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Window On Washington - June 29, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 26

Jun 29, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

The House. The House will vote this week on the “INVEST in America Act” (H.R. 2), a more than $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that would include spending on roads, bridges, transit systems, schools, housing, rural broadband and the postal service. The bill text, section by section summary, fact sheet and committee summary can be found here. The House will also vote today on legislation that would bolster Obamacare and allow the government to negotiate the price of some medicines, and later this week, the House may vote on the “Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020” (H.R. 7301). The bill would give additional assistance to renters, homeowners, and people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic by authorizing about $194 billion in housing aid, expanding moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions, authorizing federal loans for rental property owners and mortgage servicers, and offering bankruptcy relief, among other provisions. Meanwhile, off the floor, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to mark up its FY 21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 6395) on Wednesday.

The Senate. The Senate will meet this afternoon to resume debate on the motion to proceed on the Senate’s FY 21 NDAA bill (S. 4049). Late last week, the chamber voted 90-7 to invoke cloture, or limit debate, on the motion to proceed to the legislation. The bill, which would authorize $740.5 billion for national security, would include $636.4 billion in DOD funding that would be subject to the defense spending cap, and $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which does not count against the cap. The bill also would authorize $25.9 billion for Energy Department programs and $9.2 billion for other programs.

2020 Elections. For the moment, former Vice President Joe Biden is riding ahead of President Trump in the polls. The President has a current approval rating in the low 40s, and nationally, Trump is behind Biden by nine points, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average. However, a lot can change in the next four and a half months. National Journal has a helpful deck with insights on the 2020 presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections, which can be found here.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

Budget & Appropriations

Chairman Yarmuth Seeks White House Commitment to Follow the Law & Refrain from Unlawful Impoundments: Last week, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) requested written confirmation from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that they will adhere to the requirements of the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (ICA) and refrain from repeating past actions. (House Budget Committee)

Health

House Democrats Unveil Bill to Expand Obamacare Ahead of Monday Vote: House Democrats last Wednesday unveiled a bill to expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The House will vote today on the measure. (The Hill)

Committee Leaders Raise Questions After Abrupt Termination of Federal Coronavirus Research Grant: Leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Science, Space, and Technology Committee sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar expressing concerns about the Trump Administration’s termination of the NIH grant awarded to EcoHealth Alliance that supported research on bats and coronaviruses. (House Energy and Commerce Committee)

Fauci Gives Congress COVID-19 Warning: Anthony Fauci, the administration’s top infectious disease doctor, told a House panel last Tuesday that rising U.S. cases of COVID-19 are “disturbing” as new signs emerged of the United States falling further behind other countries in containing the novel coronavirus. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Democrats Press for Legal Protections for Migrant Farm Workers: Jeff Merkley (D-OR), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USDA funding, introduced a bill last week that would offer more financial support for all ag workers and their employers. (Politico)

Transportation

Democrats Detail Their $1.5T Green Infrastructure Plan: House Democrats last Monday released new details about their $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan slated to come to a vote as early as this week. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

Treasury to Give Congress Access to All PPP Loan Data: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed to provide relevant congressional committees with full access to loan data from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a key demand Democrats have been pushing. (The Hill)

Agriculture

Roberts, Stabenow Announce Committee Passage of Grain Standards Reauthorization: U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) last week announced the Committee passed the bipartisan U.S. Grain Standards Reauthorization Act of 2020 by a voice vote. (Senate Agriculture Committee)

Legislators Urge USDA to Include Apple Growers in CFAP Payments: A bipartisan group of 25 lawmakers sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Purdue last Monday demanding that USDA include apple growers in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program after the department decided to keep apple growers out of the program. (Agri-Pulse)

Justice

Nadler Says House ‘May Very Well’ Pursue Impeachment of Attorney General William Barr: Rep. Nadler (D-NY), who had threatened Barr with a subpoena, is investigating the attorney general. In response to growing calls to impeach Barr, Nadler said over the weekend that pursuing impeachment would be a "waste of time" because of the Republican-led Senate. (CNN)

Defense

House Defense Bill Backs $1B Pandemic Preparedness Fund: The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill would create a $1 billion pandemic response and preparedness fund as the country continues to struggle with the coronavirus crisis. (The Hill)

Senate Pivots to Defense Bill After Police Reform Setback: The Senate is turning its attention to a mammoth defense policy bill after a GOP policing reform bill failed to overcome a key test vote. (The Hill)

Environment/Interior

Ernst Sinks Vote on Trump EPA Nominee: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will not take up Douglas Benevento’s nomination for the No. 2 position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) announced her opposition. (The Hill)

Cyber

Democratic Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Banning Government Use of Facial Recognition Technologies: A group of Democratic lawmakers last Thursday introduced legislation that would ban the federal government from using facial recognition technology. (The Hill)

Bipartisan Senators Introduce Legislation to Update Tech Liability Protections: Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation last Wednesday to update legal protections for online platforms. (The Hill)

Education

House Fails to Override Trump Veto of Bill Blocking DeVos Student Loan Rule: The vote is a win for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Her agency's new rule, slated to take effect Wednesday, rolls back Obama-era regulations that helped students who say they were cheated by dishonest for-profit colleges. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

White House, GOP Plot Next Moves on Coronavirus Relief: White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said last Tuesday on Fox Business that the Trump administration would likely want to target another round of direct payments in an upcoming package to “folks who lost their jobs and are most in need.” (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Administration Calls for Supreme Court to Strike Down Obamacare: The Trump administration last Thursday night argued in a legal brief filed to the Supreme Court that the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be invalidated. (The Hill)

HHS Whistleblower's Controversial Claim that Azar is Punishing Him: Rick Bright, who was ousted in April as chief of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed an amended complaint with a federal watchdog alleging that Azar recently has tried to disrupt his new work at the National Institutes of Health. (Politico)

HHS, Morehouse to Fight Virus in Minority Communities: The Trump administration is launching a three-year, $40 million program with Morehouse College, an HBCU, to provide coronavirus information to minority and rural communities, as well as to fight the spread of the virus. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

Pentagon’s Top Technology Officials Resign: The Pentagon’s top technology official and his deputy are resigning next month, a Defense Department official confirmed last Tuesday. (The Hill)

Labor and Workforce

Nearly 1.5 Million Americans File New Claims for Jobless Benefits: Nearly 1.5 million U.S. workers filed new applications for unemployment benefits in the third week of June despite easing coronavirus-related restrictions, according to data released last Thursday by the Labor Department. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

After Long Decline, SNAP Rising Due to COVID-19: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spending jumped to $5 billion in March as the pandemic began to shake the U.S. economy, according to new data released by USDA last week. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

New NASA Earth Science Director Outlines Challenges to Implementing Decadal Survey: In a speech June 23 at an online meeting of NASA’s Earth Science Technology Forum, one of her first public talks since starting at NASA in early June, Karen St. Germain spoke about a range of issues including current missions, implementing new programs, budget pressures and the opportunities presented by increasing commercial capabilities in Earth observation. (Space News)

NASA Asks Industry to Provide it With Greater Access to Microgravity: Last week, NASA formally asked the US space industry, seeking input from established companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, to give it ideas on how to procure brief spaceflights for its astronaut corps and scientists. The desire for cost effective access to space will have to also be weighed against the risk, said Administrator Jim Bridenstein. (Ars Technica)

New Remote Sensing Regulations Seen as Improvement: Speakers at NOAA’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES) meeting included three members of Congress, the Secretary of Commerce, the head of NOAA, and high ranking officials from the White House and DOD all praised new commercial remote sensing regulations published last month, but many also expressed concerns about implementation and some think legislation is needed. (Space Policy Online)

NOAA to Buy Commercial Radio Occultation Data for Operations: Based on the results of the technical evaluation of the data provided by two vendors in the Commercial Weather Data Pilot Round 2 Pilot, NOAA has concluded that the commercial sector is capable of providing the quality of data needed to help support NOAA’s operational weather forecasting needs. (Space News)

Baking & Housing/HUD

Treasury Sent More Than 1 Million Coronavirus Stimulus Payments to Dead People, Congressional Watchdog Finds: The federal government sent coronavirus stimulus payments to almost 1.1 million dead people totaling nearly $1.4 billion, Congress’s independent watchdog reported last Thursday. (The Washington Post)

Fed Bans Stock Buybacks, Caps Dividend Payments for Big Banks After Stress Tests: The Federal Reserve on Thursday banned more than 30 large U.S. banks from buying back their stocks and limited the size of dividends they could pay out to shareholders due to the financial strain of the coronavirus recession. (The Hill)

Transportation/DOT

American Airlines says it will Fill Planes to Capacity Starting July 1: American Airlines will book flights to capacity effective July 1, the company said in a press release on Friday. The airline said it will notify customers and allow them to move to more open flights if they are available at no extra price. (The Hill)

DHS/Homeland Security

Appeals Court Rules Funding For Trump Border Wall Construction ‘Unlawful’: The Trump administration does not have the authority to use military funding to pay for construction of a border wall, a federal appeals court panel ruled last Friday. (NBC)

DHS Asks Facebook, Twitter and Others to Take Action on Posts Calling for ‘Violence’ Amid Nationwide Protests: The Department of Homeland Security is calling on tech companies to take “appropriate action” on posts that encourage others to break mandated curfews, loot stores or coordinate violence amid nationwide protests demanding police reform and racial justice. (CNBC)

US Immigration Agency Prepares to Furlough More Than Half of Its Workforce: US Citizenship and Immigration Services notified Congress of its projected budget shortfall last month. While conversations with the Hill are ongoing, according to the agency's statement, preparation is underway for furloughs. (CNN)

Supreme Court Sides with Trump Administration in Asylum Cases: The decision authorizes the Trump administration to fast-track deportations for thousands of asylum-seekers after bare-bones screening procedures. (NPR)

Trump Suspends Visas Allowing Hundreds of Thousands of Foreigners to Work in the U.S: In a sweeping order, which will be in place at least until the end of the year, Mr. Trump blocked visas for a wide variety of jobs, including those for computer programmers and other skilled workers who enter the country under the H-1B visa, as well as those for seasonal workers in the hospitality industry, students on work-study summer programs and au pairs who arrive under other auspices. (The New York Times)

Department of Energy

Energy Department Aims to Boost Coal with $120M Innovation Program: The department said in a statement that it will make about $122 million available to create “coal product innovation centers” to make new products from coal and develop new methods to extract critical minerals from it. (The Hill)