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Window On Washington - March 25, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 13

Mar 25, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Congress.  Senate Republicans are preparing to rev up efforts to confirm hundreds of President Donald Trump’s nominees by muscling through a rules change that would dramatically cut down on the amount of time required to confirm district court and executive nominations.  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the change, hasn’t tipped his hand on when the proposal will come to the Senate floor, but members of his leadership team say it will be taken up after lawmakers return to Washington next week.  On the House side, two House Democrats introduced a resolution last week to condemn a global boycott campaign against Israel amid recent internal divisions in the Democratic Party over relations with the top U.S. ally, which could set up another divisive caucus meeting and vote this week. 

White House. The President spent last week traveling around the country to do events that are trying to paint the picture of an economy being improved by his policies everywhere, telegraphing where the White House is going with their initial 2020 campaign themes.  The President however got sidetracked attacking deceased Senator John McCain, which again earned him stern rebukes from several Republican Senators and could harm his efforts to get them to vote with him on his policy proposals in the coming months.  Trump also this week will continue to face scrutiny from House leaders for failing to fully divest from his business interests after taking office, and he is continuing to resist efforts to get access to his private communications with world leaders and administration officials. 

Budget & Appropriations.  House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey and Democratic appropriators are looking at starting fiscal 2020 markups as soon as late April with the Defense, Labor-HHS-Education and Legislative Branch bills likely to go first.  The Military Construction-VA and Energy-Water bills also are on tap to be among the first five bills marked up, as part of an effort to begin advancing bills across the floor in June.  House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth is working behind the scenes in an effort to see if enough Democrats potentially support a fiscal 2020 budget resolution to make it worth marking one up in committee.  The Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi released his FY20 budget last Friday, which will be marked up in committee this week. Most federal agencies have now released their more detailed budget justifications for FY20, but a handful of agencies (such as NOAA) have still not.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Health

Senate Panel to Hear from Pharmacy Middlemen on Drug Prices: The Senate Finance Committee last week said that it has secured commitments from executives of five major pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to testify next month about the high costs of prescription drugs. Executives from Cigna, CVS, Humana, OptumRx and Prime Therapeutics have agreed to appear on April 9, and the hearing will be the third time the Finance Committee has heard about drug prices. (The Hill)

Immigration

Pelosi: House Vote on Trump Veto Could Help Court Cases: Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued that a vote to override President Trump's veto of a resolution disapproving his emergency declaration at the border could help in legal cases, even if the vote itself fails as expected. (The Hill)

Banking

Wall Street Awaits Cannabis Banking Vote in Congress This Week: Analysts are keeping a close watch on a House committee vote scheduled for Tuesday on a bill to get cannabis industry cash off the streets and into bank accounts. Called the "SAFE Act," the measure would allow banks to service cannabis companies that comply with state laws. The vote is likely to come on March 26 and the measure will probably pass, analysts say, even though some Republicans are said to have raised questions about measures designed to prevent money laundering and ensure compliance with bank secrecy laws. (Bloomberg)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Will Trump’s New Free Speech Order Affect Research Funding?: The Trump administration last week announced a plan to force universities that violate free-speech principles to forfeit billions of dollars in biomedical research and other scientific grants.  It is unclear, however, whether any universities might actually be impacted — and whether the requirements, unveiled in an executive order, represent a massive disruption for the country’s research infrastructure or a political statement that will leave scientific work untouched. (Stat News)

Rate of Dementia Deaths in US Has More Than Doubled, CDC Says:  A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics has found the rate of deaths linked to dementia has more than doubled over the past two decades. While some of the increase is attributed to people living longer, some of the increases can also be attributed to changes in record-keeping and guidelines for coding. But again, even death certificates understate the numbers, researchers said in the study. (AJC)

Space/NASA & NOAA

National Space Council to Meet to Discuss Exploration Plans:  The National Space Council will hold its next public meeting March 26 to discuss NASA’s human space exploration plans.  The council is slated to meet at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The meeting will be the fifth for the council since it was reconstituted in 2017, and the second outside of the Washington, D.C., area. The meeting comes as NASA is in the midst of a short-term study on the feasibility of moving Exploration Mission 1 from the Space Launch System to commercial launch vehicles. (Space News)

Are Small Satellites the Solution for Space Weather Monitoring?:  Many of the instruments the U.S. relies on to monitor solar flares, coronal mass ejections and other phenomena that pose a threat to satellites in orbit and technology on the ground are well beyond their anticipated life spans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is sending new instruments into orbit on its latest generation of geostationary weather satellites but other updates to the space weather constellation are likely to fly years after current instruments fail. That’s prompting government, industry and academic experts to consider how cubesats and small satellites could help. (Space News)

NOAA Delays Launch of 'Next Generation' Weather Forecast Model:  Currently, NOAA's primary forecast model ranks third in the world in accuracy, lagging behind two European modeling systems.  The introduction of the new model is intended as the National Weather Service's next step toward building the best weather prediction model in the world, a stated priority of the Trump administration. The launch of the new model, which had been slated for March 20, was postponed because of "two issues" found during testing. (SF Gate)

Defense

U.S. Pressures Iraq Over Embrace of Militias Linked to Iran: The United States’ attempts to isolate Iran, including by punishing Iraqi militias and politicians who are supported by Iranian officials, has deepened tensions not only between Washington and Baghdad but also within the Trump administration. (New York Times)

U.S. May Soon Pause Preparations for Delivering F-35s to Turkey: The United States could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, officials told Reuters, in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system.(Reuters)

Trump Administration Requests Nearly $86B for Spy Budget: The Trump administration wants nearly $86 billion for its intelligence programs in fiscal 2020, a six percent jump from last year. (The Hill)

Trade

Top Trade Official Leaving White House: Clete Willems, a senior White House trade official who has been actively involved in U.S. trade talks with China, is leaving the Trump administration. Willems’ departure poses a significant loss of trade policy knowledge for the White House, given his role in helping shape the president’s trade policy on China and his presence at major international meetings, such as the G-20. Earlier this month, he said there was “still much work left to be done” in negotiations with Beijing. (Politico)

Immigration

Trump Immigration Changes Problematic for Firms Planning to Hire Irish People: Changes in U.S. immigration practice over the past 12 months are providing a major headache for the very substantial number of businesses with operations in both Ireland and the United States. (Irish Times)

ICE Sets Record for Arrests of Undocumented Immigrants with No Criminal Record: Federal immigration agents under President Trump have set a new record for arrests of undocumented immigrants who don't have a criminal record. (USA Today)

Justice/DOJ

Mueller Delivers Report on Trump-Russia Investigation to Attorney General: The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, last Friday delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William P. Barr, bringing to a close an investigation that has consumed the nation and cast a shadow over President Trump for nearly two years. (New York Times)

Mueller’s Done. What Now?: Attorney General William Barr answered one of the most burning questions in American politics on Friday - When will Robert Mueller’s Russia probe end? But there is much more still to learn. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Preparing The Human Workforce for The Machine Workforce: The machine workforce is on the rise. While technological innovation has always happened, existing and emerging technology is not only changing the pace of technological innovation exponentially, it is giving rise to an entirely new competitive workforce that is intelligent. As a result, it is not only the current models of business, governance, management, and technology that are being crushed under the weight of outdated economics of efficiency, but the human workforce and much of its old skill set that it depends on are also rapidly declining in value. (Forbes)

Governors Focus on Workforce Training and School Funding in Annual Addresses: Dozens of governors emphasized school funding, workforce development and teacher quality issues in their annual “State of the State” addresses.  At least 35 governors discussed their accomplishments or plans on the workforce development front and at least 26 addressed the issue of teacher quality. College affordability (mentioned in at least 17 addresses) and school health initiatives (mentioned by at least 16) were two other common themes. (Politico)

Energy

FERC Opens Transmission, ROE Inquiries as Regulators Spar Again Over Climate: During its monthly meeting on Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked stakeholders for comment on its transmission incentive policy and how it assigns rates of return for energy infrastructure projects. (Utility Dive)

Chatterjee Tight-lipped on Pugliese Departure: FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee on Thursday praised former Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese, denying there had been any conflict between the two but also staying mum on the reason for his departure. (RTO Insider)

Cyber

Kushner Accused of Using WhatsApp, Personal Email to Conduct Official Business: Report: The House Oversight and Reform Committee has obtained information that senior White House adviser and President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has used WhatsApp and his personal email to conduct official government business. (The Hill)

Nielsen Calls for Greater Public-Private Collaboration on Cyber Threats: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday urged private companies to do more to help the federal government identify new cyber threats, saying the administration is unable to do it alone. (The Hill)

Transportation/DOT

Relationship Between FAA and Boeing Under Scrutiny After Deadly Crash: The Transportation Department confirmed Tuesday its inspector general is investigating how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. The brand new plane, now grounded, has had deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The latest call for a review of the 737 Max follows demands by federal authorities that Boeing and the FAA hold on to all documents relating to the troubled jet. (CBS News)

Education/DOE

Betsy DeVos Strikes Out — in Court: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempts to swiftly roll back major Obama-era policies at her agency are hitting a roadblock: federal courts. Judges have rebuffed DeVos’ attempts to change Obama policies dealing with everything from student loan forgiveness to mandatory arbitration agreements to racial disparities in special education programs. (Politico)

Banking & Financial Services

Supreme Court to the Rescue with a Narrow Interpretation of the FDCPA: The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) is an archaic consumer protection statute. Well-intentioned when enacted in 1977, unlike fine wine the FDCPA has not aged gracefully. Lower and appellate courts have pulled and twisted it in ways those regulated by it never expected. Last week’s 9-0 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus, LLP marked the third ruling in the last several years based on a well-reasoned, narrow analysis, rather than allowing expansive, nuisance theories that have been the prior theme of FDCPA interpretation. (Clark Hill Insight)

Treasury

Treasury Expands Penalty Relief to More Taxpayers: The Treasury Department announced last Friday that it will provide penalty relief to more taxpayers who didn’t have enough taxes withheld from their paychecks in 2018 after pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to do so. (The Hill)

IRS: Average Tax Refund Little Changed from Last Year: The average tax refund from the first seven weeks of the 2019 filing season was virtually the same as amounts from a similar period last year, according to new IRS data. (The Hill)

Homeland Security

Emerging Online Threats Changing Homeland Security's Role: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last week that her department may have been founded to combat terrorism, but its mission is shifting to also confront emerging online threats. (Fox News)

FEC

Federal Court Ruling May Open The Door To More 'Scam PACs': The world of political fundraising is about to get a lot more complicated and confusing thanks to a federal court ruling that could lead to the rise of more groups that seek to raise money off of a candidate's name, even if the group has nothing to do with that candidate. (NPR)