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Window On Washington - March 15, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 11

Mar 14, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. The Senate plans to vote this week on Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) nomination to be Interior Secretary and Xavier Becerra’s nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. There may also be votes as soon as this week on an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will vote Wednesday on the nominations of Dr. Vivek Murthy to be the U.S. surgeon general and Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services. The House also has a handful of votes set for this week, including on legislation related to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1620), a path to permanent residence and citizenship for Dreamers (H.R. 6), and immigration system changes for farm workers (H.R. 1603). The House will also consider numerous bills under suspension of the rules.

Separately, there are a variety of hearings planned for the week. Tomorrow, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on the state of housing in the U.S. Wednesday’s hearings include one from the House Energy and Commerce Committee on increasing COVID-19 vaccines, a Senate Environment and Public Works hearing on drinking water and waste water infrastructure projects, a House Science hearing on rebuilding the federal scientific workforce, and a House Education and Labor hearing on higher education post COVID-19. On Thursday, the House Science Committee will hold a hearing on the Texas blackouts and the research needs for a secure and resilient grid.

Infrastructure Package. With the passage of the COVID-19 relief package, Democrats are now focusing their efforts on an infrastructure package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has asked the relevant House Committee chairs to begin working with Republicans to put the package together. Democrats would like to see a bipartisan bill that is job-creating and that includes priorities such as transit, energy, broadband, water systems, education, and housing. It remains unknown exactly how much the package will cost and how portions of it will be paid for. For the time being, House Energy and Commerce Democrats introduced a $312 billion package called the “Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act” (LIFT America Act) that focuses on clean energy, energy efficiency, drinking water, broadband, and health care infrastructure. This package represents the Committee Democrats’ opening proposal for an infrastructure package.

FY22 Budget and Appropriations. It remains to be seen when exactly the president’s FY22 budget request will be released. As of now, the expectation is that there will be a skinny budget released in early April and the full budget later that month or in May. Separately, the House Appropriations Committee has a handful of hearings planned for this week, including one tomorrow on the role of FEMA in the COVID-19 response and a hearing Wednesday on domestic manufacturing for a clean energy future. Additionally, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Budget Committee have advanced the nomination of Shalanda Young to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While the White House has said they will appoint Young as acting OMB director if she’s confirmed as deputy director, there is growing speculation that she may be nominated to lead the agency.

Biden Administration. Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden will be visiting cities across the country this week to discuss the benefits of the COVID-19 package. Vice President Harris will be in Las Vegas today and Denver tomorrow, while President Biden will be in Bucks County, PA tomorrow. The two will also make a joint appearance in Atlanta on Friday. Separately, Biden Administration officials will hold their first high-level, in-person talks with Chinese officials this Thursday in Alaska.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Senate Panels Advance Shalanda Young Nomination for Deputy OMB Director: The Senate Homeland Security panel advanced Young's nomination on a 7-6 vote along party lines, while the Senate Budget panel approved her on a more bipartisan basis in a 14-8 vote. (The Hill)

Health

Senate Advances Becerra Nomination for HHS Secretary: A divided Senate last Thursday advanced Xavier Becerra's nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) joined all of the chamber's Democrats in backing a confirmation vote. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Lawmakers Strike Bipartisan Deal to Extend Small-Business Loan Program: Senior House and Senate lawmakers have reached an agreement to extend the Paycheck Protection Program for two months amid growing concern that the March 31 expiration of the landmark small-business rescue plan would deprive many employers of aid. (Politico)

House Democrats Pass Bill That Would Protect Worker Organizing Efforts: House Democrats have approved a bill that would provide protections for workers trying to organize, a measure that is the labor movement's single biggest legislative priority in this Congress. (NPR)

Banking & Housing

Senate Confirms Fudge as Housing Secretary: The Senate last Wednesday confirmed Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a solid bipartisan margin. (The Hill)

Transportation

House Democrats' Unveil $312B Infrastructure Proposal: A group of House Democrats last Thursday introduced the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow's America Act (LIFT America Act), legislation that would, among other investments, provide almost $94 billion to expand access to broadband internet to underserved communities. (Smart Cities Dive)

Congress Weighs Propping Up or Transforming Transportation Systems: The COVID-19 pandemic upended virtually every aspect of the transportation industry. Now, one year later, lawmakers tasked with crafting infrastructure policy have to figure out which of those changes will be permanent. (Roll Call)

Homeland Security & Immigration

‘Dreamer,’ Farmworker Bills to Test Senate Waters on Immigration: House Democrats will put forth legislation that creates a path to legal status for migrant farmworkers while ramping up requirements for E-Verify, an electronic system to verify employees’ work authorization, and restructuring the H-2A agricultural visa program. (Roll Call)

Judiciary/Justice

Senate Confirms Garland as Attorney General: The Senate voted 70-30 last Wednesday to confirm Merrick Garland as attorney general, a role known as the nation’s top law enforcement official. (Roll Call)

Agriculture

House Tackles Ag Labor: The House will vote on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act this week, which would provide a path to legal status for undocumented agricultural workers and expand the H-2A visa program. (Agri-Pulse)

Environment & Interior

Senate Confirms Michael Regan to Lead EPA: The Senate confirmed Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency last Thursday, putting the North Carolina regulator in charge of restoring the climate and water pollution regulations that the Trump administration had weakened. (Politico)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Biden Signs $1.9 Trillion Relief Bill into Law: President Biden last Thursday signed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package into law, marking a significant legislative accomplishment for the new president as he looks to shepherd the country through the pandemic. (The Hill)

Health/HHS/NIH

Biden Will Direct States to Make All Adults Eligible for Covid Vaccine by May 1: President Joe Biden announced last Thursday evening that he will direct states to make all adults, ages 18 and up, eligible for the coronavirus vaccines by May 1. (CNBC)

Labor & Workforce

Labor Department Moves to Reverse Trump Rules that Narrow Worker Protections: The Labor Department moved last Thursday to end two rules established under the Trump administration that reduced federal labor protections for millions of workers. (The Hill)

Department of Education

College Cost Worries, Online Learning to Remain after COVID-19: For a sector often resistant to change, the pandemic has speeded a reckoning with skyrocketing costs and traditional instruction methods. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing/HUD

What Biden’s American Rescue Plan Means for Housing: For the housing industry, Biden’s American Rescue Plan is an enormous buoy at a time when home prices are sky-high, inventory is low, and millions are struggling to make rent and mortgage payments. Specifically, the bill allocates $22 billion for emergency rental assistance, replenishing the Coronavirus Relief Fund. (HousingWire)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS Starts Sending $1,400 Direct Payments: The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have started the process of sending out the $1,400 direct payments included in President Biden's coronavirus relief law. (The Hill)

Trade

Sullivan Says Tariffs Will Not Take Center Stage in Talks with China: National security adviser Jake Sullivan said last Friday that tariffs and export controls will not be a top issue when U.S. and China hold their first in-person meeting this week. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Russia Turns Away from NASA, Says It Will Work with China on a Moon Base: The heads of the Chinese and Russian space agencies signed an agreement last Tuesday to work together to build a "scientific" station on the Moon. Russia was noticeably absent in signing on to NASA’s “Artemis Accords”, despite several decades of cooperation in the ISS. (Ars Technica)

Industry Groups Advocate for NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce: In a March 9 letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the Aerospace Industries Association, Commercial Spaceflight Federation and Satellite Industry Association called for the department to fund the small office at a level “reflective of its critical role” supporting the space industry. (Space News)

US Air Force is Guarding Against Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks. Should We Worry? Officials at the Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland, Texas, have issued a request for bids to carry out a survey of a facilities to identify any equipment that could be vulnerable to a massive space weather event or an EMP attack ahead of more detailed vulnerability testing and ways to protect essential equipment. (Space)

Defense/DOD

Research, Procurement Could Get Squeezed in Biden DOD Budget: Defense spending experts are suggesting procurement and research spending could take a hit in what is expected to be an effectively flat defense budget for fiscal year 2022, because of growth in other areas of the budget, and that RDT&E is especially at risk. (Defense News)

Pentagon Takes Heat for Extending Guard's Time at Capitol: Lawmakers have amplified their calls to prove the validity of the Guard’s mission — which earlier last week was extended through most of May — as the Defense Department has struggled to relay the reasoning for the deployment’s months-long continuation and the cost of the deployment soars to over $500 million. (The Hill)

Pentagon Processes ‘Antithetical’ to AI Development, Former Google CEO Warns: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt expressed continued concerns about DOD regulations that are essentially antithetical to prioritizing AI, due to a focus primarily on hardware development rather than software and AI activities. (C4ISR Net)

DHS & Immigration

DHS Grants Temporary Legal Status to Myanmar Citizens in US: “Due to the military coup and security forces’ brutal violence against civilians, the people of Burma are suffering a complex and deteriorating humanitarian crisis in many parts of the country,” Department of Homeland Secretary (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas said in a release, using an alternate name for the country. (The Hill)

Judiciary/DOJ

DOJ Expects to Charge at Least 100 More in Capitol Riot Investigation: Federal prosecutors made the disclosure in a court filing last Friday requesting a 60-day delay in the case against nine alleged Oath Keepers who are charged with conspiracy in connection with the riots. (The Hill)

Cyber

CISA: ‘Identity is Everything’ for Cyber Defense Post-SolarWinds: The adversary behind the SolarWinds breach went to extraordinary lengths to remain undetected in affected networks, likely spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours to pull off a supply-chain compromise this sophisticated, and requiring a reexamination of how verified credentials were exploited. (Federal News Network)

Department of Energy

GAO Estimates Electric Grid Climate Challenges: Climate change will have "far-reaching" impacts on the electric grid that could cost billions of dollars, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. (The Hill)