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Window On Washington - March 4, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 10

Mar 04, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Congress.  The House voted last week to overturn President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration, delivering a harsh rebuke to the President's attempt to go around Congress to fund a border wall - every Democrat voted in favor, along with 13 Republicans.  The Senate, which needs just four GOP votes to approve it and send it to the President’s desk (for his first veto), will debate and then vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.  In addition to having former Trump attorney Michael Cohen back to testify again, this week will also feature the House debating and passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019, which, among other provisions, calls for voluntary public financing for campaigns, places stricter limitations on foreign lobbying, require states to use independent commissions to design their congressional districts, and expresses support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.  The Senate will consider additional federal Circuit Court nominees as their first order of business.

White House.  After a difficult week that saw the talks with North Korea break down and his former lawyer Michael Cohen testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the President returned to Washington to speak at CPAC (where he shifted right back into campaign mode) and this week faces renewed calls to answer questions about the security clearance process used for White House staff and family members.  Mrs. Trump will travel next week to Oklahoma, Washington and Nevada on her first domestic overnight trip in her official capacity, where she will discuss her child well-being initiative, while the President remains in Washington to resume talks with China on trade.

Budget & Appropriations.  At the end of last week, House Democrats finally announced that despite many discussions on the issue, they don’t plan to revive home-state earmarks during the upcoming FY20 appropriations process, though they expect to continue discussing the issue with their Republican colleagues.  In addition, Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees indicated that they would proceed with the start of the annual federal spending process working tentatively off of the previous year’s numbers as they begin to draft bills, and seek later during the year to forge an agreement with the President to change the law to increase the budget caps.  Lastly, two Supreme Court justices (Alito and Kagan) are scheduled to testify before Congress this week about the high court’s budget for the first time in four years, amid legislative efforts to overhaul ethics and transparency policies of the judicial branch.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Tax Reform

Grassley, Wyden Offer Bill to Renew Expired Tax Breaks: Senate Finance Committee leadership on Thursday offered a bill to renew a host of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2017 and 2018. The legislation, from Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR), comes as taxpayers seek certainty in this year's filings about the expired provisions. (The Hill)

Health

Push For ‘Medicare For All’ Worries Centrist Democrats, Want Focus on Drug Pricing Instead: Centrist Democrats who helped their party win back the House majority with victories in key swing districts last fall are sounding the alarm that the liberal push for “Medicare for all” could haunt them as they try to defend their seats and keep control of the House.   Instead, these moderates — many of whom will face tough reelection bids in 2020 — are pressing their party leaders to work with President Trump and Republicans to deliver to voters back home a bipartisan victory on lowering prescription drug prices and other health efforts rather than focus on an aspirational Medicare for all messaging bill. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Senate Bill Seeks Extension of the Space Station:  A bill introduced by a bipartisan pair of Senators Feb. 27 would authorize an extension of the International Space Station to 2030 and also make permanent human settlement of space a national goal. Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the Advancing Human Spaceflight Act, with its central provision authorizing an extension of operations of the ISS from 2024 to 2030.  Other members of Congress sought such an extension last year in response to a proposal in NASA’s FY 2019 budget proposal to end direct federal funding of the station in 2025, part of an effort to commercialize low Earth orbit operations. (Space News)

Defense

In First, Transgender Troops Testify Before House as Trump Administration Seeks to Limit Their Service: Five U.S. service members testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on military personnel, becoming the first transgender members of the military to openly talk about their experiences before Congress. They appeared in civilian clothing in their own capacity, describing their experiences at a time when the Trump administration is fighting in federal court to put in place a new policy that will limit many transgender people from serving in their preferred sex. (Washington Post)

Cyber

Senate Commerce Chairman Eyes Data Privacy Bill this Year: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Roger Wicker is aiming to have a federal data privacy bill written and passed by Congress this year as technology companies, privacy advocates and civil rights groups press lawmakers to act decisively to avoid a patchwork of state legislation. Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress held hearings last week on federal data privacy legislation. Tuesday’s hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce chaired by Illinois Democrat Rep. Jan Schakowsky, included witnesses who pressed for recognizing that African Americans and other minorities faced greater online discrimination than other Americans. (Roll Call)

Financial Services

Democrats and Republicans in Congress Agree: The System that Determines Credit Scores is 'Broken': Credit scores are used for more than just basic loan, credit card and mortgage applications. Though they're widely relied on, the credit reports of about 1 in 5 people have an error of some kind, according to a study by the Federal Trade Commission. And members of the House Financial Services Committee aren't having it anymore. Members from both political parties grilled the CEOs of the three major U.S. credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — calling for accountability and change. (CNBC)

Energy

Perry Knocks NOPEC Bill, Warning of Future Price Spikes: Energy Secretary Rick Perry gave a staunch defense of the OPEC today, warning that bipartisan legislation to allow antitrust lawsuits to be filed against the cartel might trigger price spikes if enacted.  Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee passed its “NOPEC” bill, H.R. 948 (116), which would amend the Sherman Antitrust Act to explicitly make it illegal for foreign states to band together to fix oil production targets or prices. Perry said that the bill might feel good politically in the short term while “having the long term impact to really drive up energy prices.” (Clark Hill Insight)

Transportation

DeFazio Targeting Earmarks Return: House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is planning to bring back earmarks -- just don’t call them that, please. His language of choice is “Article I projects,” named after the article of the Constitution that established the legislative branch of the federal government. DeFazio said bringing back earmarks will help build support for a gas tax increase he says is needed to push through a surface infrastructure bill. (Politico)

Immigration

House Passes Gun Background Check Bill After GOP Undocumented Amendment: After a surprise GOP amendment targeting undocumented immigrants, the Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday approved a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, the first major gun control legislation considered by Congress in nearly 25 years. (NBC News)

Labor & Workforce

A Well-Meaning Job Training Bill that May Hurt More Than Help:  Democrats and Republicans are working together to help poor people get training for better jobs. That might seem hard to believe these days, but it’s true.  The Jobs Act, introduced by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, attracted 12 bipartisan co-sponsors, including three Democrats who are running for president. Similar legislation was introduced in the House. It could very well become law.  Unfortunately, a raft of research suggests this well-meaning bill may actually hurt the students it is designed to help. (The New York Times)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health

NIH Apologizes For its Failure to Address Sexual Harassment in Science:  The National Institutes of Health on Thursday apologized for its past failures to recognize and address the culture of sexual harassment that has impacted scientists for generations.  “To all those who have endured these experiences, we are sorry that it has taken so long to acknowledge and address the climate and culture that has caused such harm,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement.  A landmark report released last year by the National Academies found that sexual harassment runs rampant in academic science and medicine. The report found that sexual harassment in academia is far more common among students in the sciences than their peers in non-STEM fields. In one survey, nearly half of female medical students said they had been harassed by faculty or staff. (Stat News)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Selects Space Weather Experiment for International Space Station:  NASA announced Feb. 25 that it will fly the Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) to the ISS in August 2022. AWE will study the effects of both solar activity and terrestrial weather on the upper atmosphere by monitoring airglow in that region.  AWE, with an estimated cost of $42 million, was one of two finalists selected by NASA in July 2017 as a heliophysics mission of opportunity for NASA's Explorers program of small missions. (Space.com)

Canada Joins NASA’s Mission to the Moon:  Canada is not only joining up with NASA on the U.S.-led mission to the moon, but the country announced Thursday, Feb. 28 it would make a $2.05 billion, 24-year commitment to its own space program.  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that with Thursday’s announcement, Canada becomes the first international partner on the space agency’s lunar outpost -- The Gateway. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office reports in a news release that Canada will contribute $150 million to the lunar outpost mission over the next five years as part of the investment. (MLive)

Foreign Affairs

Trump’s Talks with Kim Jong-un Collapse, and Both Sides Point Fingers: The United States and North Korea offered conflicting accounts and traded blame on Thursday after a second summit meeting between President Trump and the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ended abruptly without any agreement on nuclear disarmament or easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. (New York Times)

Defense

GOP Bristles Over Plan to Shift Military Funding to Border Wall: GOP concerns are bubbling up over the administration's plans to divert billions in military construction money as part of President Trump's national emergency declaration. As part of an effort to pull together roughly $8 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, the administration will redirect $3.6 billion originally appropriated for military construction projects across the country. (The Hill)

Trump’s End Run on Defense Spending: President Donald Trump is preparing to ask Congress for yet another increase in defense spending in the coming weeks. But his plan would evade federal budget limits by stashing nearly a quarter of that money in an off-the-books account — and both Democrats and Republicans say it won’t fly in Congress. (Politico)

Cyber

U.S. Cyber Command Operation Disrupted Internet Access of Russian Troll Factory on Day of 2018 Midterms: The U.S. military blocked Internet access to an infamous Russian entity seeking to sow discord among Americans during the 2018 midterms, several U.S. officials said, a warning that the Kremlin’s operations against the United States are not cost-free.  (Washington Post)

Companies Take the Battle to Online Mobs: Spooked by misinformation campaigns in the 2016 election, companies – concerned that coordinated attacks could drag their reputations through the mud – are hiring consultants to stave off politically motivated Twitter and Facebook mobs. (Axios)

Education

DeVos Proposes Federal Tax Credits to Advance School Choice: The Trump administration renewed its push for school choice last week with a proposal to provide $5 billion a year in federal tax credits for donations made to groups offering scholarships for private schools, apprenticeships and other educational programs. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled the plan as a “bold proposal” to give students more choices without diverting money from public schools. Legislation for the tax credits is being introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) (AP)

Trade

U.S., China Are Close to Trade Deal That May End American Tariffs: Most or all U.S. tariffs on China are likely to be lifted as part of a trade deal between the world’s two largest economies now in its final stages, said two people familiar with the discussions. China is offering to lower tariffs on U.S. farm, chemical, auto and other products, the newspaper said, citing people familiar. Washington is considering removing most sanctions levied against Chinese products since last year, the WSJ reported, citing unnamed sources. (Bloomberg)

EPA

Senate Confirms Wheeler as Trump’s Permanent EPA Chief: The Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as EPA’s fifteenth administrator last week, cementing the authority of one of President Donald Trump’s most effective and prolific de-regulators. He was confirmed by a vote of 52-47. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was the only Republican to vote against him; no Democrats voted for him. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) did not vote. (Politico)

Homeland Security         

Since Trump restricted Flow at Border, Migrants Trying to Sneak Through Undetected: Undocumented immigrants are increasingly choosing to cross the U.S. border illegally rather than waiting in line to claim asylum at legal ports of entry, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. (NBC News)

DHS Extends Immigration Protection for Four Countries Amid Court Battles: The Department of Homeland Security is extending temporary protected status for U.S. residents from Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua, as President Trump's orders to reduce the program languish in court. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Are States Optimizing WIOA’s Promise to Achieve Equity?: The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides funding and guidance for states to innovate in best serving low-income people. The Department of Labor’s recently released 2016 State Performance Reports provide an initial look into the first full year of WIOA implementation. A comparison of two Great Lakes states shows that policymakers are choosing to invest their WIOA resources differently, and the different outcomes they are achieving. (CLASP)

DOJ

William Barr Fills Front Office with Trump White House Lawyers: U.S. Attorney General William Barr has assembled a front office team of former Trump White House lawyers in the two weeks since his confirmation to lead the Justice Department, according to sources familiar with the personnel moves. (The National Law Review)

Canada Allows U.S. Extradition of Huawei CFO to Proceed: The Canadian government has decided to allow the U.S. extradition process of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou to proceed, the country's Department of Justice announced. (CNBC)

Transportation/DOT

Fiat Chrysler Announces $4.5B Detroit Investment Plan: On Tuesday, Fiat Chrysler detailed a $4.5 billion investment plan for its operations in Detroit, focusing on five existing plants in the city and one new one. The company said in a news release that the changes would increase production capacity for some of its SUVs, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram brands. The proposal would result in roughly 6,500 new jobs, the company said. (The Hill)