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Window On Washington - November 16, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 46

Nov 16, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session. The House will hold its leadership elections for the 117th Congress this week, with House Republicans slated to hold their elections tomorrow and House Democrats to hold theirs on Wednesday and Thursday. The House Democrats’ and Republicans’ leadership for each party’s top three positions is expected to remain the same. Additionally, as Congress enters the lame-duck period, a number of priorities remain, including passing an omnibus for FY21 appropriations, agreeing to a coronavirus relief package, finalizing the NDAA (H.R. 6395, S. 4049) and WRDA (H.R. 7575, S. 3591), and the House voting on the MORE Act (H.R. 3884) to decriminalize marijuana. The Senate is scheduled to continue voting on judicial nominations this week, as well as holding a procedural vote on Judy Shelton’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

There are also a number of hearings and markups scheduled throughout the week, including the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the 2020 election and Section 230, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s hearing on American manufacturing’s COVID-19 response and separately their markup of the SPACE Act (S. 4827), the Senate Rules and Administration Committee’s hearing on the FEC nominations, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s hearing on the passenger rail system.

FY21 Appropriations. House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) are expected to start the conference process for all twelve of the appropriations bills this week. The goal is to avoid passing a second continuing resolution (CR) and to secure an agreement on an omnibus package to avoid a government shutdown on December 11, which is when the current CR expires.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Negotiations on the next package remain stalled, with neither side having changed their stance on the scope of the stimulus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) continue to reiterate that the stimulus negotiations should be a priority during the lame-duck session and that the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act should be a starting point. Though the Trump administration was open to a top-line figure of $1.9 trillion before Election Day, the White House is now largely stepping back from the negotiations and leaving it to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who continues to advocate for a top-line figure of $500 billion. It remains unclear when the talks will restart or if there will be a deal before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

2020 Elections. With every state now called in the presidential race, the final electoral vote count is projected to be 306 (Biden) to 232 (Trump), as any recounts are not expected to change the results. President Donald Trump yesterday acknowledged publicly via Twitter for the first time that President-elect Joe Biden won the election, though he did not concede and claimed the election was rigged. His campaign continues to challenge the results of the election in court, and his administration is withholding a formal acknowledgment of Biden’s win. For the transition process to begin, the administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), Emily Murphy, must sign paperwork that will provide funding and allow access to government resources as part of the transition effort. The non-partisan Presidential Transition Center lays out all the things the Biden transition cannot do until the GSA confirms that Biden is the winner.

Until then, the Biden transition team is doing all that they can, including unveiling the members of his COVID-19 task force, announcing the members of the agency review teams, communicating with congressional and foreign leaders, and laying out his policy agenda.

Separately, all but two Senate races have also been called, with Republicans currently at 50 seats and Democrats at 48, leaving the January 2021 runoffs in Georgia between Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Democrat Jon Ossoff and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Democrat Raphael Warnock the ultimate determinant of who will control the Senate. On the House side, Democrats retained their majority, though it will be smaller than it was in the 116th Congress.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Senate GOP Lays Out Priorities in Fiscal 2021 Spending Showdown: The Senate Appropriations Committee released all twelve of its spending bills last Tuesday. (Roll Call)

Deadlock Leaves No Clear Path for Lame-Duck Coronavirus Deal: Hopes for an end-of-the-year coronavirus relief deal are off to a rocky start, raising fresh questions about the chances for a long-elusive agreement before January. Neither side is signaling any interest in backing down, with both saying they have more leverage because of the elections. (The Hill)

Health

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 Department of Health and Human Services Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $96.3 billion in discretionary funding to HHS, an increase of $1.9 billion from FY20. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Republicans Consider Picks for Next Energy and Commerce Leader: The next ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee will become a leading voice on health care. CQ Roll Call interviewed the three lawmakers — Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Michael C. Burgess (R-TX), and Bob Latta (R-OH) — running to replace retiring ranking member Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) about their health policy priorities. (Roll Call)

McConnell Pushing for 'Highly Targeted' COVID-19 Relief Deal: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last Tuesday he believes Congress needs to pass a "highly targeted" coronavirus relief deal, similar to the roughly $500 billion GOP bill that was blocked earlier this year. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 Department of Labor Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $12.2 billion in discretionary funding to the Department of Labor, a decrease of $132 million from the FY20 enacted level. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Education

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 Department of Education Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $73.2 billion in discretionary funding to the Department of Education, an increase of $433 million from the FY20 enacted level. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Banking & Housing

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 Department of Housing and Urban Development Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $48.78 billion in discretionary funding to HUD, roughly the same as the current FY20 spending levels for HUD. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Judy Shelton Appears Headed for Confirmation to a Federal Reserve Seat: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last Thursday he will advance Judy Shelton’s name to the Senate floor after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told reporters she now will support her nomination. (CNBC)

Transportation

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 Department of Transportation Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $25.67 billion in discretionary funding to DOT and $61.34 billion in obligation limitations. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 Department of Commerce, NASA Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $5.4 billion for NOAA, an increase of $51 million from the FY20 enacted level and $23.5 billion for NASA, an increase of $86 million from the FY20 enacted level. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Defense

Senate Republicans Unveil $1.4T Spending Bill, with $696B for Defense: Senate Republicans last Tuesday introduced a governmentwide, $1.4 trillion spending package, with $696 billion for defense, teeing up negotiations in Congress’ tense lame-duck session ― and several fights with House Democrats including on the issues of F-35 and submarine procurement. (Defense News)

Homeland Security & Immigration

FY21 Homeland Security Funding Bill Released: The bill includes $15.48 billion for Customs and Border Patrol including $1.96 billion, as requested, for 82 miles of a border wall system. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Judiciary/Justice

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 DOJ Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $33.71 billion for the Department of Justice, $1.1 billion above its FY20 funding. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Lame-Duck Senate Turns to Judges, Starting with Ohio Pick: Senators returned to Washington with a full agenda for the short lame-duck session including pandemic relief, government funding, and confirming perhaps 20 more judges — starting last Tuesday with an Ohio district court pick and including up to three appellate judges. (Law360)

Cyber

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 DHS Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $2 billion for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Agriculture

Senate Committee on Appropriations Releases FY21 Department of Agriculture Funding Bill: The Committee allocated $23.33 billion in discretionary funding to the USDA and FDA, with more than $3.3 billion included for agricultural research programs. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Leadership Roles in Key Committees Affecting Agriculture Up for Grabs: The positions include the chairs of the House Agriculture Committee and House Appropriations Committee, and the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. (Agri-Pulse)

Environment & Interior

Senate Appropriations Committee Releases FY21 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Funding Bill: The bill includes $13.648 billion overall for the Interior Department and $9.085 billion for the EPA. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Energy

Senate Appropriations Committee Releases FY21 Energy and Water Development Funding Bill: The bill includes $7.72 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers and $42 billion for the Department of Energy. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Republican Senate May Create Limits, but Biden Will Have Multiple Avenues to Act on Clean Energy Priorities, Analysts Say: Analysts and advocates are split on how a Biden administration will handle this potentially difficult situation, with some believing Biden will follow in President Barack Obama's footsteps, persuading Congress where he can, pursuing a regulatory path where he cannot. Some of the more ambitious goals will likely have to wait and may get less attention than more bipartisan policy issues. (Utility Dive)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

White House Leaves Stimulus to Congress as Biden Enters Fray: While the White House probably would consult with GOP lawmakers on details of a COVID-19 relief bill, it’s now unlikely to take the lead on talks. (Bloomberg)

Health/HHS/NIH

HHS Announces COVID-19 Vaccine Agreement with Drugstores: Federal health officials have reached an agreement with pharmacies across the U.S. to distribute free coronavirus vaccines after they are approved and become available to the public. (Modern Healthcare)

HHS Suspends Shipments of Rapid Tests to Eight States: HHS will pause shipments of rapid COVID-19 tests to eight states it says aren’t utilizing tests the federal government already provided. (Bloomberg Government)

Labor & Workforce

Unemployment Claims Are Falling, but That’s Not Necessarily Because People Found Work: Many workers may be running out of jobless benefits altogether or falling through the cracks of the system, according to labor experts. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Speculation Over Biden's Education Secretary: Speculation has focused on the heads of national teachers’ unions -- Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association. (Inside Higher Ed)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Federal Reserve Applies to Join Group of Banks Managing Climate Risks: The Federal Reserve has applied to be part of a group of government banks that collaborate on managing the financial risks from climate change, a top official said last Tuesday. (The Hill)

HUD Secretary Ben Carson Tests Positive for Coronavirus: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson tested positive for the coronavirus last Monday. (CNBC)

FHA Proposes Allowing Private Flood Insurance Option: The Federal Housing Administration proposed a rule last Tuesday that would allow lenders to use a private flood insurance option rather than go through the National Flood Insurance Program. (HousingWire)

Transportation/DOT

Biden’s Transportation Team Sees ‘Real Prospects’ for Major Infrastructure Plan in 2021: Despite intransigence from the Trump administration, John Porcari, a key member of President-elect Joe Biden’s transportation team, is promising a swift and smooth transition when the Biden administration takes the power levers in Washington on January 20, and he believes there is a strong chance that a large bipartisan infrastructure package comes together early next year. (Logistics Management)

Uber, Lyft Eager to Take California Labor Win Nationwide: Uber and Lyft are celebrating a major ballot measure victory in California, and they’re looking to notch similar wins nationwide in other key large states that could formalize labor classifications for gig workers. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Jim Bridenstine is Leaving NASA - How Should We Assess His 30-Month Tenure? NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has relished the challenge of leading NASA through troubling times and overcoming initial concerns about his partisanship to lead NASA—all of NASA—through the turbulent years of the Trump administration. While he knew he would be not back regardless of the outcome of the elections, most observers believe Bridenstine has largely succeeded in pushing the agency forward and will leave it better than he found it. (Ars Technica)

Biden Administration Expected to Emphasize Climate Science Over Lunar Exploration at NASA: While the nascent Biden transition website laying out post-election priorities for the incoming Administration doesn’t explicitly state its plans for NASA, many observers expect it to play a role in the fourth priority: climate change. Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy administrator during the Obama administration, recently shared her thoughts about the Earth Science priorities and a potential shift away from the ambitious lunar schedule and its very high budget requirements. (Space News)

Outside Experts Want NASA to Delay Schedule, Increase Cost Estimate for Mars Sample Return Missions: A panel of experts established by NASA to assess its plans to return samples of Mars to Earth is recommending that NASA delay the launch of the next two spacecraft and build the budget around a higher cost estimate. The panel strongly supports the three-spacecraft mission, a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency, but concluded the current plan is too ambitious. (Space Policy Online)

Ex-Im Reviewing Nearly $2 Billion in Applications for Space Industry Projects: The Export-Import Bank of the United States is evaluating nearly $2 billion in applications to finance space industry sales as it seeks to return to a field that has changed significantly over the last 5 years since it lost a quorum of Members in 2015 (which has now been restored) and the ability to approve deals larger than $10 million. (Space News)

Defense/DOD

Questions Swirl at Pentagon After Wave of Departures: Critics have sounded the alarm after a wave of firings and resignations at the Pentagon that saw the ouster of the Defense secretary and installation of several aides seen as loyalists of President Trump. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was removed last Monday, and President Trump has appointed Christopher Miller, who had been serving as director of the National Counterterrorism Center since August, to be the acting Defense secretary. (The Hill)

Biden Likely to Break Barriers, Pick Woman to Lead Pentagon: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to take a historic step and select a woman to head the Pentagon for the first time, shattering one of the few remaining barriers to women in the department and the presidential Cabinet. Michele Flournoy, a politically moderate Pentagon veteran, is regarded by U.S. officials and political insiders as a top choice for the position. (NBC Dallas Fort Worth)

DHS & Immigration

Judge Says Acting DHS Secretary Appointment Unlawful, Invalidates DACA Suspension: A federal judge ruled on Saturday that acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf was unlawfully appointed, thus invalidating his suspension of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (The Hill)

Judiciary/DOJ

Barr Sparks DOJ Firestorm with Election Probes Memo: In a carefully worded memo, the attorney general authorized federal prosecutors to take investigative steps on “specific instances” of abuse “prior to the certification of elections” in their respective jurisdictions, but he warned that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries,” according to reports. (The Hill)

Cyber

Top Cyber Official Expecting to be Fired as White House Frustrations Hit Agency Protecting Elections: Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), is in the White House's crosshairs in part because of a website he created to debunk election-related misinformation. (Politico)

NIST Has a New Cybersecurity Companion Guide: Having just finished a multi-year revision of what you might call the bible of cybersecurity controls, there’s something new from the National Institute of Standards and Technology cybersecurity crew - a new companion guide. (Federal News Network)

EPA & DOI

New Interior Order Undermines Conservation Bill Trump Campaigned On, Critics Say: The Land and Water Conservation Fund is designed to allow the federal government to acquire land for parks, trails and conservation purposes, but an order last Friday from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt gives governors and even county commissioners the ability to veto any purchases of private land by requiring “written expression of support.” (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Transition - Meet Biden's Energy Team: DOE could play a central role in Biden's efforts to transition to a green energy economy, and the Biden transition team appointees to date includes scientists, electric vehicle advocates and environmentalists, several of whom have also been suggested as a potential Energy Secretary. (Energy & Environment News)