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Window On Washington - November 2, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 44

Nov 02, 2020

 Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are not in session this week.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. With no pre-election deal coming to fruition, Democrat and Republican lawmakers see a new coronavirus relief package as more likely in the lame-duck session once the political pressures of the 2020 elections subside. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said it is still possible to come to an agreement with the Trump administration after the election but before the start of the new congressional and White House terms in January. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says Republicans would need to pass another coronavirus stimulus at the beginning of next year if they keep the Senate majority but that the relief would be more modest than what House Democrats passed.

2020 Elections. In a series of polls released yesterday, former Vice President Joe Biden seems to remain ahead of President Donald Trump nationally and in many battleground states, although the race in some states is extremely close and a broad range of outcomes is possible. As of Saturday, more than 91 million Americans had already cast their ballots, roughly 65 percent of the 139 million votes cast in 2016. Around two dozen states and D.C. will allow early voting through today, and if the current rate holds, more than 100 million ballots will have been cast before tomorrow. While the results of the presidential election could potentially extend into the week or weeks ahead, the timing of counting the votes in some of the most contested states could tip the scale towards one candidate or another the night of the election. This National Journal slide deck includes recent polling averages heading into this past weekend for the 2020 battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas, and Michigan.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Little Time, Big Differences Threaten Lame-Duck Spending Deals: Pandemic-related aid and delayed appropriations for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 appear set to merge into a sweeping multitrillion-dollar negotiation as lawmakers approach the Dec. 11 expiration of stopgap funds for federal agencies. (Roll Call)

Health

Bipartisan Lawmakers Call for Overhauling Medical Supply Chains: The U.S. needs to review and overhaul its medical supply chains amid the pandemic, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said last Tuesday. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Top House Tax Writers Unveil Retirement Savings Proposal: House Ways and Means Committee leaders introduced a long-awaited bipartisan collection of retirement savings incentives last Tuesday, building off another sweeping package enacted late last year. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing

Pressley Urges Fed, Treasury to Ensure Racial Equity in Emergency Lending: Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Congressional Oversight Commissioner Bharat Ramamurti last Friday called on the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to do more to ensure that minorities and women benefit from their emergency lending programs for businesses and municipalities. (Politico)

Transportation

Pelosi Wants ‘Big’ Infrastructure Push in 2021: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) listed rebuilding American infrastructure as one to two top priorities for the House (along with health care), should Joe Biden be elected President, and that some infrastructure bills already passed by the House would “fit comfortably” with what Biden is proposing in his “Build Back Better” proposal. (Associated Press)

Space/NASA & NOAA

House Space Force Caucus Co-Chair Voices Concern About Orbital Debris, Supports Commerce Assuming Debris-Tracking Role: U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), a co-chair of the recently established House Space Force Caucus, said last Wednesday that orbital debris is a major threat to a prosperous space economy and that better space situational awareness is crucial to protecting the sector. (Space News)

Defense

Senate Democrats Want Hearing on Pentagon Vaccine Efforts: Two Senate Armed Services Committee Democrats want panel leaders to hold a hearing on the Pentagon’s efforts to help develop and/or distribute a coronavirus vaccine, citing concerns the Trump administration is skirting public disclosure rules. (The Hill)

On Defense Spending, a Democratic Brawl is Brewing: Progressive lawmakers on Capitol Hill are planning to renew their push to make steep cuts to the defense budget next year if they sweep the contests for the House, Senate and the White House. But even with a unified government, centrist Democrats won't make the job easy. (Politico)

Sen. Jack Reed is a Quiet Professional, but if Democrats Win the Senate, He’ll be Front and Center: Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) is known to talk softly. But if Democrats retake the Senate, he could carry a megaphone as the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Defense News)

Judiciary/Justice

Senate Confirms Barrett to Supreme Court, Sealing a Conservative Majority for Decades: The Senate last Monday voted to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, handing President Donald Trump a sorely needed win just eight days before the election and solidifying a conservative majority on the high court for a generation. (Politico)

Cyber

Key House Lawmaker Wants Speedier Attribution for Cyberattacks: The international community needs to quicken its attribution of malicious cyber activity to enforce norms in cyberspace, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) said last Wednesday at CyberCon. Langevin explained that speedy naming and shaming hasn’t been standard in the past because attribution has proved difficult, however he claims the U.S. and others gotten much better at attributing action, which should allow for quicker action. (C4ISR Net)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

Mnuchin Accuses Pelosi of Pulling a ‘Political Stunt’ as Stimulus Talks Stall: Discussions between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took on a decidedly less cordial tone last Thursday as the Trump administration’s top negotiator accused his counterpart of miscasting the state of stalled coronavirus stimulus talks days before Election Day. (CNBC)

Health/HHS/NIH

New Trump Policy Will Force Insurers to Disclose Prices Up Front: Health insurers will be required to publicly post, in advance, the price for the most common services and procedures, under a rule finalized by the Trump administration last Thursday. (The Hill)

Medicare, Medicaid Will Cover Costs of Future COVID-19 Vaccine Under New Policy: Medicare will cover any potential coronavirus vaccine for free, under a new Trump administration policy officially announced last Wednesday. The new policy also tells state Medicaid agencies to provide vaccine administration with no cost sharing for most beneficiaries during the public health emergency. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Total 751,000, vs 778,000 Expected: The number of first-time unemployment-benefits filers fell to the lowest level in the pandemic, declining for a second straight week, the Labor Department reported last Thursday. (CNBC)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Watchdog Sees Massive Potential Loan Fraud at SBA, Sparking Fight with Agency: A federal watchdog last Wednesday said the Small Business Administration has potentially approved billions of dollars of inappropriate disaster aid loans during the pandemic, triggering a forceful defense from the head of the agency. (Politico)

Fed Lowers Minimum Loan Level for Small Business Lending Program: The Federal Reserve has lowered the barriers on its lending program for smaller businesses as part of an effort to broaden the appeal of the sparsely used facility. (CNBC)

Court Stops Launch of HUD Rule that Makes it Harder to Prove Discrimination: A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction to stop HUD from implementing a rule that would have made it harder to bring discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act. (Politico)

Tax Reform/IRS

Key Ballot Measures to Watch on State Taxes: In many states, voters will face various ballot measures, including several that could have profound implications on state and local budgets. (The Hill)

Mass Problems for Mass Transit: Big cities — the engines of global GDP — can’t fully recover without fully functioning transit. But state and local governments also can’t subsidize transit if they’re broke. The pandemic has caused huge ridership losses in transit systems in the U.S., and absent a vaccine it seems unlikely to rebound any time soon. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

ESA Formally Agrees to Gateway Partnership: The heads of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) signed an agreement last week formally outlining ESA’s role in the Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the Moon as part of the Artemis program. Canada and Japan also have signed agreements signaling their intent to participate as well. (Space Policy Online)

China Outlines Architecture for Future Crewed Moon Landings: While there is no official word from China stating that a crewed lunar landing program has been approved and no timeline was offered at the event announcing the missions, they are very ambitious in scope and envisions separate launches of crewed spacecraft and a lunar landing stack that would rendezvous in lunar orbit. (Space News)

New Satellites Helping to Pinpoint Methane Leaks: The development of several new satellites are in the works around the world to assist an existing ESA satellite, as new studies confirm that energy production facilities are accidentally releasing more harmful methane into the atmosphere than previously estimated. (Popular Science)

Google Collaborates with NOAA to Use Artificial Intelligence for Weather Forecasting, Research: Google and NOAA have signed a three-year deal to use the tech giant’s artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance the agency’s environmental monitoring, weather forecasting and climate research, according to a joint announcement released last Tuesday. (The Hill)

Defense/DOD

Pentagon Creates New Office to Oversee Military Space Policy: The Defense Department announced last Friday it has established the office of the assistant secretary of defense for space policy, a new post that Congress directed in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. In a memo last Thursday, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist said the new position will be filled by Justin Johnson, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. (Space News)

DHS & Immigration

Stephen Miller Says Trump to Further Crack Down on Illegal Immigration if He Wins: Stephen Miller, a prominent immigration hawk and senior adviser to President Trump, previewed that the White House would take a tougher stance on allowing people into the country if the president wins a second term. (The Hill)

Cyber

HHS, FBI, CISA Warn Hospitals of ‘Imminent’ Ransomware Attacks: HHS, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the FBI warned hospitals last Wednesday that they face an imminent threat from cybercriminals that encrypt and hold their data hostage—and some health care facilities are already dealing with the fallout. (NextGov)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Ordered to Restore Wage Survey: The USDA will have to go ahead with its semiannual survey of farmworker wages under a ruling issued last Wednesday by a U.S. district court judge. (Successful Farming)

EPA & DOI

Trump Signs Bipartisan Bill Funding Conservation Grants: President Trump last Friday approved a bipartisan bill that reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Act and Chesapeake Bay Program through 2025. (The Hill)

Without Senate-Confirmed Leaders, Interior Rules May Be At Risk: Through a series of appointments that appear to have bypassed the Appointments Clause of the Constitution and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, the officials leading those agencies — the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement — have been nonpolitical career staff or political officials chosen by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt or his predecessor, Ryan Zinke. (Roll Call)

Gray Wolf Protections Lifted by Trump Administration: Opponents to the wolves’ protection under the ESA have long cited the animals’ threats to livestock and ranching as reasons to delist the species, urging state officials to assume management instead of the federal government. (Roll Call)

Department of Energy

Renewable Energy Advances – U.S. Grid-Battery Costs Dropped 70% Over 3 Years: The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released data showing that grid-scale battery-project costs in the U.S. dropped 70 percent in just a few years, and included a projection that 6,900 megawatts of battery capacity will be added in the next few years as utilities seek to bring more sources of renewable energy generation onto their grids. (Ars Technica)

Election 2020 - Priorities at Stake at DOE: A Biden administration could turn DOE’s focus to clean energy and renewable mandates, transparency and environmental justice. However, if Trump wins a second term, expect more of the same push for deregulation at the agency. (Utility Dive)