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Window On Washington - March 22, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 12

Mar 22, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. The Senate is set to vote today to confirm Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to serve as Secretary of Labor. There may also be votes this week on Shalanda Young’s nomination to be Office of Management and Budget (OMB) deputy director, Dr. Vivek Murthy for surgeon general, Dr. Rachel Levine for Health and Human Services assistant secretary, David Turk for deputy secretary of energy, and Adewale Adeyemo for deputy secretary of the Treasury Department. The Senate may also vote this week on the House-passed legislation to extend the Payroll Protection Program (PPP).

Separately, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow on the implementation of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. On Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing examining the Texas Electric Grid, and the Senate Small Business Committee will hold a hearing on the SBA’s COVID-19 relief programs. On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on addressing health disparities and improving equity in the COVID-19 response, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on nuclear energy.

Infrastructure Package. There are numerous committee hearings this week centered around preparations for an infrastructure package. Today, House Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing on the infrastructure revitalization legislation “Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow's (LIFT) America Act.” Tomorrow, House Ways and Means will hold a member’s day on infrastructure proposals. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on rebuilding America's transportation infrastructure, and on Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss the Biden Administration’s transportation infrastructure priorities.

FY22 Budget and Appropriations. The House Budget Committee will hold a member’s day tomorrow on FY2022 budget priorities. The House Appropriations Committee will hold a handful of hearings this week, including hearings on future defense spending, creating equitable communities through transportation and housing, the impacts of COVID-19 on the arts and humanities, addressing the maternal health crisis, and the Department of Justice’s management, performance challenges, and COVID-19 response. Separately, while House Republicans passed a resolution to restore earmarks, it remains unclear where the Senate stands on bringing back community project funding for the FY2022 appropriations cycle.

Biden Administration. President Joe Biden will visit Columbus, Ohio tomorrow as part of the Help is Here tour. On Thursday, Biden will hold his first formal press conference.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

House Republicans Vote to Support Earmarks: House Republicans passed a resolution during their conference meeting last Wednesday in support of restoring earmarks. The House GOP's 102-84 vote comes as Democrats gear up to revive the practice, which allows members to secure federal funding for specific projects. (The Hill)

Health

House Passes Bill to Stave Off Millions in Medicare Sequester Cuts: The House passed a bill last Friday to extend the moratorium on 2% Medicare payment cuts caused by a federal budget sequestration, as well as to avert $36 billion in payment cuts triggered by the American Rescue Plan. (Healthcare Finance)

Drs. Vivek Murthy and Rachel Levine Advance Out of Senate HELP Committee: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted last Wednesday to advance the nominations of Dr. Vivek Murthy for U.S. Surgeon General and Dr. Rachel Levine for Assistant Secretary for Health. (Healthcare IT News)

Labor & Workforce

U.S. House Approves Small Business Paycheck Protection Program Extension to May 31: The U.S. House of Representatives last Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a 60-day extension, to May 31, of the Paycheck Protection Program that helps small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Next, the bill goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved. (Reuters)

Transportation

Industry Girds for Fight Against Trucks-Only Miles Traveled Tax: As lawmakers begin to drum up ways to raise revenue to pay for an expected massive infrastructure package, trucking groups are working yet again to bat down the idea of charging them fees per vehicle miles traveled. (Roll Call)

Big Questions Loom Ahead of Biden's Next Spending Push, Like 'What is Infrastructure?': Republicans and influential trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support large-scale infrastructure spending, but have concerns about Democratic efforts to inject policy provisions on climate or equality into a spending bill. (Reuters)

Trade

GOP Senators Introduce Bill to Push Tougher Trade Stance on China: A trio of Republican senators are rolling out legislation advocating a tighter trading stance on China amid bipartisan calls for Washington to get tough on Beijing. (The Hill)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Senate Republicans Denounce Biden’s Border Wall Funding Freeze: Dozens of Senate Republicans last Wednesday accused President Joe Biden of violating federal spending law when he froze funding for border wall construction, an action they say gave rise to an uptick in illegal border crossings. (Roll Call)

House Passes Scaled-back Immigration Measures as GOP Support Wanes: The House last Thursday passed a pair of popular immigration bills that once seemed like the tickets to a cross-aisle deal on one of Washington's thorniest issues — but not lately. (Politico)

Judiciary/Justice

House Renews Violence Against Women Act, But Senate Hurdles Remain: The House approved with bipartisan support a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a popular 1994 law that protects and provides resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. The measure passed 244-172. (NPR)

Agriculture

House Sends Farm Workforce Modernization Act to Senate: For the second time in as many years, the U.S. House has passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a comprehensive bill that offers a path to legal status for undocumented agricultural workers. (Capital Press)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Senate Narrowly Confirms Becerra as Health Secretary: The Senate last Thursday narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, installing a progressive stalwart in President Joe Biden's Cabinet who's poised to aggressively roll back Trump administration policies and oversee a major expansion of health coverage. (Politico)

Department of Education

CDC Revises Distancing Advice in Schools in Bid to Open Classrooms: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last Friday said schools often only need to maintain three feet of space between masked students to reopen classrooms, clearing the way for more students to resume in-person learning. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Guzman Receives Senate Confirmation to Lead SBA: The Senate voted 81-17 last Tuesday to confirm Isabel Guzman, President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Small Business Administration. (Roll Call)

CDC Likely to Extend Eviction Moratorium with Millions of People Behind on Rent: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken a key step toward extending an order aimed at preventing evictions during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The CDC order is currently set to expire in less than 2 weeks. (NPR)

Trade

USTR Veteran Tai Confirmed by Senate to Lead Trade Agency: The Senate voted 98-0 last Wednesday to confirm Katherine Tai to direct the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as the Biden administration fleshes out its trade priorities and practices. (Roll Call)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Biden Picks Ex-Florida Senator Bill Nelson for NASA Administrator: The action had been rumored for weeks. Former Senator Bill Nelson is a career politician who served in both the House and the Senate and flew as a payload specialist on a 1986 space shuttle mission while a Member of the House. Nelson has many admirers for his steadfast support for NASA, but critics worry he is wedded to old ways of doing business and will take NASA backwards. (Space Policy Online)

NASA Has Begun a Study of the SLS Rocket’s Affordability: Concerned by the program's outsized costs, the NASA transition team appointed by President Joe Biden initiated the study and led by Paul McConnaughey, a former deputy center director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, as well as its chief engineer. (Ars Technica)

Space Force to Push Conversation on Spaceflight Safety, Orbital Debris: As more satellites are launched into space, there is a growing conversation about the need to keep the cosmos safe and establish rules of the road for orbital activities. The U.S. Space Force wants to get out in front of that discussion. (Space News)

Marine Ecologist Lubchenco to Lead Climate in White House Science Office: Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist with wide federal government experience including a stint as NOAA Administrator a decade ago, has joined the Biden administration to lead climate and environment efforts at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. (Reuters)

Defense/DOD

Battle Heats up Over Pentagon Spending Plans: The spending request is not expected until May, but top generals have already started the annual ritual of appearing before defense committees in Congress to make their cases for more resources and groups on both sides of the aisle are attacking the idea of flat budgets, previewing the difficult path ahead. (The Hill)

The US Navy’s Shaky Plan to Save its Shipyards is Getting Overhauled: The U.S. Navy is reworking its tenuous plan to revitalize its public shipyards, where the fleet’s nuclear maintenance is done, as it has become clear that the facilities can’t meet the needs of the current fleet, let alone accommodate a growing fleet. (Defense News)

Cyber

White House Tees up Cyber Labeling Policy: During a background briefing on March 12, a senior administration official told reporters that executive actions are coming in the "next couple of weeks" to give security grades to software companies and to add security labels to internet-of-things devices. (Federal Computer Weekly)

Biden Under Growing Pressure to Nominate Cyber Czar: More than halfway through his first 100 days in office, Biden has yet to name his pick for national cyber director, a newly created Senate-confirmed position that comes with a 75-member staff. (The Hill)

EPA & DOI

Progressives Celebrate Historic Haaland Vote: Progressives last Monday celebrated Deb Haaland’s historic confirmation to lead the Interior Department after the Senate voted to make her the first Native American Cabinet secretary. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

DOE's First Task for Loan Guarantees: Calming Industry Nerves: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has put the Energy Department's $43 billion loan guarantee program at the forefront of her plans to decarbonize the grid, but convincing companies to overcome their concerns about delays and high costs and tap into the program will be the first challenge. (Politico)

US Grid at Rising Risk to Cyberattack, Says GAO: The GAO noted that the Department of Energy’s cybersecurity strategy has predominantly focused on generation and transmission systems, and recommended further attention to risks facing distribution systems, due of the introduction of and reliance on monitoring and control technologies. (The Hill)