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Window On Washington - May 28, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 22

May 28, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Memorial Day Recess. Clark Hill hopes our readers had a wonderful Memorial Day as we honored those who bravely lost their lives in service to our great country. Congress is on recess this week and will return the following week.

White House. A meeting last week with President Trump and Congressional Leaders to discuss an possible infrastructure deal went immediately “off the rails” when the President ended the meeting abruptly after just 3 minutes, having expressed his displeasure that the House Democrats continue to vow endless investigations and subpoenas, and that the Speaker will not rule out impeachment proceedings. The President is currently in Japan taking part in a series of high-level meetings with their leaders. Trump will become the first foreign leader to meet its new emperor, Naruhito. He will also meet several times with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for discussions on a list of issues ranging from trade to North Korea.

Budget & Appropriations. Before adjourning last week, the Senate finally voted on their own version of a $19.1 billion disaster supplemental appropriations package, passing it on a bipartisan 85-8 vote, after the President signaled that he would sign the package – even without provisions for the border. However, the House had already adjourned for the week and there was an objection by a Member to passing the Senate bill by “unanimous consent”, so final approval of the measure will wait until the House returns next week. The House Appropriations Committee remained busy heading into the recess week, marking up several more bills, including Agriculture and Transportation/HUD.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Health

Bipartisan Senators Reveal Sweeping Health Care Package: A sweeping draft legislative package introduced last week from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Health Committee seeks to lower health care costs by addressing surprise medical bills and adding transparency to drug prices, among other provisions. The package contains nearly three dozen specific bipartisan provisions that will reduce the cost of what Americans pay for health care, Alexander said. It sidesteps controversial issues like ObamaCare repeal, Medicare for All and abortion funding. (The Hill)

Tax Reform

Politics Slowing Tax Policy Progress Despite Bipartisan Plans: Five months into the new Congress, lawmakers seem far away from addressing tax issues such as extending expired tax breaks or fixing errors in the 2017 tax law. Although lawmakers in Congress like to talk about bipartisanship, the dynamic of a Democrat-majority House and a Republican-majority Senate complicates efforts. The politics of the 2020 election are also already playing a part in how lawmakers perceive some legislation. (Bloomberg)

Transportation

Gas-Tax Infrastructure Bill Unveiled by Democrat Blumenauer: Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced the “Rebuild America Act”, which would gradually boost U.S. gasoline and diesel taxes to invest in the country’s infrastructure. (Bloomberg)

As Infrastructure Talks Collapse, Focus Turns to Highway Bill: After a White House meeting on infrastructure fell apart, lawmakers were left picking up the pieces, with the odds of Congress passing a broad package looking slimmer than ever. Instead, it seems likely Congress will pursue a narrower surface transportation bill. That would happen through the reauthorization of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, which is set to expire in October 2020. Trump has appeared to indicate that he preferred a surface transportation bill. (E&E News)

Energy

House Panel Advances $46B Energy Bill: The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday advanced a $46.4 billion spending bill covering energy and water programs, defying requests from President Trump to slash spending. The bill rejected cuts to key energy and water programs, including a 12% decrease to the Department of Energy, a 31% decrease to the Army Corps of Engineers. (The Hill)

Interior & Environment

House Panel Votes to Boost Interior, EPA Budget by $1.7B: The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 along party lines to push forward $37.28 billion in funds for the two agencies. It was an increase of $7.24 billion over President Trump’s 2020 requests, which included deep proposed cuts for both agencies. (The Hill)

Homeland Security

GOP Lawmakers Lay out Border Security Proposals for DHS: A group of House conservatives sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week that outlined border security policies they hope the department will enact. (The Hill)

Immigration Bills Move Forward Amid Political Upheaval: Three major immigration bills cleared the House Judiciary Committee this week, flying under the radar amid increasing political discord in Washington. (The Hill)

Defense

Senate Advances Annual Defense Policy Bill: The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled a draft $750 billion defense policy bill that would authorize more Lockheed Martin F-35 jets for the United States and effectively end Turkey’s partnership in the program if Ankara pursues a plan to buy a Russian missile defense system. (Reuters)

House Democrats’ Pentagon Budget Bill Would Curb Trump’s War Powers: A House defense spending bill that aims to end the post-2001 war authorizations after eight months, pull military support in Yemen and fund the Pentagon at $8 billion less than what the White House requested, advanced out of committee in a 30-22 vote. Exemplifying the Democratic-controlled House’s willingness to check President Donald Trump on foreign policy and military matters, the House Appropriations Committee’s bill revives the years-old war authorization debate amid heightened tension between the U.S. and Iran. It also tees up fights with the GOP-led Senate and the White House over the bill’s $690.2 billion defense top line for 2020. (Defense News)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

A New Study Sparks a War of Words Over the Drug Industry’s Commitment to Research: A coalition of the drug industry’s fiercest foes is accusing the world’s top drug makers of hiding behind research and development “as an excuse for price-gouging American patients.” And they’re pointing to a new study that finds drug makers spent about 22% of their revenues on research and development in 2017 to prove their point. (Stat News)

Labor & Workforce

Retirement Savings Bill Seeks Small Business Buy-In: The House last Thursday took up what could be the most significant changes in retirement savings policy in more than a decade, a bill that would among other things, create incentives for businesses to provide access to workplace savings plans for some of the most underserved groups — employees at small businesses and part-time workers. (Roll Call)

Transportation/DOT

Trump Administration Appoints Drone CEO to Lead Drone Policy Committee, Worrying Watchdog Groups: The Trump administration announced that it would appoint the CEO of a large commercial drone developing company to oversee drone policy and safety in the United States, causing watchdog groups to raise concerns about conflicts of interest. Michael Chasen, the CEO of PrecisionHawk, a commercial drone company that has raised more than $100 million in funding, will now oversee the committee that advises the Department of Transportation, led by Elaine Chao, and other government agencies on proposed rules and regulations around drones. (Newsweek)

Space, NASA & NOAA

SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites, Begins Constellation Buildout: SpaceX launched the first 60 satellites for an internet constellation that could ultimately number 12,000 on a Falcon 9 rocket Thursday night. The 60 satellites mark the beginning of SpaceX’s deployment of a global internet megaconstellation intended to generate more revenue to fuel the company’s interplanetary ambitions. Each Starlink satellite launched May 23 weighs roughly 227 kilograms. Collectively they are expected to deliver 1 terabit per second of usable capacity, and 2.5 to 3 terabits per second of total capacity. (Space News)

Maxar Picked to Fire up NASA’s Moon Gateway: NASA on Thursday took a giant leap in its Project Artemis to return to the moon, selecting Colorado’s Maxar Technologies to build a 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion system to power the Gateway space station intended to orbit the moon. (Politico)

NOAA Seeks Funding for Innovative Technologies, Novel Partnerships: NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service is requesting nearly $17.3 million in 2020 funding for a series of initiatives to explore the potential contributions of new data partnerships, small satellites and advanced technologies. NOAA seeks $10 million for industry studies, analyses and possible flight demonstrations of hosted payloads. The agency also is asking Congress for $5 million to purchase Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) radio occultation data for operational use and nearly $2.3 million to work with NASA’s Earth Science and Heliophysics Divisions, other government agencies and the commercial sector to take advantage of emerging technologies. (Space News)

EPA

Exclusive: EPA to Unveil Less Ambitious U.S. Biofuel Credit Reform: The Environmental Protection Agency plans to unveil a narrowed-down version of its proposed biofuel credit market reform this month after regulators concluded many of the agency’s initial ideas required more time to study, according to four people briefed on the matter. President Trump had instructed the EPA to develop the plan to reform the multi-billion-dollar market as a way to help the oil refining industry, which had long complained that speculation was driving up costs for the credits they must acquire to comply with the nation’s biofuel law. (Reuters)

Defense/DOD

Trump Taps Barbara Barrett as Next Air Force Secretary: President Trump announced that he plans to nominate Barbara Barrett, a former chairwoman of the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation, to be the next secretary of the Air Force. Barrett has a longstanding interest in aerospace issues, sitting on the boards of the Rand and Aerospace corporations, and acting as a former member of the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board. (Air Force Times)

Cyber

US Officials Say Foreign Election Hacking Is Inevitable: The hacking of U.S. election systems, including by foreign adversaries, is inevitable, and the real challenge is ensuring the country is resilient enough to withstand catastrophic problems from cyber breaches, government officials said. The comments by representatives from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security underscored the challenges for federal and state governments in trying to ward off interference from Russia and other countries in the 2020 election. (AP)

DOJ

DOJ Offers House Intel Some Mueller Materials if Schiff Drops Barr Threat: The Justice Department on Tuesday said it would provide the House Intelligence Committee with some materials related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as long as the panel dropped its threat to pursue an “enforcement action” against Attorney General William Barr. (The Hill)

DOJ Accuses Assange of Violating Espionage Act: The Justice Department has hit WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with Espionage Act charges, escalating a legal fight against the high-profile activist and alarming press freedom activists. (Politico)

Homeland Security/DHS

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan Defends Shifting DHS Resources to the Border: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan acknowledged that he was aware of concerns raised by airport leadership about shifting Transportation Security Administration resources to the southern border. (CNN)

Trump is Expected to Tap Ken Cuccinelli for Top DHS Role on Immigration: Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli is expected to take a top job at the Department of Homeland Security to help steer the administration's immigration policies, a senior administration official said. (CNN)

Only At-risk Migrant Children Separated from Families: Acting Homeland Security Secretary McAleenan: While the Trump administration has discontinued its policy that resulted in thousands of migrant families split up at the border, U.S. officials continue to grapple with a crush of family crossings every month and dozens of children who the government says must be separated for health and safety concerns. (ABC News)

Education

Betsy DeVos Releases More Data on Student Loan Debt: The Education Department released new student loan data this week, as part of its plan to deal with student loan debt by giving individual consumers more information about what they're likely to get for their money. (CNN)

FEC

FEC Allows Harvard Nonprofit to Provide Free Cybersecurity Services to Campaigns: The Federal Election Commission has decided that Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy Project’s non-profit, “Defending Digital Campaigns,” may provide free and low-cost cybersecurity services to political campaigns without violating campaign finance laws, given the fact that there is a “highly unusual and serious threat” posed to U.S. elections by foreign adversaries. (Cyber Scoop)