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Window On Washington - March 2, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 9

Mar 02, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. Both the House and Senate are in this week. The House is scheduled to vote on a bill that would enhance the benefits and workplace protections for Transportation Security Administration personnel. The Senate could take up a bipartisan clean energy and efficiency bill, the American Energy Innovation Act. While only unveiled last week, the bill has been fast tracked for floor action. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees again have busy weeks with numerous budget hearings.

Coronavirus Supplemental. The House and Senate are also trying to reach an agreement on a coronavirus emergency spending bill. The package could reportedly provide somewhere between $6 and $8 billion to address the outbreak – much higher than the original $2.5 billion the Administration originally requested. If a deal is reached, the House could take up the measure as early as this week.  

Democratic Presidential Primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden won the South Carolina primary over the weekend, and 15 states and territories will hold their primaries tomorrow on Super Tuesday. The latest analysis and polling for the Super Tuesday contests is available here from FiveThirtyEight.   

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Busy Budget Season Highlights Scheduling Woes: President Trump’s budget was introduced last month, and last week began the slew of officials heading to Capitol Hill to promote the administration wish list, with Cabinet officials appearing at hearings in authorizing committees and Appropriations panels. A CQ Roll Call analysis revealed multiple double-bookings for many appropriators, and last week’s slate of high-ranking witnesses made lawmakers’ choices of which hearings to prioritize, which to skip and which to pop into even harder. (Roll Call)

House Appropriations Committee’s Hearings Summaries from the Democrats: The House Appropriations Committee had a busy week of budget hearings. Witnesses included Secretaries DeVos (Education), Chao (Transportation), and Brouillette (Energy) as well as representatives from other agencies. (House Appropriations Committee- Majority)

Health

House Votes to Ban Flavored Tobacco to Curb Youth Vaping Epidemic: The House passed legislation to ban the manufacturing and sale of flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco, a far-reaching step to combat a youth vaping epidemic that had ensnared 5 million teenagers. In light of the vaping epidemic, the main target of the bill is flavored e-cigarettes, but it also would ban menthol cigarettes and cigar flavors while prohibiting the online sales of e-cigarettes. (The Washington Post)

Congress Eyes $6 billion to $8 billion to Combat Coronavirus: Lawmakers are discussing a spending package that would provide between $6 billion to $8 billion to combat the coronavirus. The zeroing in on the higher spending range comes as negotiators want to finalize a deal by early next week, which would allow for the spending package to go to the House floor for a vote shortly thereafter. Congress has approximately 10 working days before it is set to leave for a weeklong recess, giving lawmakers a tight timeframe if they are going to finalize a deal, get it passed by both chambers and get it to President Trump's desk before leaving town. (The Hill)

Republicans Storm Out of Coronavirus Briefing after Democrat Rips Trump's Response: Several House Republicans walked out of a closed-door coronavirus briefing with Trump health officials in protest after a senior Democrat blasted the Trump administration’s handling of the response effort. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) kicked off the briefing sharply criticizing the administration as disorganized and lacking urgency in combating the coronavirus, lawmakers said. Her speech frustrated Republicans and some Democrats assembled to hear from the slate of officials from the CDC, NIH and State Department. (Politico)

Defense

GOP Senator Presses Pentagon on Protecting Service Members from Coronavirus: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), a top Senate Armed Services Committee Republican, pressed the Pentagon on how it will protect members of the military and their families from the coronavirus at a hearing last Friday. (The Hill)

House Democrats to Introduce Bill Clawing Back Border Wall Funds: Democrats in the House of Representatives are working on new legislation that would “claw back” funds the White House took from the Pentagon’s budget to fund construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, the chairman of the House Armed Services committee said last Thursday. (Reuters)

Democrats Introduce Bill to Reverse Trump's Shift of Military Money Toward Wall: Senate Democrats last Wednesday introduced legislation to reverse President Trump's decision to shift billions in military funding toward the US-Mexico border wall and place new limitations on the Pentagon's transfer authority. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Sen. Kennedy Slams Acting DHS Secretary for Lack of Coronavirus Answers:  Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) slammed acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf last Tuesday for Wolf's lack of answers during a tense grilling on the US response to the coronavirus outbreak. (The Hill)

Cyber

Key House Democrat Criticizes DHS for Not Submitting Election Security Report on Time: House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) last Friday raised concerns around the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) failure to submit a congressionally mandated election security report on time. (The Hill)

Senate Unanimously Approves Bill to Ban Purchase of Huawei Equipment with Federal Funds: The Senate unanimously approved legislation last Thursday that would ban the use of federal funds to purchase telecommunications equipment from companies deemed a national security threat, such as Chinese group Huawei. (The Hill)

Justice

Trump Wins Appeal to Block McGahn Testimony: The ruling is a blow to House Democrats’ attempts to talk to former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in the Russia probe. (Politico)

Environment/Interior

Lawmakers Grill EPA Chief Over Push to Slash Agency's Budget: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler appeared before lawmakers last Thursday to defend a budget that would bring the agency to its lowest funding level in years. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

Republicans Push for Reducing Regulatory Costs to Tackle Affordable Housing Crisis: Republicans at the state and federal level are pushing for lower costs associated with regulations as a way to address the nation’s affordable housing crisis, and arguing that less funding should flow to areas with burdensome regulatory environments which drive up the costs of such housing. (The Hill)

Energy

Murkowski, Manchin Introduce Major Energy Legislation: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) on Thursday introduced a long-awaited energy package that's shaping up to be the best chance this year for passing legislation to expand the use of cleaner forms of energy. (The Hill)

GOP Lawmaker Accuses Administration of 'Playing Politics' with Yucca Mountain Reversal: In a hearing last Thursday on the Department of Energy’s proposed budget for FY 2021, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) accused the Trump administration of "playing politics” with its reversal on funding for a nuclear waste repository in Nevada. (The Hill)

Education

DeVos, Democrats Spar over Block Grants, Charter Schools: ​​​Democrats on a House appropriations panel took aim last Thursday at the Trump administration's fiscal 2021 Education Department budget plan, warning Secretary Betsy DeVos that many of its proposals won't become law. (Roll Call)

Transportation

Trump’s Highway Bill Under Review, Secretary Chao Tells US House: ​​​At a hearing with House lawmakers, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said President Trump’s legislative vision for the country’s highway system — which the White House intends to share with Congress — is being finalized. The plan is central to the president’s infrastructure agenda and is expected to be revealed before a key highway law expires this fall. (Transportation Topics)

Labor and Workforce

Senators From Both Political Parties Urge Trump to 'Reconsider' Defense Union Memo: A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday asked President Trump to “reconsider” his recent memo granting Defense Secretary Mark Esper the power to end collective bargaining for the Pentagon’s 700,000-person civilian workforce, describing the measure as a misuse of federal labor law. (Government Executive)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Cruz Skeptical About Prospects for NASA Appropriations or Other Legislation: The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee expressed doubts any space-related legislation, or even spending bills, can make it through Congress this year. At a Space Transportation Association event on Feb. 26, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested differences between the House and Senate versions of a NASA authorization bill might be too great to reconcile, and put the blame on the House. (Space News)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

US Mulls Using Sweeping Powers to Ramp Up Production of Coronavirus Protective Gear: President Trump’s administration is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States. The use of the law, passed by Congress in 1950 at the outset of the Korean War, would mark an escalation of the administration’s response to the outbreak. The virus first surfaced in China and has since spread to other countries including the United States. (Reuters)

Trump Puts Pence in Charge of Coronavirus Response: President Trump appointed his Vice President Mike Pence to lead a task force to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Speaking during a news conference, Trump cited Pence's experience as governor of Indiana as qualifying him to spearhead the growing threat of the global outbreak. The White House had been weighing the appointment of a coronavirus czar in the lead up of the announcement as it faced criticism over its inconsistent messaging during the emerging crisis. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

US Signs Peace Deal With Taliban After Nearly 2 Decades Of War In Afghanistan: The US and the Taliban have struck a deal that paves the way for eventual peace in Afghanistan. US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and the head of the militant Islamist group, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, signed the potentially historic agreement Saturday in Doha, Qatar, where the two sides spent months hashing out its details. (NPR)

Trade

Trump and Johnson Line Up ‘Massive’ Trade deal. But the Experts Aren’t so Optimistic: The UK is about to start trade negotiations with the United States, but some experts doubt they’ll achieve a far-reaching deal anytime soon. (CNBC)

Labor and Workforce

Coronavirus: DOL Guidance on Employee Pay in the Event of a Pandemic: The anticipated spread of coronavirus in the U.S. has many employers revisiting their emergency response plans, but this is not the Department of Labor’s “first rodeo”, and there is existing guidance under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) implementing regulations on how employees must be compensated in these situations. (JD Supra)

Energy/DOE

The Force is Strong in Neutron Stars: A new study identifies a transition in the strong nuclear force that illuminates the structure of a neutron star's core. (Science Daily)

Dept. of Ed

Education Department Changing Eligibility for Hundreds of Rural School Districts Receiving Aid: The funding helps sustain schools in geographically isolated areas with fewer local funding opportunities. The change was reportedly announced through letters to education leaders from the Education Department. (The Hill)

DHS/Immigration

Trump Knocked Back on Asylum Policies: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a coalition of immigrant legal services groups in ruling against a Trump administration rule barring asylum claims from people who cross the US-Mexico border without presenting themselves at an official port of entry. (Politico)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Interior Dept. Moves to Sell Oil Drilling Rights in Alaska Wildlife Refuge: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Saturday that the Trump administration is "about to finalize a leasing plan" to sell rights for oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Axios)

Cyber

Pentagon Confirms Alka Patel to Lead the Implementation of Its New Ethical AI Principles: The Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center has hired Alka Patel to lead the implementation of its new ethical principles for using artificial intelligence in warfare. (NextGov)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Drops DEA Hemp Testing Requirement for 2020, While FDA Acknowledges Demand for CBD: Federal agriculture officials will delay the requirement that all THC testing on hemp crops must be performed at laboratories registered with the US Drug Enforcement Administration. And food and drug regulators say it’s a “fool’s errand” to get people to stop taking over-the-counter CBD. (Hemp Industry Daily)

USDA Announces Aid Signup for Drought, Excess Moisture Losses: Farmers who had crops damaged by drought or excessive moisture in 2018 or 2019 can start applying March 23 for disaster assistance authorized by Congress last year. Producers will be eligible for the drought assistance if any area of the county in which the loss occurred was rated extreme drought or higher, and excess moisture losses in counties that had a disaster declaration are eligible for payments, as well as other places where a producer can document that a loss was due to a qualifying natural disaster. (Agri-Pulse)

Transportation/DOT

US Department of Transportation Announces Final Rule to Enhance Air Carrier Pilot Development: The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a final rule aimed at enhancing the professional development of air carrier pilots. The Pilot Professional Development rule requires specific training for newly-hired pilots and supplemental training for captains. (Aviation Pros)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Planning Document May Offer Clues to Changes in Artemis Program: NASA is close to finalizing a plan to land humans on the Moon in 2024 and is expected to publicly discuss it next month. While the space agency has not released its revised strategy publicly, a recently updated "mission manifest" for the Space Launch System rocket may provide some clues about the new Artemis Program. (Ars Technica)

US Weather Modeling Computers to Get $505M Upgrade to Triple Speed: NOAA’s supercomputers are getting a half-billion dollar upgrade, which will eventually allow weather computer modeling improvements. $505 million dollars has been requested for making NOAA’s supercomputers faster, and two new facilities to house them will be located in Manassas, Virginia, and Phoenix, Arizona. (Michigan Live)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS Releases Data Through First Four Weeks of Tax-filing Season: The IRS last Friday released statistics about the first four weeks of the tax-filing season, which showed that the average refund amount was about the same as it was last year. (The Hill)

Baking & Housing/HUD

Fed Chief Hints Toward Rate Cut Amid Wall Street Coronavirus Rout: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last Friday that the central bank will likely take action to boost the US economy amid a steep stock market selloff triggered by the coronavirus outbreak and pressure from Wall Street and lawmakers to act. (The Hill)