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Window On Washington - November 23, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 47

Nov 23, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

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

FY21 Appropriations. Appropriators missed an unofficial deadline to come to an agreement by last Friday on the 302(b)s allocations, which are the topline funding levels for each of the appropriations bills. While those talks are continuing into this week and Congress's timeline to pass a spending package is getting tighter, appropriators remain optimistic about soon reaching an agreement on the spending levels for an omnibus package. However, one sticking point that has emerged is whether to treat additional funding for veterans health care to implement the Mission Act as an emergency outside of the current discretionary spending caps.  While the Administration does not object to this classification, and House and Senate appropriators support it, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has opposed the shift that will have to be resolved before any final package is cleared. There are also discussions to attach non-appropriations provisions and extensions to the package.  As of now, the Trump administration appears willing to accept a large omnibus appropriations bill rather than facing a government shutdown or passing another continuing resolution.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Talks on another relief package continue to be at a standstill, and it remains to be seen whether a negotiated package between Republicans and Democrats can come to fruition during the lame duck session, especially as the price tag for the package continues to be a main sticking point. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are proposing to use untapped Federal Reserve relief funding for the new package, as those available funds currently come in at around $580 billion. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden is ramping up calls for Congress to pass the next coronavirus relief bill during the lame duck session.  However, in a notable shift, his transition team is signaling that a smaller package, less than the roughly $2 trillion relief package Democratic Congressional leaders have previously called for, should be considered given the need for relief to combat the continuing economic fallout from the pandemic and with certain relief measures set to expire at year's end.

2020 Elections. President-elect Joe Biden is set to announce tomorrow who will fill several of his key cabinet positions, and the announcement is likely to include his picks for Treasury Secretary and the Secretary of State. However, the Biden transition team noted that with the General Services Administration's (GSA) continued refusal to officially begin the transition process, it is preventing Biden’s team from conducting background checks on those he wants in his Cabinet. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s legal team is continuing their efforts to question the election results, including having requested another recount in Georgia. Despite the President’s endeavors and comments, a handful of Republicans, including House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), are starting to officially congratulate President-elect Biden and/or are calling for the President-elect to have access to intelligence briefings and other transition resources.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Hoyer Says Earmarks Are Likely Coming Back Next Year: House Democratic leaders are proceeding with plans to bring back earmarks for the 117th Congress, according to Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). (Roll Call)

DeLauro Battles Wasserman Schultz Over Appropriations Chair: The race to lead the powerful House Appropriations Committee has turned into a generational clash between a longtime ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and upstart Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). (Politico)

Health

Democrats Say OMB Froze World Health Organization Cash with Same Tactic Used to ‘Illegally’ Halt Ukraine Aid: The White House hit pause earlier this year on a $145 million pot of funds intended for the World Health Organization and other foreign assistance programs in a move that based on OMB documents House Democrats say mirrors the Trump administration’s decision to “illegally” freeze military aid to Ukraine. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

House Passes Bill to Create 1M Apprenticeships: The House of Representatives passed a bill last Friday to create 1 million apprenticeships to connect workers with careers. The bill passed with a bipartisan 246-140 vote. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Banking & Housing

Senate Refuses to Advance Fed Nominee Shelton, in Setback for Trump: The Senate last Tuesday voted to reject a move to advance President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board. There were 47 votes in favor of advancing the nomination and 50 opposed. (Politico)

Trump’s Bank Watchdog Pick to Get Senate Action, Crapo Says: U.S. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said he would seek to quickly schedule a confirmation hearing should President Donald Trump formally nominate a key Wall Street regulator to serve well into the Biden administration. (Bloomberg)

Lawmakers Highlight Housing Affordability, Struggling Businesses in Push for More COVID-19 Aid: Obstacles to housing affordability have been exacerbated by the coronavirus and will require government assistance to help Americans weather the pandemic, lawmakers and experts said last Tuesday. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Senate Committee Approves SPACE Act, But Without a Bureau of Space Commerce: S. 4827 as modified by a Wicker-Cantwell-Sinema amendment still assigns responsibility for civil Space Situational Awareness (SSA) to the Department of Commerce as called for in Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3), but stops short of creating the Bureau of Space Commerce desired by the White House and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. (Space Policy Online)

Defense

Defense Bill Moves to Formal Negotiations with Confederate Base Name Fight Looming: The House last Wednesday voted to formally enter into negotiations with the Senate over a massive defense policy bill that would require Confederate names to be stripped from military bases and other Pentagon property. (The Hill)

Judiciary/Justice

Senate Hearing Flashes Signs of Action on Regulating Tech: Senators showed glimpses of agreement last Tuesday on what regulations they think are needed to rein in social media companies — even finding some small common ground with the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter. (Politico)

Agriculture

It’s Farm Groups Vs. Lawmakers in Rivalry for House Agriculture Gavel: Two Democrats vying for the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee are collecting endorsements to cement their bids, with one of them so far receiving backing from agriculture groups while the other is supported by committee colleagues. (Roll Call)

Senate Passes Grains Legislation: The Senate passed the U.S. Grain Standards Reauthorization Act last week, which would reauthorize the Act for five years and permit the Agriculture Department to set marketing standards for select grains and oilseeds, such as barley and soybeans. (Bloomberg Government)

Environment & Interior

Wasserman Schultz Pitches Climate Plan in Race to Chair Appropriations: In a letter to fellow lawmakers, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) called climate change “the defining issue of our time, because it affects virtually every policy area.” (The Hill)

House Democrats Push Biden to Pick Haaland as Next Interior Secretary: More than 50 House Democrats are pushing President-elect Joe Biden to select Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) as his next Interior secretary, a move that would for the first time bring a Native American into a president’s Cabinet. (The Hill)

Energy

Barrasso to Take Top GOP Spot on Senate Energy Committee: Moving to helm Energy and Natural Resources makes sense for Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), whose state is home to significant fossil fuel activity, uranium mining and huge chunks of federal land. Barrasso’s move opens up the top slot on the Environment and Public Works panel for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). (Politico)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

White House Signals Acceptance of Omnibus Spending Package: The Trump administration appears ready to accept a $1.4 trillion, full-year omnibus appropriations bill rather than a simple short-term government funding extension, according to top Republicans. (Roll Call)

Trump Announces Two Moves Aimed at Lowering Drug Prices: President Trump last Friday announced two major actions aimed at lowering the price of prescription drugs. One rule would lower drug prices in Medicare Part B to match the lower prices paid in other wealthy countries, a proposal known as “most favored nation.” The second action would eliminate the rebates that drugmakers pay to “middlemen” known as pharmacy benefit managers, in a bid to simplify the drug pricing system and pass the discounts on to consumers instead. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Jobless Claims Filings Pick Up Amid Continued Struggles for Labor Market: Jobless claims totaled 742,000 for the week, the Labor Department reported last Thursday, ahead of the 710,000 estimate from economists surveyed by Dow Jones. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Colleges Want Biden to Undo Much of What DeVos Did: Associations representing the nation’s colleges and universities are urging the incoming Biden administration to quickly undo much of what the Trump administration did on higher education policy, starting with changing a rule that, they worry, will make it harder for victims of sexual assault and harassment to come forward. (Inside Higher Ed)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Powell Agrees to Return Unused Relief Money to Treasury at Year End: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last Friday agreed to return unused coronavirus relief funds to the Treasury Department when its emergency lending programs shut down at the end of the year, as requested by Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Politico)

Fannie, Freddie Overseer Looks to End Federal Control Before Trump Leaves: The federal regulator who oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is pushing to speed up the mortgage giants’ exit from 12 years of government control but has yet to reach an agreement he needs with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Politico/WSJ)

Transportation/DOT

What Biden Means for the Auto Industry, From Dirty Jobs to Clean Air: Looking forward, the fast-evolving transportation industry is expected to play a central role in Biden's plan for economic recovery. Biden has already signaled his goal of addressing a number of issues central to the auto industry — including trade, infrastructure, and electric and autonomous vehicles — that will reshape the transportation world in the years ahead. (NBC News)

Trade

Britain Sets Sights on Early Trade Talks with Biden Administration: Britain does not expect to reach a comprehensive trade agreement with the United States before President Donald Trump leaves office and is setting its sights on early talks with the incoming Democratic administration, a UK official said last Friday. (Reuters)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Air Force Reveals Candidate Locations for U.S. Space Command Headquarters: The six finalists announced last Friday are Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; Redstone Army Airfield, Alabama; Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. (Space News)

From The Moon to the Earth - How the Biden Administration Might Reshape NASA: While Joe Biden is a familiar figure in politics, after decades in the Senate and eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president, his views on space, and his plans for NASA, are far less clear, as evidenced by the fact that his campaign never issued a space policy statement. (Space News)

Arecibo Radio Telescope, an Icon of Astronomy, is Lost: The National Science Foundation (NSF) will decommission Arecibo Observatory's massive radio dish after recent additional damage has made the facility too dangerous to repair, the agency announced on Thursday Nov. 19. (Space)

Thanks to SpaceX, NASA Regains a Capability it Lost for a Decade: SpaceX has now launched as many astronauts into space as the Mercury program and proved those right who bet on a competitive commercial crew program delivering for NASA. (Ars Technica)

Defense/DOD

U.S. Army Preps to Rework Modernization Priorities if Future Budget Top Line Drops: The U.S. Army is preparing for the possibility of defense budget top lines dropping, which would mean some modernization priorities could take a hit to save the most critical future capabilities in development, according to the Army’s G-8 chief, who is in charge of planning, developing and resourcing programs. (Defense News)

New Pentagon Chief Racing to Make Changes Before Trump's Exit: Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller has less than two months to put his stamp on the Pentagon, looking to use his position to make quick policy changes that incoming President Joe Biden is unlikely to overturn before the clock runs out on the Trump administration in late January. (Politico)

DHS & Immigration

Immigration Changes to Take Time Under Biden, Experts Say: While President-elect Joe Biden has promised a set of executive orders to reverse some of them, immigration analysts say unraveling many others won't be so easy. (Roll Call)

Cyber

Top Cybersecurity Official Ousted by Trump: President Trump ousted Christopher Krebs, the top U.S. cybersecurity official, last Tuesday, disagreeing with Krebs’s statement affirming the security of the 2020 election. (The Hill)

U.S. Cyber Command’s Capability Efforts Lack Clarity, Says Government Watchdog: The audit was directed by Congress — which has also expressed concern — and released Nov. 19. The government watchdog examined Cyber Command’s Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture, which was created by the command to guide its capabilities. (C4ISR Net)

How Cyber Policy Will Evolve Under Biden: President-elect Biden will elevate cybersecurity issues once he takes office, even as he continues many of the Trump administration’s policy initiatives, according to close observers of Biden and the cyber policy landscape. (Politico)

EPA & DOI

Forest Service Finalizes Rule Weakening Environmental Review of its Projects: The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) last Wednesday finalized its decision to weaken environmental analysis of many of its plans, excluding a number of actions from scientific review or community input. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Trump Administration Proposal Takes Aim at Bank Pledges to Avoid Fossil Fuel Financing: A new Trump administration proposal is taking aim at banks’ attempts to exclude certain fossil fuel activities including fossil exploration in the Arctic from financing. The Office of the Comptroller of Currency, which proposed the new rule last Friday, states that decisions by banks to not serve a specific customer should be based on individual risks, rather than a categorical exclusion. (The Hill)

Energy Efficiency Advocates See $1.1T in Savings Potential with Biden Directing DOE: Consumers and businesses could save $1.1 trillion on utility bills through 2050 if the Biden administration directs the U.S. Department of Energy to update efficiency standards for 47 types of appliances and products, according to a new report by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). (Utility Dive)

The Next DOE Secretary? Arun Majumdar is shaping up as the most influential energy adviser in President-elect Joe Biden's transition circle. He is heading the Department of Energy's transition team and is a leading candidate to be its secretary, giving him a prime perch to guide Biden's energy policy. (E&E News)