extension of the waiver that gives local partners the ability to continue serving free meals to all children – regardless of where they live – for the remainder of the summer. (USDA Press Release)

USDA Details First $1.4B in Farm Stimulus Payments: The Agriculture Department has approved $1.4 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers affected by supply chain disruptions, with the most money going to livestock producers. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA’s New Chief of Human Spaceflight has a Commercial Background: On Friday morning, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that he had selected Kathy Lueders to serve as the space agency's new chief of human spaceflight. In this position, she will help set human spaceflight policy and implement it across the agency and her top mandate will be getting humans to the Moon by 2024, or soon thereafter. (Ars Technica)

Political Fight Continues Over Air Force Launch Services Procurement: Lawmakers and lobbyists are making a last-ditch effort to influence the Air Force’s game plan to procure space launch services, which is to announce only two winners of the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 launch services procurement rather than three that some providers have been fighting for. A May 29 letter signed by 28 lawmakers asks the Air Force to not cave to pressure to add a third provider in the Phase 2 launch services procurement, with action by the House and Senate Armed Services Committee on this issue also possible. (Space News)

Astrobotic Wins NASA Contract to Deliver VIPER Lunar Rover: NASA announced June 11 it awarded Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic a task order valued at $199.5 million to deliver the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mision to the surface of the moon in 2023. The task order is part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, where NASA purchases services from companies for the delivery of payloads to the lunar surface, rather than buying landers themselves. (Space News)

Baking & Housing/HUD

Fed Expands Main Street Program to Allow for Both Smaller and Bigger Loans: The central bank said last Monday that it is lowering the initially stated minimum loan and raising the maximum that can be borrowed, plus is expanding the loan terms to five years. (CNBC)

HUD Provides Remaining $2.96 Billion in CARES Act Funding for Homeless Populations Amid Coronavirus Recovery: Secretary Ben Carson last Tuesday announced the allocation of $2.96 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) funding to support homeless Americans and individuals at risk of becoming homeless because of hardships such as job loss, wage reduction, or illness due to COVID-19. (HUD Press Release)

Transportation/DOT

Federal Government to Distribute Nearly 100 Million Cloth Facial Coverings for Transportation Passengers: Last week, the Federal government announced nearly 100 million cloth facial coverings will be sent to the aviation, transit, and passenger rail transportation sectors for passenger use. Approximately 86.8 million coverings will be distributed to airports, and 9.6 million coverings will be distributed to 458 transit agencies and Amtrak for passenger use. (DOT)

Justice

‘Everything About This is Irregular’: Ex-Judge Tapped to Review Flynn Case Blasts Trump DOJ: A former judge selected to advise on a path forward in the criminal case against Michael Flynn is accusing the Justice Department of exercising a “gross abuse of prosecutorial power” to protect an ally of President Donald Trump, distorting known facts and legal principles to shield Flynn from a jail sentence. (Politico)

DHS/Homeland Security

DHS to Begin Sending Furlough Notices to 15,000 Employees Next Week: About 15,000 Homeland Security Department employees will receive reduction-in-force notices next week, warning them of upcoming furloughs in July if Congress does not provide emergency funding. (Government Executive)

USCIS Resumes Naturalizations, Ushers in 2,000 New Citizens: After halting all naturalization ceremonies several months ago amid the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has sworn in more than 2,000 new citizens since reopening field offices last week. (Roll Call)

Watchdog: CBP Money Meant for Food, Medical Care for Migrants was Spent on ATVs, Dirt Bikes: The report came after the House Homeland Security Committee asked the GAO to audit how the agency spent emergency funding allocated to it last year under a border funding bill. (The Hill)

Education

DeVos Issues Rule Barring Colleges from Granting Coronavirus Relief Funds to DACA Recipients: The rule finalizes the Education Department’s interpretation of a provision in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in March which allocated $12.6 billion to colleges to fund emergency grants for students affected by campus closures. (The Hill)