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Window On Washington - May 11, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 19

May 11, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is in D.C. this week and could consider the expired surveillance provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as a measure targeting human rights abuses in China. The House will return if it is ready to vote on the next coronavirus response package, but it is unclear if this will occur. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also wants to vote on changing the rules to let members cast proxy votes for absent colleagues if the House returns.

Next Coronavirus Response Package. House Democrats are continuing to work on the next coronavirus response package with House leadership largely focused on providing additional funding to hospitals and state and local governments. However, some Democrats are pushing for the bill to be more expansive and include additional stimulus checks to individuals, extended unemployment benefits, and other more progressive agenda items. While the House is making progress on the bill, it has yet to start any negotiations with the White House or Senate Republicans, meaning a deal may still be a month or so away.

Appropriations Update. The House continues to make progress on its appropriations bills and submitted first drafts to committee leadership last week. It is also considering moving more than $11 billion in costs for Veterans Affairs private medical services to emergency spending in order to create more room under the budget caps for increased spending for other programs. The Senate is beginning to discuss its spending allocations for its subcommittees and is considering not marking up its Homeland Security and Military Constriction-Veterans Affairs bills because of the controversial issues they include, like the border wall and the private medical services spending. Senate Appropriations leadership is planning to vote on the rest of the ten appropriations bills by the end of June.  

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

McConnell Under Mounting GOP Pressure to Boost State Aid: Support for more state aid is coming from Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (UT), Susan Collins (ME), Bill Cassidy (LA), John Kennedy (LA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Dan Sullivan (AK) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV). (The Hill)

Schumer, Pelosi Set to Unveil 'Rooseveltian' Relief Package: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday that he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will soon unveil a coronavirus relief package that he described as “Rooseveltian” in its scope and size. (The Hill)

Senate Panel Plans to Skip DHS, VA Spending Bills: Republicans on the panel say they are hoping to hold committee votes on 10 of the 12 fiscal 2021 government funding bills by the end of June and potentially bring some of those to the floor in June as senators try to get legislation back on track amid the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Health

Lawmakers Weigh Exempting Health Emergency Response Funds from Budget Caps: Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, said he was interested in setting up health defense spending funds that would operate somewhat like the Pentagon's Overseas Contingency Operations account, and added he has discussed a similar idea with Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). That means the funding would be exempt from discretionary spending caps imposed in the past by Congress. (Roll Call)

'Not Nearly Enough' Coronavirus Testing to Safely Reopen, Senate Health Chair Says: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called the more than 7 million diagnostic tests run to date “impressive, but not nearly enough” adding “there is no safe path forward to combat the novel coronavirus without adequate testing.” (Politico)

Defense

Ratcliffe Vows to ‘Speak Truth to Power’ if Confirmed as Intelligence Chief: Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), President Trump’s pick to be the nation’s top intelligence official, vowed last Tuesday to “speak truth to power” and resist pressure from the president or any official to shade intelligence, seeking to assuage Democrats concerned about his willingness to provide candid information free from political considerations. (Washington Post)

Thornberry: Pentagon Budget Cuts Would Be Shortsighted: Now is not the time to cut the Pentagon’s budget, Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Thursday. (Roll Call)

Senators Grill Navy Nominee on Leadership: President Trump’s nominee to be the fourth acting or confirmed Navy secretary in the last six months acknowledged a crisis in the service at a Senate hearing Thursday, as some Democratic senators suggested the Navy's problems are largely Trump’s doing. (Roll Call)

Senate Fails to Override Trump Veto of Iran War Powers Resolution: The Senate failed last Thursday to override President Trump's veto of a war powers resolution limiting his authority to use military force in Iran. The vote was 49 to 45. (CBS)

Labor & Workforce

Democratic Senators Propose $2,000 Monthly Payments to Most Americans: On Friday, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ed Markey (D-MA) released their Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act. The legislation would pay most American families thousands of dollars each month until the coronavirus’s economic crisis subsides. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

Bankers, Housing Advocates Join Forces to Call for Rental Assistance: More than 30 housing organizations sent a letter to congressional leaders last Monday urging them to include rental assistance in the next economic relief package. (Politico)

Financial Groups Urge Next Relief Bill to Tweak Past Measures: Banking and credit union representatives are urging lawmakers to create a special relief fund for the smallest businesses, loosen restrictions on the use of Paycheck Protection Program money and all but eliminate the paperwork involved in what is expected to be forgiveness of the loan in the future. (Roll Call)

From Robo-Advisers to Cashless Society, Fintech Vexes Congress: The explosion in financial innovation is prompting a diverse set of worries from lawmakers, from potentially adverse impacts on lower-income and minority consumers to the increasing reliance on artificial intelligence to decide where investors should park their money, according to government researchers. (Roll Call)

Agriculture

Rep. Austin Scott Introduces Legislation to Raise CCC’s Borrowing Authority: Rep. Scott’s (R-GA) bill, also backed by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), who chairs the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, would raise the CCC’s borrowing authority from $30 billion to $68 billion to give USDA greater flexibility to maintain farm bill programs that support U.S. agricultural producers and stabilize domestic agricultural markets. The last time the CCC’s borrowing authority was adjusted was 1987. (Press Release)

Justice

Top Democrat Demands 'Immediate Explanation' from Barr After Flynn Case Dropped: The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee demanded answers from Attorney General William Barr over the Justice Department’s decision to drop criminal charges against President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

House Democrats Outline Immigration Priorities for Next Coronavirus Relief Measure: House Democrats are pushing for a variety of provisions to help undocumented immigrants in the next coronavirus relief bill, but they acknowledge they’ll need more help from Republican allies if they want to get any signed into law. (Roll Call)

Cyber

House Lawmakers Lead Efforts to Include IT Modernization Funds in Next Stimulus Bill: A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is working together to gather support for including funds to boost state-level information technology security and modernization efforts in the next COVID-19 stimulus package. (The Hill)

Energy

Senators Urge White House to Keep Ethanol Requirements as Oil Industry Struggles: Nearly a quarter of the Senate signed a letter sent to the White House on Thursday asking the president to rebuff requests to lift requirements that oil companies add ethanol to their products. (The Hill)

Legislation Aims to Block Fossil Fuel Companies from Receiving Coronavirus Aid: A group of more than 40 lawmakers is backing legislation to prevent fossil fuel companies from receiving coronavirus-related aid. (The Hill)

Transportation

A Massive Drop in Car Sales Sparks New Push in Congress to Aid the Auto Industry: A precipitous decline in car sales amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak has caught the attention of Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are now urging Congress to authorize new aid for the auto industry. (Washington Post)

Transit Asks for a Second Bailout: Transit agencies are asking for another $23.8 billion in federal aid and several policy changes, including to disregard bottomed-out 2020 ridership numbers in future funding formulas, as a way to ease the blow of flatlining ridership and weakened state and local revenue streams. (APTA)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

Coronavirus Aid Talks on Pause, Top White House Official Says: The Trump administration and top Capitol Hill Democrats aren't yet negotiating to put together another bipartisan COVID-19 relief package, according to National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow who on Friday suggested an eventual deal may not emerge for a month. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

Federal Watchdog Backs Reinstating Ousted Vaccine Expert: A federal watchdog is recommending that ousted vaccine expert Rick Bright be reinstated while it investigates whether the Trump administration retaliated against his whistleblower complaints when it removed him from a key post overseeing the coronavirus response, Bright's lawyers said Friday. (Politico)

HHS to Allow States to Distribute Gilead's Remdesivir to Combat the Coronavirus: The HHS announced Saturday it will permit state health departments to send out Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir drug to fight the coronavirus. (The Hill)

Coronavirus Hospitalization May Be “Disqualifying” for Military Recruits: The U.S. military is considering making a hospitalization for coronavirus a "disqualifying" condition for new recruits. It highlights the limited research on the long-term effects and damage of coronavirus — as a history of other viral, non-chronic illnesses does not prevent people from joining — and it comes as the military prepares for the rush of post-graduation recruits during the summer and fall. (Axios)

Pentagon Official: FCC Decision on 5G Threatens GPS, National Security: Pentagon officials on Wednesday criticized the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) recent decision to allow Virginia-based satellite communications company Ligado to deploy a nationwide mobile network, saying that it could have adverse effects on GPS signals that are integral to the military's operations. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Eleven Secret Service Agents Test Positive for COVID-19: It's not clear if any have recently been working at the White House or have had any contact with President Trump or Vice President Pence. (The Hill)

Exemption Sought for Foreign Physicians in Next Immigration Ban: The American Medical Association has asked the Trump administration to exclude foreign medical workers from any future immigration bans, highlighting their “critical” role in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. (Roll Call)

Trade

Trump ‘Torn’ Over US-China Trade Deal as Officials Push to Fulfill Its Terms: In an overnight phone call, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He set aside rapidly deteriorating U.S.-China relations and discussed progress since the deal took effect in mid-February. (CNBC)

Dept. of Education

DeVos Unveils Rule that Boosts Rights for Students Accused of Sexual Misconduct: The Title IX rule will offer new rights to accused assailants, and require colleges to respond to formal complaints with courtroom-like hearings. (Politico)

Small, Private Colleges Get Boost From Coronavirus Relief Funds: The 20 institutions that received the most amount of money from the unmet-need fund serve less than 3,000 students combined, and about half are religious schools — including Bible colleges and seminaries — several of which serve less than 100 students. (NPR)

Labor and Workforce

U.S. Unemployment Rate Soars to 14.7 Percent as Economy Loses 20.5 Million Jobs: The U.S. lost 20.5 million jobs in April amid the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic as the steepest recorded surge in American unemployment nearly wiped out a decade of job gains, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (The Hill)

FEC

Senate Moves a Step Closer to Restoring FEC Quorum: The Senate Rules and Administration panel voted last Thursday 9-to-1 along party lines to advance the nomination of Texas GOP lawyer James “Trey” Trainor III to join the Federal Election Commission. (Roll Call)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Internal Watchdog to Review EPA's Coronavirus Response: A memo from Deputy EPA Inspector General Charles Sheehan dated Thursday states that his office will look into how the coronavirus outbreak has affected the agency’s "programs and operations, regulatory and enforcement missions, and mandated activities." (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

Federal Business Disaster Loans Now Capped at $150,000 and Limited to Agriculture: Initially, the SBA allowed businesses to apply for up to $2 million in Economic Injury Disaster Loans, but that amount was just cut to $150,000. The SBA also said it would take EIDL applications only from agricultural businesses starting May 4. (CNBC)

USDA to Buy $470M of Produce, Dairy and Seafood: The Agriculture Department said last Monday that it will spend $470 million to buy more surplus food amid the widespread disruption to the food supply as a result of the coronavirus. (Politico)

Perdue Says CFAP Payment Limits Will Be Higher: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that the USDA is loosening the payment caps for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) following the bipartisan backlash from Congress. (Brownfield Ag News)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Outlines Plans to Gradually Reopen Centers: NASA is finalizing a plan to gradually reopen its field centers once the peak of the coronavirus pandemic passes, but agency leadership said that would be a slow process that would vary based on the conditions at each center. However, telework for those who can work remotely is likely to remain in place for some time at many locations, in part because of concerns about the inability to maintain social distancing in an office environment. (Space News)

Lunar Gateway on Again, For 2023? NASA’s plans for the Artemis program to put astronauts on the Moon by 2024 continue to evolve. Despite recent statements from high ranking NASA officials that the small space station, Gateway, planned for lunar orbit was not needed before the 2024 landing, it now intends to launch it in 2023. Key Democrats in Congress recently complained about the lack of a “transparent architecture” for the Artemis program as plans keep changing. (Space Policy Online)

NOAA Exploring Impact of COVID-19 Response on the Environment: The coronavirus pandemic response has reduced pollution from a large number of sources across many geographic regions, so NOAA has launched a wide-ranging research effort to investigate the impact of reduced vehicle traffic, air travel, shipping, manufacturing and other activities on Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. (Homeland Security Today)

New Chinese Spacecraft Landing Marks Step Toward Future Crewed Lunar Missions: A successful high-speed reentry and landing of a new Chinese spacecraft last Friday marked a step toward the country sending astronauts to the moon and deep space. The primary mission goal was proving the Long March 5B rocket for future launches of roughly 20-metric-ton space station modules. (Space News)

Tax Reform/IRS

Trump Eyes New Tax Cuts for Next Stimulus Package: The Trump administration is considering a wide range of tax-cut proposals for businesses and investors in the next coronavirus response bill as it tries to shift from government spending programs to support the economy toward measures that aim to reinvigorate growth. (New York Times)

April Tax Collections Plummet 55 Percent: April is usually the government’s biggest month for tax collections, but this year receipts crashed, falling by 55 percent, a new report shows. (CBO)

Cyber

DHS Cyber Agency Launches New Telework Security Products: The new product line from CISA, a component of the Department of Homeland Security that regularly releases cybersecurity best practices for various sectors, will focus on secure practices when adopting or expanding an organization’s telework environment. (Fifth Domain)

Tech Firms Emerge as Big Winners in New COVID-19 Economy: Last Thursday, the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite turned positive for the year, after plunging more than 20 percent at one point in March from a record high hit a month earlier, even as indexes such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average remained down about 15 percent from 2019. (The Hill)

Baking & Housing/HUD

Watchdog Warns SBA that Loan Limits Will Hurt Small Business Borrowers: The government watchdog responsible for policing the Small Business Administration warned in a report Friday that the agency's restrictions on emergency small business loans may hurt tens of thousands of borrowers. (Politico)

As U.S. States Start to Reopen, Fed Official Sees Little Sign of Economic Resurgence: Though states have begun to reopen their economies, it is not clear consumers are ready to venture back to the marketplace, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic said last Thursday. (Reuters)

Updated Fannie Mae Lender Letter Suspends Rep and Warrant Relief Through DU, Expands RON: Fannie Mae has issued a Lender Letter to its single-family sellers that updated the temporary policies enacted on March 31 in response to the COVID-19 crisis while reaffirming a key tenet regarding borrower income requirements. (Housing Wire)

Fed: Loans, Deposits Soared In March, But Banks' Health Is Weakening: The Federal Reserve found that bank deposits and loans grew significantly in March as borrowers sought liquidity infusions and investors shifted to safer assets as the coronavirus pandemic rocked markets and ushered in a probable recession, but profits and capital levels declined during the first quarter of 2020, and banks' overall health began worsen in the second half of February. (American Banker)

Transportation/DOT

GM Aims to Restart Production at North American Plants on May 18: General Motors (GM) said Wednesday it aims to restart most of the North American plants it shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak by May 18. (The Hill)