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Window On Washington - November 18, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 43

Nov 18, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Government Funding. The House will take up a continuing resolution this week that funds the federal government through December 20. The government is currently funded through November 21. House and Senate Appropriations negotiators are reportedly close to a solution on the top-line spending allocations for the 12 appropriations bills. Late last week, Democrats proposed classifying funds for continued implementation of the VA Mission Act as a spending emergency, meaning that this $9.4 billion in new spending would not count against the extra $27 billion in non-defense discretionary spending available in FY 2020. This proposal – if agreed to by Congressional Republicans and the White House, could help address shortfalls now expected in key domestic spending measures – most notably the Labor-Health-Education appropriations bill. Depending upon resolution of this difference sometime later this week, the Appropriations Committees could then move to complete negotiations on the individual bills and aim for passage before the December 20 deadline. The House is scheduled to recess for the holidays on December 13, but notice has been given that Members should be prepared to stay later if a deal hasn’t been reached. 

Legislative Agenda Through End of Year. Besides the continuing resolution, the House will also take up a bill this week the reauthorize the Export-Import Bank for ten years. While the White House supports a ten-year authorization, there are various provisions in the bill that it opposes, and it has said it would veto the House version. Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) is opposed to the House bill and would like to see the reauthorization as part of the government funding bill. It is also possible that an agreement on surprise medical billing could be a part of a year-end spending bill. Speaker Pelosi’s (D-CA) prescription drug bill has been delayed into December for floor consideration. The House will also be ready to act on the Defense Authorization if the conference committee can reach an agreement. The Senate will continue to work on nominations this week, and may also bring a bill in support of the protesters in Hong Kong.

Impeachment Hearings. The House held its first public hearings last week in the impeachment investigation. The hearings will continue this week with eight witnesses scheduled to appear over Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) remains noncommittal on when the House would vote on impeachment, despite many anticipating that it would occur in mid-December.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Lawmakers Aim for Agreement on Top-line Spending: The top two lawmakers tasked with funding the government said last Thursday that they want an agreement on top-line spending figures by this week. Both Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said they want to get a deal on the top-line figures, known as 302(b)s, by Wednesday. (The Hill)

Congress Expects to Pass Another Stopgap Spending Bill to Keep Agencies Open Through Dec. 20: Lawmakers plan to kick the deadline to keep agencies open to December 20, using a second stopgap spending bill to avert a shutdown later this month. Congressional leaders have agreed to that end date for another continuing resolution as negotiators seek an agreement on full-year appropriations. Current funding runs through November 21, and lawmakers hope the additional month will provide sufficient time to reach a resolution on the line-by-line funding for each federal agency. (Government Executive)

Health

Congress to Delay DSH Cuts, But Won't Reform Program This Year: Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that Congress won't reform the Medicaid disproportionate-share formula this year as anticipated, but they will likely temporarily delay cuts to the program. Grassley said he expects the delay of $4 billion in DSH cuts for fiscal 2020 to be extended in an end-of-year appropriations fight. (Modern Healthcare)

House Panel Advances Flavored E-cigarette Ban: A proposal to ban flavored e-cigarette products advanced out of a House health panel. In addition to banning manufacturers from adding nontobacco flavors to e-cigarette liquids, the bill, sponsored by Reps. Pallone (D-NJ) and Shalala (D-FL), would raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21 and ban online sales of e-cigarettes and tobacco products. (The Hill)

Defense

New HASC Member: House Democrats are naming Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) to the Armed Services Committee to replace Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA), who resigned last month. Brindisi, who represents a congressional district won by President Trump in 2016 and voted against Nancy Pelosi for speaker, was blocked from a seat on Armed Services in January. (Clark Hill Insight)

Senate Foreign Relations Chair: 'Best' Not to Pass Turkey Sanctions Bill 'At This Moment': Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) said Thursday he does not think now is the right time to pass a Turkey sanctions bill, further dampening the prospects such legislation passing the Senate. (The Hill)

Smith says Border Wall Still Holding Up 2020 NDAA, “Skinny” Bill a Nonstarter: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said the House and Senate made significant progress on the 2020 defense authorization bill, but there are still contentious issues holding up the bill. (Federal News Network)

Cyber

Sen. Chuck Schumer Raises Security Concerns About The Army Using TikTok To Try To Recruit Young People: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy on Nov. 7 requesting the military branch assess the national security risks associated with the platform. (Buzzfeed)

Bipartisan Bill to Secure Election Tech Advances to House Floor: The House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Thursday unanimously approved the Election Technology Research Act, which would authorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct research on ways to secure voting technology. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Chad Wolf Becomes Acting DHS Secretary: President Trump’s fifth Homeland Security secretary took over in an acting capacity last Wednesday, following a Senate vote to formally appoint him to a lower position within the department. (The Hill)

Justice

House Democrats Took a Big Step to Get the Equal Rights Amendment Moving Again: The House last Wednesday took a major step in clearing the way for the advancement of the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment to the Constitution that would offer all Americans equal legal protections regardless of sex. (Vox)

Environment/Interior

Group Launches Six-Figure Pro-Carbon Tax Ad Campaign Aimed at Congress: A bipartisan group backed by a number of environmental and fossil fuel companies launched a six-figure digital ad campaign last Wednesday aimed directly at Washington’s movers and shakers. (Roll Call)

Trade

Pelosi: USMCA Deal is ‘Imminent’: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicated last Thursday that a deal between House lawmakers and the Trump administration on the USMCA could be announced within the coming days. (Politico)

Partisan Vote in House for Export-Import Bank Measure: The Democratic-controlled House split along party lines last Friday to pass a measure renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank, a US agency that provides loans and other help to foreign buyers of US exports. (USN&WR)

Banking & Housing:

House Democrat Unveils Bill Requiring Banks to Identify Suspicious Activity Related to Guns: Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) introduced a bill requiring financial institutions to identify and report suspicious or illegal financial activity related to firearms last Friday. The move would require banks to report suspicious activity the way they are required to do by the Bank Secrecy Act for money laundering and terrorist financing. (The Hill)

Transportation

DeFazio Wants to Go Big on Infrastructure Despite Hurdles: House Democrats are renewing their push for a major infrastructure bill without the support they once hoped to get from President Trump. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) presented a comprehensive infrastructure plan during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats late Thursday. The legislation is still being drafted, he said, and he declined to offer any cost estimates. (Roll Call)

Lawmakers Aim to Thwart Amtrak Forced-Arbitration Policy: Lawmakers are in the initial stages of determining whether they can prevent Amtrak from implementing a forced arbitration policy that would bar passengers from suing if they’re hurt or killed in crashes. (Roll Call)

Energy

Perry Replacement Moves Closer to Confirmation Despite Questions on Ukraine: Dan Brouillette, currently the deputy secretary for the Department of Energy (DOE), was nominated to the post after Secretary Rick Perry announced he would leave the position in October. But Perry’s exit comes as questions have been raised about his role in the Ukraine controversy engulfing the White House. (The Hill)

Senate Energy Panel Tees Up November 19 Vote on Republican FERC Nominee: A vote on the nomination of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission General Counsel James Danly to become a member of the commission is slated for Tuesday in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. (S&P)

Education

Top DeVos Aide's Departure Prompts Inquiry from Democrats: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) are raising questions about whether former Education Department official A. Wayne Johnson’s resignation last month and his “sudden shift in policy position” should prompt concerns. (Politico)

Agriculture/USDA

Congressional Negotiators Face Decisions on FY 20 USDA Spending & Policy: House and Senate negotiators will have to sort out some sharply different priorities and spending targets for USDA and other departments and agencies important to agriculture, as the House and Senate bills presently differ significantly on funding for the Agricultural Research Service and Rural Development Programs, among others. (Agri Business)

Space/NASA & NOAA

More Trouble for NASA SLS, Orion and Lunar Programs: Members of the House Science Committee used a hearing last week to express growing bipartisan skepticism that NASA’s current plan to return humans to the moon by 2024 is achievable, and several used the hearing to advocate for a different, and arguably more conventional, approach. NASA was also stung last week by a damning new NASA inspector general report that criticized the space agency's management of and overpayments to the company (Boeing) building rockets and capsules for exploration missions and transportation to the ISS. (Politico)

Senate Commerce Committee Approves NASA Authorization Bill: The committee approved, without debate, an amended version of the bill (S. 2800) and nearly 20 separate amendments from senators. Those changes include language updating NASA’s Space Grant program, studies of a space resources institute and a space weather center of excellence, and a requirement that NASA prioritize the use low-enriched uranium for any space nuclear power systems to address nuclear nonproliferation concerns. (Space News)

Impeachment Inquiry

Key Takeaways From First Public Impeachment Hearing: The first public impeachment hearing in 20 years featured two career diplomats on the front lines of President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. (The Hill)

Staffer Who Overheard Trump Call with Sondland Testifies in Closed Hearing: David Holmes, the aide who overheard a phone call between US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and President Trump, testified in a closed hearing last Friday with the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry. (CBS)

5 Key Takeaways from Testimony by Former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch, a longtime career diplomat, testified last Friday as part of the ongoing House impeachment proceedings. (ABC)

Embassy Official Confirms Trump Asked About Ukraine Investigation: David Holmes, an official from the United States Embassy in Kiev, confirmed to House impeachment investigators last Friday that he had overheard a call between President Trump and a top American diplomat in July in which the president asked whether Ukraine was going to move forward with an investigation he wanted. (New York Times)

Sondland Said He Was Acting on Trump’s Orders, Aide Told Investigators: Tim Morrison, a top White House national security aide, told impeachment investigators that Gordon Sondland — a US ambassador at the center of the Ukraine scandal imperiling Donald Trump’s presidency — claimed to be acting on Trump’s orders, and in fact was regularly in touch with him. (Politico)

Pence Aide Testified that Trump’s Efforts to Pressure Ukraine Were 'Inappropriate': A top national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence told House impeachment investigators that President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents were “unusual and inappropriate,” and “shed some light on possible other motivations” for the president’s order to freeze military aid to the U.S. ally. (Politico)

White House Budget Official Broke Ranks and Testified in Impeachment Inquiry: Longtime White House budget employee Mark Sandy appeared in a closed hearing last Saturday before the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry, making him the first official from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to testify in the inquiry. (CBS)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Health/HHS/NIH

White House Rolls Out Sweeping Transparency Rules for Hospitals, Insurers: The Trump administration announced sweeping new rules aimed at making it easier for consumers to learn how much hospitals charge health insurers — part of a broader transparency push that's prompted industry giants to promise legal challenges. One proposed rule targets health plans in both the Obamacare exchanges and employer-sponsored insurance market. Plans would have to disclose the rates they have negotiated with providers in their networks, as well as the amounts they will allow for out-of-network care. (Politico)

Trump Administration Wavers on Ban of Flavored E-cigarettes: A top FDA official wavered on whether the Trump administration will follow through with its ban of flavored e-cigarettes, telling lawmakers there is “no final answer” right now. Trump health officials in September said the administration was on flavored e-cigarettes, but the policy appears to have stalled since then. Public health advocates worry the administration may be buckling under pressure from vaping companies and Trump supporters that are lobbying against the ban. (CNBC)

Labor & Workforce

Fed Chief Urges Congress to Expand US Workforce While Economy Still Strong: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell urged lawmakers of the Joint Economic Committee last Wednesday to target long-term threats facing the US economy while the country still enjoys a record stretch of prosperity, and calling on Congress to bring more workers into the US labor market and boost their flagging productivity before the American workforce atrophies under global pressure. (The Hill)

Defense/DOD

US and Turkey Have Friendly Talks But Differences Persist: President Trump says he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are “very good friends,” but their meeting last Wednesday at the White House failed to resolve an issue that has badly strained relations between the two NATO allies. (AP)

Amazon Suing Pentagon Over $10B Cloud Contract, Alleging ‘Bias’: Amazon is going to court to overturn the Pentagon’s decision to award Microsoft a cloud computing contract worth up to $10 billion, claiming the selection process for the so-called JEDI program was injected with "unmistakable bias" and "political influence." (Politico)

Trump Issues Pardons in War Crimes Cases, Despite Pentagon Opposition to the Move: President Trump intervened in three cases involving war crimes accusations on Friday, issuing full pardons to two soldiers and reversing disciplinary action against a Navy SEAL despite opposition raised by military justice experts and some senior Pentagon officials. (Washington Post)

Trade

US-China Trade Deal Negotiations Hit Another Snag: President Trump was supposed to sign a partial trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the coming weeks, but negotiations over the final text have reached a rough patch, according to people familiar with the matter. (CNN)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Proposed Foreign Investment Scrutiny Adds to Fintech Deal Risk: New foreign investment rules proposed by the US Treasury Department are compounding regulatory risks for mergers and acquisitions in the global financial technology market, analysts say. The proposed rules, which are expected to be finalized and in force by early 2020, expand the types of transactions that come under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. (Roll Call)

Cyber

Google’s ‘Project Nightingale’ Triggers Federal Inquiry: Google’s project with the country’s second-largest health system to collect detailed health information on 50 million American patients sparked a federal inquiry and criticism from patients and lawmakers. (Wall Street Journal)

DHS/Immigration

Suddenly, Ken Cuccinelli is No. 2 at DHS: Shortly after being sworn in as acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf — who the Senate confirmed as the agency's policy undersecretary just hours earlier — conducted his first order of business. He moved Ken Cuccinelli, a favorite of immigration hardliners, into the No. 2 position. (Roll Call)

Justice/DOJ

DOJ Unveils Program Aimed at Reducing Gun Violence: The five-point plan includes coordinated prosecution, enforcing the background check system, improved information sharing, a coordinated response for mental health denials, and crime gun intelligence coordination, according to a DOJ statement. (The Hill)

Transportation/DOT

Trump Expected to Delay Auto Tariff Decision for 6 More Months: President Donald Trump is expected to announce this week that he is putting off a decision on whether to impose tariffs on European Union autos for another six months, a person familiar with the decision said. (Politico)

TSA Expects Record Number of Fliers Over Thanksgiving Holiday: More than 26.8 million people are expected to travel through security checkpoints across the country from Nov. 22 to Dec. 2, according to a release last Wednesday. TSA plans to collaborate with airlines and airports to accommodate the high number of passengers. (The Hill)

Environment/EPA/DOI

Interior Disbands Advisory Board that Floated Privatization at National Parks: The Trump administration abruptly disbanded an advisory committee earlier this month whose recent recommendations to greater privatize national parks were met with heavy criticism. (The Hill)

EPA Bulldog Stares Down Agency Watchdog: An escalating fight between the Environmental Protection Agency's top political aide and its internal watchdog has forced a behind-the-scenes Washington operator into the spotlight. (Politico)

Department of Education

Secretary DeVos Names New Members to the National Assessment Governing Board: US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the appointment of seven leaders from around the country to four-year terms as members of the National Assessment Governing Board. (Clark Hill Insight)

Agriculture/USDA

A New Crack in the Farm Economy: With weather challenges, trade tension and long-term financial headwinds buffeting the ag sector, more farmers and ranchers are taking on high-interest loans beyond the usual ag lenders just to stay in business, according to details from new reports on the financial health of the sector. (Politico)

Impeachment Inquiry

White House Releases Rough Transcript Of Trump's First Call With Zelenskiy: President Trump last Friday released the rough transcript of a brief, 16-minute congratulatory conversation he had on April 21 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, timed to coincide with the beginning of the second day of open hearings in the House impeachment inquiry. (NPR)

Bolton and Trump Met Privately Over Withheld Aid, White House Official Testified: John R. Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, met privately with the president in August as part of a bid to persuade President Trump to release $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine, a senior National Security Council aide told House impeachment investigators last month. (New York Times)