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Window On Washington - March 8, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 10

Mar 08, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. There will likely be Senate confirmation votes this week on Rep. Marcia Fudge’s (D-OH) nomination to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to be attorney general. The House also plans to continue re-introducing bills that passed last Congress but did not receive any attention in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) expressed he will bring the legislation to the Senate floor for votes. However, Senate Democrats will need at least 10 Republicans to vote on the legislation, and as of now, none of the 10 bills on the House’s priority list have much, or any, Senate Republican support.

Separately, there are numerous hearings planned throughout the week, including a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing tomorrow on the “Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act” (H.R. 144). Wednesday’s hearings include a House Small Business Committee hearing on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and on Thursday, the House Ways and Means Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee will hold a hearing on tax tools to help local governments. On Friday, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the science behind the impacts of the climate crisis.

Next COVID Package. The Senate passed the American Rescue Plan Act (H.R. 1319) in a party line vote, and the House expects to vote on the amended bill tomorrow. This puts the bill on track to be signed into law before current unemployment benefits expire March 14. Some of the notable changes between the original House-passed and newly Senate-passed bill include less money for unemployment benefits, tighter eligibility requirements for stimulus checks, and no inclusion of a federal $15 minimum wage.

FY22 Budget and Appropriations. The House Appropriations Committee has multiple hearings scheduled for this week. Tomorrow, there are hearings on the rural economy, the FDA’s foreign drug inspections program, and the challenges facing veterans in accessing fertility services. On Wednesday, there are hearings on innovation and investment in water resources infrastructure, modernizing the civilian approach to cybersecurity, and a FY22 budget hearing for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and House officers. On Thursday, there are hearings on the oversight of the U.S. Postal Service and on COVID-19 and the mental health and substance use crises. The final hearing for the week is on Friday and will focus on oversight of the VA’s specialty health care services, including mental health, suicide prevention, women’s health, whole health, and homelessness.

Earmarks. With the conclusion of the coronavirus relief package negotiations and following the House Appropriations Committee’s reintroduction of earmarks, the Senate Appropriations Committee is now preparing to work out a deal to restore earmarks as well. The process faces tougher obstacles in the Senate, but lawmakers are hopeful that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) can reach an agreement with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). Axios provides more details on the lay of the land here. Separately, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is working on an earmark process for the infrastructure package that will allow for more direct Member engagement in identifying and advocating for projects that are consistent with State and local infrastructure plans. While the formal process for submitting highway and transit project priorities will be announced later this month, initial details from the Committee can be found here.

Biden Administration. President Joe Biden will sign two executive orders today related to women’s economic equity.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Senate Approves Biden's $1.9 Trillion Pandemic Relief Plan: The 50-49 vote last Saturday, entirely along party lines, came after the Senate remained in session for more than 24 hours of marathon votes. Senate Republicans sought to amend the legislation but Senate Democrats largely stuck together to defeat any major changes to the bill — one of the largest federal aid packages in history. (Politico)

Health

Senate Panel Deadlocks on Advancing Biden's Pick for Health Secretary: The Senate Finance Committee last Wednesday split evenly along party lines on whether to advance Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services secretary, leaving it to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to bring the nomination up for a full Senate vote. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

Senate Confirms Rouse as Biden's Top Economist: The Senate voted overwhelmingly (95-4) last Tuesday to confirm Cecilia Rouse as President Biden’s top White House economist. (The Hill)

Transportation

DeFazio and Norton Announce New Process for Members of Congress to Submit Project Priorities for Surface Transportation Legislation: As the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure prepares to advance surface transportation authorization legislation this spring, Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced the Committee will provide an opportunity for Members of Congress to submit requests for highway and transit project designations. A formal process to do so will be announced later this month. (House Transportation)

Trade

Trade Nominee Advanced by Senate Finance: The Senate Finance Committee voted last Wednesday to advance the nomination of Katherine Tai for U.S. trade representative. If confirmed, Tai would be the first Asian American and woman of color to become the nation’s top trade official. (Roll Call)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Biden's Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, Confirmed by Senate: The Senate confirmed Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo last Tuesday as the next secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department. As secretary, Raimondo is set to take on a portfolio of agencies that also includes the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (NPR)

Defense

Top Republican Opposed to Extended National Guard Deployment: Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said last Thursday it would be “outrageous” to keep the National Guard at the Capitol for potentially two more months, also pointing to growing opposition from the DC Mayor and other local elected leaders. (The Hill)

Ripping F-35 Costs, HASC Chair Looks to ‘Cut Our Losses’: The House Armed Services Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), railed at the expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter last Friday, saying he wants to “stop throwing money down that particular rathole,” ― just days after the Air Force said it too is looking at other options. (Defense News)

Homeland Security & Immigration

'Not Quite Ready Yet' - Democrats Won’t Take Up Biden Immigration Plan this Month: The issue of what to do with Biden’s comprehensive immigration plan has bedeviled Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her leadership team, particularly after a disappointing whip count came back this week showing they don’t yet have the votes to pass the bill on the floor, according to people familiar with the talks. (Politico)

Cyber

Senators Introduce Bill Creating Technology Partnerships to Compete with China: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) and a coalition of bipartisan senators have introduced the Democracy Technology Partnership Act would create and fund an interagency office at the State Department tasked with coordinating partnerships among the U.S. and other democratic countries to promote research and set standards around emerging technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G and semiconductors. (The Hill)

Environment & Interior

Murkowski Votes with Senate Panel to Advance Haaland Nomination: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted last Thursday to advance the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to lead the Interior Department, sending her nomination to the full Senate. (The Hill)

Energy

In Contentious Climate Bill, Some Points of Possible Agreement: Elements of the new bill introduced by Senate Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats with a shot at bipartisan support include electricity standards, carbon-trapping technology and toxic chemicals. (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Young May Serve as Acting Budget Director, White House Says: Shalanda Young will serve as the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget if the Senate confirms her as deputy director, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last Thursday. Psaki stopped short of saying that President Joe Biden would nominate Young for the top budget director role. That post opened up last Tuesday when Neera Tanden withdrew her nomination amid mounting opposition from moderate Democrats and nearly all Senate Republicans. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

White House Moves Up Vaccine Supply Timeline, Says U.S. Will Have Enough for Every Adult by End of May: President Joe Biden last Tuesday said the U.S. will have a large enough supply of coronavirus vaccines to inoculate every adult in the nation by the end of May — two months earlier than previously expected. (CNBC)

Biden Team Plots the Country’s First National COVID Testing Strategy: The Biden administration is preparing to launch the first of several Covid-19 testing hubs to coordinate and oversee a $650 million expansion of testing in K-8 schools and congregate settings like homeless shelters. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

White House Weighs Minimum Wage Negotiations with Republicans: The White House is weighing whether to engage in talks with Republicans on a minimum wage hike once Congress passes its Covid relief bill, two sources with knowledge of their strategic thinking say. (Politico)

Department of Education

Federal Student Aid Chief Appointed by DeVos Resigns: The Education Department announced last Friday that Mark A. Brown, the head of federal student aid, had stepped down. (Politico)

Cardona Seeks to Pivot from DeVos Era at Education: Dr. Miguel Cardona, who was confirmed by the Senate in a bipartisan 66-33 vote, is a former public school teacher who most recently served as Connecticut's education commissioner. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing/HUD

FHFA Doubles Affordable Housing Disbursement to $1B: Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria announced last Monday that he has authorized the disbursement of $1.09 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac‘s affordable housing allocations. (HousingWire)

Transportation/DOT

EV Boost Must Cover Environmental Justice, Advocates Say: Clean air and climate advocates see President Joe Biden’s vow to build up massive electric vehicle infrastructure nationwide as a boon—as long as the electrification revolution makes ample space for fenceline communities most affected by vehicle pollution. (Bloomberg Law)

Engineers Grade U.S. Infrastructure C- as Biden, Congress Prepare to Debate Fix: American Society of Civil Engineers is calling for a “big and bold” infrastructure investment - $5.9 trillion over the next decade – as Biden’s DOT targets both “greening” and fixing transportation in a new bill now under development. (Insurance Journal)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Hikes Prices for Commercial ISS Users: NASA has sharply increased the prices it charges commercial users of the International Space Station for cargo and other resources, a move that has left some companies confused and frustrated. (Space News)

Bill Nelson Rumors Resurface: The former Senator from Florida has a long-standing and deep friendship with President Biden, leading many to warm to the idea of Nelson potentially being the pick for NASA Administrator. (Politico Space)

Defense/DOD

DARPA to Hire Biz Execs to Help Its Researchers Take Tech to Market: The Embedded Entrepreneurship Initiative pilot program kicked off two years ago because DARPA sees the development of its projects - for technologies like 5G and 6G telecommunications, infectious disease therapeutics and diagnostics, microelectronics, and artificial intelligence - as foundational for U.S. military and economic power in the next century. (Defense One)

DHS & Immigration

Biden Rescinds Trump-Era Green Card Ban, Following Outcry: Former President Donald Trump handed down the proclamation last April in a stated effort to free up jobs for American citizens while unemployment rates skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic. (Roll Call)

Cyber

Pentagon Struggles to Add Cybersecurity to Weapon Contracts, Watchdog Finds: For the contract process, the GAO said the other military branches could benefit from an approach similar to the Air Force, outlining service-wide cybersecurity requirements for acquisitions. (C4ISR Net)

Agriculture/USDA

Biden Urged to Improve Food Box Program, Continue Aid for Hungry: Food bank operators and lawmakers are pushing President Joe Biden’s administration for systematic changes to the federal food box program to help feed hungry Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. (Bloomberg Government)

EPA & DOI

Biden Administration Puts a Price on Carbon: Last Friday, the Biden administration announced it had determined what's called the "social cost of carbon," which tries to capture the cumulative economic value achieved by investing in limiting carbon emissions now and may play a key role in informing the cost/benefit analysis of any government policy or regulation that influences carbon emissions. (Ars Technica)

Energy/Department of Energy

Sources Say Vineyard Wind Decision Imminent: The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is nearing a decision on the first large offshore wind facility in the United States off the southern coast of Massachusetts, a verdict that could become a landmark for President Biden's climate agenda. (E&E News)