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Window On Washington - May 4, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 18

May 04, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Senate Returns. Though the Senate returns to D.C. this week, there is no coronavirus response legislation on the floor schedule, and discussions on future packages will continue behind the scenes. The Senate plans to consider the confirmation of multiple nominees, including the Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and certain judicial picks. The Senate will also hold the confirmation hearing for the Director of National Intelligence and could take up legislation to reauthorize certain provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Senate is returning with certain health guidelines, including allowing staff to continue teleworking when possible, limiting occupancy and encouraging masks to be worn.

House Remains Out. The House decided to continue its recess but is planning to return next week. Before returning, Democratic leadership will ask the attending physician for guidance on how best to reopen. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said he will support rules changes authorizing the House and its committees to conduct all legislative activities remotely, including hearings, markup, floor debate, and voting.

Future Package Negotiations. Two issues have come to the forefront of negotiations for the next response package: additional funding for state and local governments, and liability protections for businesses that reopen. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) believes that state and local governments need an additional $1 trillion to assist with ramifications from the pandemic over the next three to four years. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently released an estimate that state governments could be short $650 billion over the next three years. However, President Trump has said he is in no rush to give additional aid to states, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is using the issue as leverage in the discussions to get liability protection for employers that reopen. There is a proposal to shield businesses from liability over coronavirus-related claims, so long as they comply with government guidelines. Democrats are opposed to blanket protections.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

White House Blocks Fauci From Testifying Before Congress: Democrats had invited Dr. Fauci to appear Wednesday before the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee. Absent Fauci, the sole witness slated to testify is Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC. Additional witnesses are possible. (The Hill)

Pelosi: States, Cities Seek $1T to Avoid Layoffs from Virus: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said last Thursday that state and local governments are seeking up to $1 trillion for coronavirus costs. Pelosi acknowledged the federal government may not be able to provide that much, but she said money for “heroes” is needed to prevent layoffs as governors and mayors stare down red ink in their budgets. (New York Times)

Bipartisan Lawmakers Call for Postal Service Relief: In a letter to House and Senate leaders of both parties, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Reps. Pete King (R-NY), Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Mark Amodei (R-NV) backed the Postal Service Board of Governors’ request for $25 billion to offset coronavirus-related losses, $25 billion for projects to modernize the Postal Service and access to another $25 billion in borrowing authority. (The Hill)

Health

McConnell, Pelosi Decline Administration Offer to Congress for Rapid Testing: Instead, the two leaders said Congress will rely on the testing procedures outlined by the Office of the Attending Physician until “speedier technologies become more widely available.” (Politico)

76 Lawmakers Urge Emergency Funding for Mental Health in Next Coronavirus Stimulus Package: In a letter led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the lawmakers called for the next coronavirus stimulus to include at least $38.5 billion for behavioral health organizations (BHOs), which they say are at risk of being shuttered as part of the pandemic’s economic fallout. (The Hill)

Defense

Undeterred by Pandemic, Lawmakers Ready Their NDAA Proposals: The House Armed Services Committee had planned to spend Thursday in a marathon session debating the annual Pentagon policy bill and ultimately sending the massive measure to the floor. (Roll Call)

Senate Panel Sets Confirmation Hearing for Trump's Intel Chief Pick for Tuesday: The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Tuesday for Rep. John Ratcliffe's (R-TX) nomination to be President Trump's director of national intelligence. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

McConnell, McCarthy Say Liability Protections 'Absolutely Essential' for Next Coronavirus Bill: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) signaled on Friday that they will not support a fifth coronavirus bill unless it provides liability protections for employers. (The Hill)

Green Card Bill Would Bring More Foreign Doctors, Nurses to U.S.: Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), unveiled the bill last Thursday with his colleagues, Sens. David Perdue (R-GA), Todd Young (R-IN), and Chris Coons (D-DE). The legislation would grant 40,000 unused green card slots to foreign health care workers needed to help U.S. medical professionals fight the coronavirus pandemic. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing

Banking Committee Will Wait on Trump's Controversial Fed Nominee: Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) will wait on marking up President Trump’s controversial nominee to the Federal Reserve, Judy Shelton, after getting pushback from committee members over safety concerns and Senate protocol for committee business. (The Hill)

Agriculture

Senate Appropriator Eyes More COVID-19 Relief for Agriculture: The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations panel, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said last Monday he will focus on giving the Agriculture Department $20 billion in additional borrowing authority to aid farmers and ranchers when Congress returns. (Roll Call)

Ag Chair Peterson Says He’ll Oppose Farm Funding Boost Without Strings Attached: The leader of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), said last Tuesday he wants to see more money go into USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp., but he’s willing to oppose a funding increase without conditions giving Congress more authority over how the money is spent. (Agri-Pulse)

Democrats Propose Protections for Farm Workers: Domestic farm workers, many of them undocumented immigrants, would be covered by a bill of rights for essential workers that advocates and a group of House Democrats want included in any future economic relief bill that moves through Congress. (Roll Call)

Justice

House Judiciary Committee Asks Jeff Bezos to Testify About Whether Amazon Misled Congress: Seven bipartisan members of the committee said in a letter to Bezos that a recent Wall Street Journal report on Amazon’s use of third-party seller data appears to show that Amazon may have misled Congress in previous statements. (CNBC)

Senate Faces Protracted Floor Fight Over Judges Amid Pandemic Safety Concerns: The partisan fight over what only a few weeks ago was expected to be routine Senate business comes at a time when congressional leaders are under pressure to come together to negotiate another round of coronavirus relief legislation. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

House Homeland Dems Want to Help TSA Workers in Next COVID-19 Relief Package: As some of the most visible frontline employees in the federal workforce, the coronavirus has hit Transportation Security Administration officers hard. (Federal Computer Weekly)

Green Card Bill Would Bring More Foreign Doctors, Nurses to U.S.: A bipartisan group of senators introduced new legislation Thursday to grant 40,000 unused green card slots to foreign health care workers needed to help U.S. medical professionals fight the coronavirus pandemic. (Roll Call)

Cyber

Republicans to Introduce Bill to Ban Government Employees from Using Huawei, ZTE Products: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced their intention on Thursday to introduce a bill that would ban U.S. officials from using products from Chinese companies deemed national security threats, such as telecom groups Huawei and ZTE. (The Hill)

Energy

Lawmakers Push for Inclusion of 'Forever Chemical' Regulation in Future Stimulus Bill: A group of more than 80 members of Congress is pushing for the inclusion of provisions to regulate a class of cancer-linked chemicals in future stimulus legislation dealing with infrastructure. (The Hill)

Education

Schools Face Nightmare Scenario After Coronavirus Crisis: School officials from the country's biggest school districts recently sent a message to Congress: Inject the K-12 system with a serious infusion of cash ahead of what forecasters say is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, or brace for the catastrophic results of hallowed out school budgets. (US News & World Reports)

Transportation

McConnell Nixes Infrastructure in Next Economic Recovery Bill: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is putting the kibosh on including an infrastructure plan in the next round of coronavirus spending, confirming last Tuesday to Fox News that he does not believe it’s appropriate to use the pandemic to pay for infrastructure. (Roll Call)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Key House Democrats Opposed to New NASA Human Lunar Lander Awards: Last week NASA awarded $967 million in contracts to SpaceX and teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics to refine their Human Lander System concepts, and NASA will later choose which companies will proceed to the next phase of actually building them. The chairwomen of the House Science Committee expressed “disappointment” with NASA’s decision to award these contracts, which are public-private partnerships (PPPs) where the companies will own the systems and NASA will only purchase services. Bipartisan legislation already approved by the subcommittee would require that they be government-owned. (Space Policy Online)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

NIH Announces $1.5 Billion, ‘Shark Tank’-Like Initiative to Accelerate Covid-19 Testing: The NIH last Wednesday announced a new $1.5 billion initiative to rapidly develop coronavirus diagnostics, an effort it says will result in the deployment of “millions of tests per week” by late summer or fall of this year. (Stat News)

FDA Authorizes Emergency Use of Coronavirus Drug Remdesivir: Dr. Anthony Fauci said the data from a government trial make remdesivir the new standard of care as researchers continue to develop more effective options. (Politico)

Defense/DOD

Pentagon May Seek Coronavirus Funds in Next Relief Bill: The Defense Department may seek billions of dollars in the next COVID-19 recovery bill because it may not have the flexibility to redirect portions of its $738 billion budget, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said last Thursday. (Roll Call)

Defense Budget Brawl Looms After Pandemic: Defense budget cuts are looming as the coronavirus pandemic places pressure on the federal budget across various agencies. (The Hill)

Pentagon Moves to Increase Production of Coronavirus Testing Swabs: The Pentagon last Wednesday moved to increase the production of coronavirus testing swabs by announcing it will invest $75.5 million in the Defense Production Act (DPA). (The Hill)

Justice/DOJ

Judges Worry Trump Position on McGahn Testimony Could Force Congress Into Extreme Measures: Barring Congress from enforcing its subpoenas in court could push lawmakers toward arresting senior Trump administration officials or pursuing even more extreme measures, several appeals court judges suggested last Tuesday. (Politico)

Trade

President Trump Renews Threat of Tariffs on Chinese Goods: The President floated the idea of using tariffs to punish the Chinese government for its handling of the coronavirus crisis during an event at the White House on Thursday. (Yahoo Finance)

Dept. of Education

DeVos Sued for Seizing Student Loan Borrowers' Wages During Pandemic: The proposed class action lawsuit claims that the Education Department hasn’t actually halted the practice and is continuing to garnish wages in violation of the CARES Act. (Politico)

Labor and Workforce

3.8 Million More Americans File for Unemployment Benefits: The new figure brings the six-week total of new claims to more than 30 million, by some estimates one-fifth of the entire American workforce. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Fed Change Allows Oil Companies to Qualify for Recovery Loans: The Federal Reserve last Thursday changed the terms for its Main Street Lending Program, making it easier for oil companies to borrow from a fund meant to help small and midsize companies hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. (Roll Call)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Poor Air Quality Has Been Linked to Covid-19 Impacts. Trump's EPA is Still Limiting Pollution Restrictions: The Environmental Protection Agency has said its moves protect public health and are reasonable regulatory decisions that respect the law. (CNN)

Agriculture/USDA

Trump Declares Meat Supply ‘Critical,’ Aiming to Reopen Plants: President Trump last Tuesday signed an executive order declaring meat processing plants “critical infrastructure” in an effort to ensure that facilities around the country remained open as the government tried to prevent looming shortages of pork, chicken and other products as a result of the coronavirus. (New York Times)

Meat Plants to Reopen in ‘Days Not Weeks,’ USDA Boss Says: Secretary Sonny Perdue said last Thursday meatpacking plants will open in “days, not weeks.” He added that workers will receive more protective gear and coronavirus testing “virtually immediately.” The USDA has asked meat processors to submit written plans to safely operate plants and intends to review them in consultation with local officials. (Bloomberg)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA is Counting on a Lot of Unproven Rockets for its Artemis Plan: NASA’s three lander teams/concepts — Blue Origin's Blue Moon lander, Dynetics' landing system, or SpaceX's Starship are all proposing to use non-SLS rockets to get to the Moon. It is noteworthy that none of these rockets has yet taken flight. In fact, for its human program, NASA has eschewed the most powerful rocket currently in existence, the Falcon Heavy, as well as the Delta IV Heavy booster, which already has launched NASA's deep-space Orion spacecraft to an altitude of 5,800km. (Ars Technica)

GAO Warns of Continued Cost Growth on NASA Exploration Programs: The biggest contributor to the cost growth in NASA’s “Major Programs” are the exploration programs, including the Space Launch System, Orion, and their associated ground systems. Of the $1.6 billion in net additional cost growth identified by GAO in the report, $1.3 billion comes from those programs, and the report warned of more overruns to come. (Space News)

Tax Reform/IRS

Trump Sparks Fight Over IRS Relief Payments: President Trump has sparked concerns about politicizing the IRS by putting his name on the coronavirus relief checks and letters sent to Americans informing them of their payments. (The Hill)

IRS: Companies Who Receive PPP Loans Will Not Qualify for Tax Deductions: The IRS last Thursday released guidance stating that expenses related to forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) won't be tax-deductible. (The Hill)

Cyber

Thousands of Parents Push Twitter to Take Steps to Prevent 'Zoombombings': Thousands of parents across the country are calling for Twitter to take additional steps to combat online trolls, citing concerns that individuals are using the platform to organize major disruptions of online classes taking place on the video conferencing service Zoom. (The Hill)

Experts Worry U.S. Elections Even More Vulnerable with COVID-19: Cybersecurity experts are increasingly worried that U.S. elections are growing even more vulnerable to outside interference because of the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Baking & Housing/HUD

The Fed is Expanding its Main Street Lending to Include Bigger Businesses: The Federal Reserve said last Thursday it is expanding its Main Street lending program, opening it to larger businesses and making a third loan option available. (CNBC)

Fannie, Freddie Won’t Require Lump-Sum Forbearance Repayments: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s regulator said last Monday that borrowers benefiting from programs that let them skip mortgage payments due to the coronavirus pandemic won’t have to make lump-sum repayments when the crisis passes. (American Banker)

Transportation/DOT

More U.S. Airlines Require Passengers to Wear Face Masks on Flights: American Airlines and Delta Airlines announced last Thursday that passengers will be required to wear face masks on their flights starting in early May, joining Jet Blue and Frontier Airlines. (Axios)

Boeing to Lay Off Thousands; Forgoing Federal Aid for Now: Boeing said it will cut its workforce by 10 percent and reduce its 787 Dreamliner production in an effort to stem its bleeding in an industry laid low by the coronavirus pandemic. (Roll Call)