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Window On Washington - March 18, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 12

Mar 18, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Congress: The Congress will be on recess this week, before returning the following week to resume work on a number of matters.  For House Democrats, that means additional work on their top legislative priorities and bills, as well as additional efforts by numerous Committees to get access to the President’s tax returns and to subpoena Administration officials.  Before leaving last week, the House approved a resolution unanimously calling for a public release of the Mueller report upon its completion.  The Senate will return to work on additional nominations, and both chambers will continue to ramp up hearings on the Administration’s budget proposals for next year.

White House:  After more than two years of keeping his veto pen capped, President Donald Trump is going to have to put it to use — twice — courtesy of Senate Republicans.  The Senate held two votes last week placing GOP Senators at odds with the president on foreign and domestic policy, likely forcing the first vetoes of his presidency.  Seven Republicans voted with Democrats on measure disapproving of Yemen policy, and a further 12 voted to rebuke the President for his emergency border declaration.

Budget & Appropriations:  President Trump sent his annual budget vision to Congress last week, starting a new battle over how to fund the government that sets up the nation for an even more destructive shutdown when money runs out later this year.  The President’s plan seeks deep cuts from agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. At the same time, it would spend $8.6 billion on a border wall with Mexico and boost defense spending to $750 billion, both items sure to raise intense opposition from Democrats.  The White House is also employing an accounting trick to secure a funding boost for the military that averts set spending limits for defense programs.  Administration officials this past week and in coming weeks will be called to testify before various Appropriations Subcommittees, and will again face serious skepticism from House and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Tax Reform

Hearing Leaves Tax Extenders Still in Limbo: The House Ways and Means Committee in Congress held a hearing last Tuesday to discuss temporary tax provisions and the urgency of both currently expired provisions and those set to expire. According to the Joint Committee, there are 80 provisions set to expire between now and 2027, and around 29 provisions which have expired in 2017 or 2018. (Accounting Today)

Health

Divisions Emerge Over House Drug Price Bills:  Divisions are emerging in the House over what lawmakers hoped would be a bipartisan push to lower drug prices.  Drug pricing is a rare area where members of both parties think there is a chance for a deal this year. But as House Democrats took the first step last Wednesday to begin moving legislation forward, it was clear that even relatively small-scale drug pricing bills may not have a smooth path ahead. (The Hill)

Defense

Senate Votes Again to End Aid to Saudi War in Yemen, Defying Trump: The Senate on Wednesday again rebuked President Trump for his continued defense of Saudi Arabia after the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, voting for a second time to end American military assistance for the kingdom’s war in Yemen and to curtail presidential war powers. (New York Times)

Cyber

Media Plays Tech Watchdog While Regulations Stall: Despite an onslaught of hearings and statements from Washington, virtually no regulation has actually passed in the past couple of years to significantly address the potentially harmful practices of tech companies. Media reports have driven most of the changes to date, especially around privacy. (Axios)

Labor & Workforce

Paid Sick Leave Advocate from Dearborn Presses Issue in Congress: After her diagnosis in 2007, Christina Hayes of Dearborn rapidly burned through vacation days to receive treatment for lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.  She ended up missing so many days that supervisors wrote her up, and she risked losing her job. Hayes said she started skipping treatments, collapsed at work and had to be carried out on a stretcher.   The experience transformed her into an advocate who lobbied for Michigan's paid sick leave law, which takes effect this month. Hayes has now taken her campaign to the U.S. Capitol. (Detroit News)

Justice

House Republicans Join Democrats to Demand the Full Mueller Report from DOJ: House Republicans united with their Democratic counterparts to pass a resolution demanding that the Department of Justice release to Congress, and then to the public the full report of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Mueller is reportedly close to completing a nearly two-year probe into Russian interference during the 2016 election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. (Roll Call)

Energy

Land and Water Conservation Fund Signed into Law: President Trump signed into law a broad public lands package S. 47 (116) that contains a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Years of effort culminated with Congress passing the bill that guarantees at least 40 percent of LWCF funds will be go to state grants and another 40 percent be directed to federal programs. It garnered widespread bipartisan backing in both the House and Senate. In addition to the LWCF reauthorization, the package cobbled together more than a hundred parochial lands bills, wildlife conservation provisions and language expanding access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation on federal lands. (Clark Hill Insight)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Budget Pitches Capping Seniors’ Out-of-Pocket Drug Costs, Cutting NIH Funding Deeply:  The White House on Monday proposed capping out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for seniors covered by Medicare, re-emphasizing Trump administration support for a concept endorsed both by pharmaceutical companies and congressional Democrats.  The proposal came within President Trump’s draft budget proposal — a document that also calls for a roughly $5.5 billion funding cut for the National Institutes of Health, despite the recent announcement of research and public health initiatives to end new HIV transmissions by 2030 and develop new treatments for childhood cancer. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Criticized for Proposed Budget Cuts:  NASA’s fiscal year 2020 budget request is facing scrutiny from nearly all quarters for its proposals to cut science missions and education programs as well as defer work on an upgraded version of the Space Launch System.  The proposal, released March 11, offers $21.02 billion for NASA in 2020, a decrease of about $480 million over what the agency received in 2019 in an appropriations bill signed into law Feb. 15. Those cuts, though, are not distributed equally among the agency’s various directorates. (Space News)

Industry and Lawmakers Come to Defense of SLS, After Surprise NASA Announcement:  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s surprise announcement March 13 that NASA is considering moving Exploration Mission 1 off of the Space Launch System took many in the industry by surprise, but some have reacted by defending the use of the SLS.  Bridenstine, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, said the agency was looking at using a pair of commercial launch vehicles, likely provided by SpaceX and/or United Launch Alliance, to launch the Orion spacecraft and an upper stage that would propel the uncrewed spacecraft to the moon. A decision on the feasibility for doing so could come in the next few weeks. (Space News)

Ice Samples Reveal a Massive Sun Storm Hit Earth in Ancient Times...And It Could Happen Again: A gigantic solar storm hit Earth about 2,600 years ago, one about 10 times stronger than any solar storm recorded in the modern day, a new study finds.  These findings suggest that such explosions recur regularly in Earth's history, and could wreak havoc if they were to hit now, given how dependent the world has become on electricity. (Space.com)

Science

Trump Seeks Big Cuts to Science Funding — Again:  This is the third year that Trump has proposed cutting the National Institutes of Health’s budget, along with other key federal science agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.  Congress has rebuffed Trump’s proposed cuts for the past two years, which have little support in the Congress among either party. (Nature)

Defense

The Pentagon is Asking For a Colossal $718 billion for its 2020 Defense Budget: The Pentagon is asking for $718 billion in its fiscal 2020 budget, a $33 billion or about 5 percent increase over what Congress enacted for fiscal 2019. (CNBC)

Trade

Trump's Trade War Cost U.S. Economy $7.8 Billion in 2018: President Trump’s trade battles cost the U.S. economy $7.8 billion in lost gross domestic product in 2018, a study by a team of economists at leading American universities published this week showed. Authors of the paper said they analyzed the short-run impact of Trump’s actions and found that imports from targeted countries declined 31.5 percent while targeted U.S. exports fell by 11 percent. They also found that annual consumer and producer losses from higher costs of imports totaled $68.8 billion. (Reuters)

Immigration

Trump Vetoes Resolution Blocking his Border Wall Emergency, his First Use of that Power: President Trump vetoed a congressional resolution Friday that rescinded his national emergency declaration at the U.S.-Mexico border, wielding the power for the first time in his presidency to save a top priority. (USA Today)

Homeland Security/DHS

Congressional Demands of DHS Make Nielsen 'Really Fear for Our Democracy:' Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday that congressional opposition to her department's border security measures makes her "fear for our democracy," insisting that members of Congress focus on changing the law instead of asking DHS to change how it is enforced. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Five Things Employers Should Know About the DOL’s New Overtime Rule: On March 7, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor issued its much-anticipated proposed rule to update the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime exemptions.  If finalized, the rule would raise the salary threshold to qualify for the executive, administrative, and professional (EAP) exemptions to $35,308 per year — up from the $23,660 annual salary under the current rule.  Beyond the salary increase for the EAP exemptions, the rule also proposes a salary level increase for “highly compensated” employees; inclusion of certain nondiscretionary and incentive payments in the salary computation; review of the salary level every four years, and; maintenance of the existing duties test for executive, administrative and professional employees.  (Clark Hill Insight)

CEOs Meet with President Trump at the White House for Workforce Meeting: The White House hosted members of the newly formed “American workforce policy advisory board” for its first meeting recently.  The board consists of 25 executives, state and local officials and representatives from various universities. The CEOs of Apple, Siemens USA, IBM, Visa, Home Depot, Lockheed Martin and Walmart are some of the high profile business leaders on the panel. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and advisor, lead the advisory board. The White House says the board’s mission is to “revamp the American workforce to better meet the challenges of the 21st century.” (Yahoo Finance)

Energy/DOE

EPA Pushes Forward Plan to Increase Ethanol Mix in Gasoline: President Trump on Tuesday advanced a plan that would expand the use of ethanol in gasoline across the U.S., a move pushed by corn farmers but expected to draw ire from the oil and gas industry. (The Hill)

Trump Unveils 2020 Budget, Plan Slashes Funds for EPA, Interior and Energy: At the Department of Energy, the White House budget requests $31.7 billion, an 11 percent decrease from current funding. (Clark Hill Insight)

Cyber

Huawei Pleads Not Guilty to U.S. Charges in New York Court: China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd on Thursday pleaded not guilty to a 13-count indictment filed in a New York federal court against the company, as tensions have ratcheted up between the U.S. and Beijing. (Reuters)

What’s in the $9.6B Cyber Budget Request?: The White House’s fiscal 2020 budget request to Congress, published March 11, asked for a cyber budget of $9.6 billion. The request will fund a wide variety of things under the “cyber” moniker, to include cybersecurity as well as operations. (Fifth Domain)

Transportation/DOT

FAA’s Emergency Order Grounding Boeing Jets Came After the Agency Identified Similarities Between Crashes in Ethiopia, Indonesia: After days of resistance, the United States on Wednesday followed its counterparts around the world in grounding the Boeing 737 Max 8, the aircraft involved in a deadly crash in Ethi­o­pia on Sunday and another several months ago in Indonesia. (Washington Post)

President’s FY20 Budget Cuts DOT Appropriations $5.9 Billion: The President’s budget, released in an abbreviated form on Monday, requests $21.4 billion for the Department of Transportation, a 22 percent decrease from fiscal year 2019 enacted levels. The budget includes $2 billion for INFRA grants to make awards to “large projects that relieve congestion and mitigate bottlenecks on the Nation’s strategic freight networks, including interstates freight rail, and ports,” and $1 billion for BUILD grants for surface transportation projects in urban and rural communities. The budget requests $300 million for competitive highway bridge program, and $300 million for two innovative approaches to fund water infrastructure investments. (Clark Hill Insight)

Education/DOE

‘Disgraceful’: Betsy DeVos says Education Department Will Investigate College Admissions Scandal: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Wednesday that she plans to investigate whether Education Department regulations were violated in a sprawling college admissions scandal. (Washington Post)

DeVos Moves to Ease Church-State Rules in Education: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Monday that she will no longer enforce a provision in federal law that bars religious organizations from providing federally funded educational services to private schools. (The New York Times)