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Window On Washington - March 9, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 10

Mar 09, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. After pausing scheduled actions to pass the coronavirus supplemental, the Senate is continuing consideration of the energy package developed by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). They are continuing negotiations on an agreement for amendments, as there are already over 185 amendments filed and the deadline is not until later this afternoon. The House is expected to take up the Senate-passed resolution to limit Trump’s military authority to strike Iran, which the President already said he would veto. The House is also planning to take up a bill that would undo the President’s travel ban on people from several mostly Muslim countries, as well as prevent other bans.

FISA Reauthorization. Certain sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are set to sunset on March 15, and there has yet to be an agreement on how to move forward. The expiring provisions of the law include an authorization of the collection of a wide range of records and documents. Another provision authorizes a “roving wiretap” of targets who change electronic devices to evade surveillance, as well as the eavesdropping on suspected “lone wolf’’ terrorists. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NJ) opposes a simple extension of the current law, which is the path favored by Attorney General William Barr. However, both Democrats and Republicans favor some types of reform.

Coronavirus. Despite Congress just passing a coronavirus supplemental last week, there is already discussion of additional legislation containing either more response funding or assistance to industries, like airlines, that have been hit hard. A National Journal presentation detailing the latest on the outbreak and the government’s response is available here.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Lawmakers Strike Deal on More Than $8 billion in Emergency Coronavirus Funding: The House and Senate passed a multibillion-dollar spending package to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Only one senator, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, voted against the supplemental aid bill. The $8.3 billion emergency funding plan sailed through the House in a 415-2 vote, just hours after it was unveiled by Senate and House appropriations leaders. The bill, which includes more than $3 billion in vaccine research and $2.2 billion in prevention and preparedness efforts, far exceeds the $2.5 billion proposal that the White House put forward. (CNBC)

Health

House Makes Telework Plans Amid Coronavirus Outbreak: The House is preparing to allow staff to telework as concerns grow over the global coronavirus outbreak. According to a memo sent to all House offices, the House Administration Committee is preparing for scenarios to allow staff to work remotely “in light of the unique and unusual circumstances presented by the coronavirus.” The memo also indicated that offices may spend unused funds to purchase telework equipment and that the House will establish a center to help support infrastructure for remote work. (The Hill)

Bipartisan Opposition to Trump's Proposed NIH Cut: The top Democrat and Republican on the US House of Representatives' education and health care appropriations subcommittee said they will not only not consider the $3.3 billion cut in National Institutes of Health funding proposed by President Trump, but they plan to increase NIH funding. That Trump’s proposal faces opposition is no surprise. Congress, with bipartisan support, has increased NIH funding by $11.6 billion, or 39 percent, over the past five years, including a $2.6 billion increase last year. (Inside Higher Ed)

Democrats Want Paid Sick Leave for Millions of Americans in Response to Coronavirus: Two congressional Democrats are pushing for passage of new legislation that would guarantee workers paid sick leave as a means of containing the coronavirus. The push comes amid concerns that individuals who aren’t offered paid sick leave benefits through their employers won’t stay home if they feel ill for fear of missing wages, even if they are displaying contagious coronavirus symptoms. (McClatchy)

Defense

Defense Health Officials Tout Consolidation Successes in Budget Hearing: Several top Defense Department and Defense Health Agency officials emphasized that Congress needs to continue supporting DHA’s momentum in establishing new military treatment facility markets and initiating waves of MHS GENESIS implementation at a House Appropriations Committee hearing last Thursday. (Government CIO)

Scott Introduces Secure US Bases Act Follow NAS Pensacola Attack: Last Thursday, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced the Secure US Bases Act to “reform and improve foreign military student training programs” following the terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6th, 2019. (North Escambia)

Hoyer says House will Vote Soon to Limit Trump's War Powers: The House will vote this week to limit President Trump's war powers with Iran, the second-ranking House Democrat said last Tuesday. (The Hill)

Cyber

Tech and Civil Liberties Organizations Pounce on Encryption Legislation: Tech industry organizations, civil liberties groups and individual companies all warned that a bill introduced Thursday poses a big threat to encryption. The Senate legislation, the EARN IT Act, would create a federal agency-heavy commission to craft “best practices” against child sexual abuse material that tech platforms would have to adhere to in order to preserve their liability shield over third-party content under Section 230. The widespread fear among critics, who may get a say at a hearing next week, is that those best practices would force companies to weaken security. (Politico)

House Passes Bill Banning TikTok on TSA Devices: The House on Thursday approved a bill that would ban Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials from downloading social media app TikTok onto government-issued devices. (The Hill)

Justice

Judiciary Committee says McGahn Ruling Leaves Only Extreme Options — Such as Arrests — to Get White House Info: House lawyers argued Friday that an appeals court ruling blocking lawmakers from suing to obtain information from the executive branch would leave Congress with little choice but to exercise extreme options — such as arresting “current and former high-level” officials to get answers to its subpoenas. (Politico)

Environment/Interior

Democrats Focus on Two Amendments for Senate Energy Bill: Senate Democrats appear to be narrowing their efforts to battle climate change through a fast-moving energy bill, focusing on two amendments that have proven controversial in the upper chamber. (The Hill)

Energy

Fast-moving Senate Energy Bill Draws Dozens of Amendments: Senate staffers were optimistic last week the sprawling energy bill from Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) could move fast. With the measure zooming past the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, they expected it could get a quick floor vote, then wing its way to the House. But as the Senate took up the bill last Wednesday and senators offered dozens of amendments, the measure was dragged in myriad directions and its path grew muddled. (Roll Call)

Education

Senate Dems Blister DeVos on Proposed Education Budget: The proposed budget would slash the federal education spending by more than $6 billion, a decrease of more than 8.5 percent. (The Hill)

Transportation

Senators Urge Americans to 'Wake Up' to Security Threats of Chinese-Made Metros, Buses: ​​​Lawmakers on Thursday called on Americans to “wake up” to what they say are dangers posed by Chinese-owned and manufactured rail cars and buses, citing cyber and national security concerns. (The Hill)

House Passes Bill to Expand TSA Worker Protections: The House passed legislation last Thursday aimed at expanding worker protections for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers to put them on par with other federal employees. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Administration Considers Paying Hospitals to Treat Uninsured Coronavirus Patients: The Trump administration is considering paying hospitals to treat uninsured coronavirus patients, as millions of Americans are currently without health care and concerns grow over the spread of the virus. This comes amid concerns over the costs of treating some of the 27 million Americans who are without health coverage. (The Hill)

Quest, LabCorp to Launch Nationwide Coronavirus Testing Ahead of FDA Review: Two of the nation’s largest clinical testing providers are launching their own assays for the novel coronavirus—moving forward after the FDA gave high-tech labs the green light to operate tests before receiving any agency review or authorization. LabCorp began making its internally developed PCR test available March 5, for use with respiratory samples such as saliva, washes, and nasal or oral swabs. Meanwhile, Quest Diagnostics said it would begin offering its nationwide testing service March 9, using its lab-developed test designed to detect RNA of the virus known as SARS-CoV-2. (FierceBiotech)

Defense/DOD

Army Bans Moves to New Assignments, Training Trips for Soldiers Based in Italy: The Army has barred troops based in Italy from taking new assignments or attending military schools in the US in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (Stars and Stripes)

Trump Insists Taliban Wants to 'Make a Deal’ After Surge in Violence in Afghanistan: President Trump projected confidence last Thursday about the prospect of a peace agreement in Afghanistan after a surge of violence was attributed to the Taliban in the region just days after his administration signed a deal with the insurgent group aimed at paving the way for U.S. troop withdrawal. (The Hill)

Esper says New Virus Won’t Prevent Military Operations: The US military and its warfighting command centers in the Pentagon are prepared to continue operations even if there is a local outbreak of the new coronavirus, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last Thursday, as the department began finalizing its response plans. (Military Times)

DOJ

Barr Names New Chief of Staff: Attorney General William Barr has named Will Levi as his new chief of staff, according to two Justice Department officials familiar with the matter. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

White House to Launch New Industry Apprenticeship Rule This Week: The White House is ready to roll out a final rule designed to expand apprenticeship programs by giving industry more oversight of the job-training process, a pivotal element of the Trump administration’s effort to bolster workers’ skills in high-growth sectors. The Labor Department’s final rule to establish Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs will be unveiled March 10 during an event in Ohio featuring President Donald Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump. (Bloomberg Law)

Energy/DOE

Department of Energy Announces $30 Million for New Research on Fusion Energy: This funding will provide $17 million for research focused specifically on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) approaches for prediction of key plasma phenomena, management of facility operations, and accelerated discovery through data science, among other topics. (Department of Energy)

Dept. of Ed

New DeVos Rules on Sexual Assault Will Shock Schools and Students: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is about to shake up how sexual assault and harassment charges are handled at every college campus and K-12 school. (Politico)

DHS/Immigration

US to Begin Taking DNA Samples from Immigrants Who Enter the Country Illegally: US border agents will soon begin a widespread program to gather DNA samples from immigrants who enter the country illegally and are in federal custody, according to two administration officials. (NBC News)

Trump to Weigh Dreamers' Fate as Part of Broader Immigration Deal During Election: President Trump will consider protecting Dreamers who came to the country illegally as children as part of a larger immigration deal later this year, thrusting the contentious issue into the heart of election season, according to five people familiar with the situation. (Politico)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Government Watchdog Blasts Limited Planning Behind BLM Relocation: A government watchdog found the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) largely failed to justify relocating nearly all of its Washington-based employees and scattering them across the West, delivering fuel to Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) as he weighs a subpoena on the subject. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Tightens Job Training for Food Stamp Recipients: The Agriculture Department rolled out a new food stamps rule last Thursday that would add requirements on state agencies running job training efforts under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, with the aim of ultimately getting recipients off the program. (Politico)

Farmers and Nonprofits Sue USDA Over Organic Soil-Less Loophole: On March 2, Center for Food Safety (CFS), along with a coalition of organic farms and stakeholders, filed a lawsuit challenging the USAD’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic, claiming that hydroponic operations violate organic standards for failing to build healthy soils, and asks the court to stop USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be sold under the USDA organic label. (Aberdeen News)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NG Space Logistics Gets DARPA Robotic Servicing Contract: After successfully docking its Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) with the Intelsat 901 communication satellite, Northrop Grumman’s Space Logistics subsidiary scored a contract with DARPA today to take satellite servicing to the next level. They will partner on the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, with Space Logistics replacing Maxar Technologies, which withdrew last year. (Space Policy Online)

Acquisition in State of Confusion: Questions Loom on the Role of the Space Development Agency: The US Space Force is just beginning to organize as a new branch of the armed forces and its leaders face a daunting to-do list. High on that list is figuring out the management of space acquisitions, and new divisions of responsibility between the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and the Space Development Agency. (Space News)

New NASA Declaration on Serious Starliner Mishap: After pondering the totality of issues that arose during a December test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft last week, NASA Chief of Human Spaceflight Doug Loverro said that he decided to escalate the incident to that of a "high visibility close call," based on the fact that they could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission due to several software errors. (Ars Technica)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS Announces New Fraud Enforcement Director: The IRS this week announced a director to lead the agency's coordination of tax-fraud enforcement efforts. (The Hill)

Baking & Housing/HUD

In Rare Move, Fed Issues Emergency Rate Cut to Bolster Economy From Coronavirus: The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by half a percentage point following an unscheduled meeting last Tuesday, an emergency move designed to bolster the US economy against the rapidly spreading coronavirus that’s roiled financial markets. (Bank Rate)

Mnuchin Details Banks and IRS Challenges With Cash-Only Marijuana Businesses: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a House Appropriations Committee hearing last Wednesday that the cash-only nature of marijuana businesses poses challenges for the IRS since despite state level legalization banks have been hesitant to serve marijuana businesses because they want to avoid violating federal anti-money laundering and illicit finance laws. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle asked Mnuchin at the hearing about marijuana banking issues. (The Hill)