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Window On Washington - November 25, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 44

Nov 25, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Recess. Congress is in recess until December 2 for the Thanksgiving holiday. Clark Hill wishes our readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

Appropriations Agreement. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have reportedly reached an agreement on top-line spending levels. With an agreement reached, the committees can begin working on the differences between the 12 individual appropriations bills, which they aim to pass before government funding expires on December 20. House and Senate spending panels will immediately start haggling over how to divvy up the topline numbers among federal departments, programs and priorities — including funding for President Trump’s border wall. The wall has been a major sticking point in talks.

Impeachment. House Democrats wrapped up their scheduled public hearings last week and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Democrats will decide on next steps in the coming days. A federal judge is expected to soon rule on whether former White House Counsel McGahn will need to obey a subpoena to testify before the House.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Agreement Reached on Spending Bill Allocations: Top appropriators in Congress have reached a deal on spending levels for a dozen bills that fund the day-to-day operations of the federal government, two individuals familiar with the negotiations said. Those spending levels, or 302(b)s, won’t be made public until the full slate of fiscal 2020 appropriations bills is finalized, those individuals said, speaking on background. (Politico)

Trump Signs Short-Term Spending Bill, Averting Government Shutdown: President Trump has signed a temporary spending bill to fund federal agencies, averting a possible government shutdown, according to an administration official. The legislative measure, known as a continuing resolution, will extend current funding levels at government agencies. The bill also includes a 3.1% pay raise for the military and additional funding to support the 2020 census. (NPR)

Wasserman Schultz Makes Bid for House Appropriations Committee Gavel: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) threw her hat in the ring to become the next chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) has seniority on the committee, while Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), an ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who heads the subcommittee covering the largest non-defense spending bill, has also said she will seek the position. (The Hill)

Health

Senators Grill Nominee to Head the FDA on Vaping Policy: Senators used the confirmation hearing of Stephen Hahn, the Trump administration’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration, to send a message to the White House: They’re upset about backtracking on a flavored e-cigarette ban, promised by the president just two months ago. Hahn, a radiation oncologist who is the chief medical officer of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, declined to commit to implementing the ban. (The Washington Post)

Crunch Time for Congress on Surprise Medical Bills: Staff in both chambers and both parties are having what Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) called “intense meetings” to try to come to an agreement in time to be included in a government funding package ahead of a December 20 deadline. The effort is a rare opportunity for bipartisan action this year, as lawmakers in both parties and President Trump have all called for moving on the issue. (The Hill)

Defense

Deal on NDAA Proves Elusive: Plans to finish negotiations on the annual defense policy bill by the end of the week are being tripped up by entrenched positions over President Trump’s border wall, Space Force and cancer-linked “forever chemicals.” (The Hill)  

Cyber

Army Examines TikTok Security Concerns After Schumer's Data Warning: Speaking to reporters at an event at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said he ordered the assessment after the top Democrat in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, asked him to investigate the possible risks in the military’s use of the popular video app for recruiting American teenagers. (Reuters)

Senators Urge Trump to Suspend Huawei License Approvals: A group of senators from both parties last Thursday urged the Trump administration to stop issuing licenses for US companies to do business with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, warning that even limited business with Huawei could pose a national security risk. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy Faces Internal Critiques at House Hearing: The Migrant Protection Protocols, a program that has so far forced more than 57,000 migrants to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases wind through the court, is illegal and enables human rights abuses against the vulnerable, a Department of Homeland Security employee told lawmakers last Tuesday. (Roll Call)

Justice

Landmark Bill Legalizing Marijuana at the Federal Level Passes House Committee: The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill last Wednesday that could decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level, giving states more room to craft unique regulations. (ABC News)

Environment/Interior

Democrats Plant a Flag with Bill to Eliminate Carbon Emissions: The new bill, introduced last Thursday with more than 150 Democratic co-sponsors including Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, would have federal agencies determine how to reduce net U.S. carbon emissions to zero by 2050 — and to write regulations to meet that goal. (Roll Call)

Trade

Congress Passes Hong Kong Rights Bill as Trump Tries to Strike China Trade Deal: The White House has not yet signaled where the president stands on the bills, but he could face a dilemma. (CNBC)

After Meeting AFL-CIO, Pelosi Says USMCA Must be Enforceable for Workers to Win Passage: US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi last Tuesday conditioned her support for a new US-Mexico-Canada trade deal on better enforcement of its labor provisions, defying pressure by the Trump administration to get the deal done quickly. (Reuters)

Banking & Housing

What a Trillion-Dollar Housing Pledge Looks Like: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced a bold act last Thursday that would commit $1 trillion to the cause of affordable housing. (CityLab)

Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Maxine Waters Propose Bill to Invest $100 Billion in Affordable Housing: The measure, called the Housing is Infrastructure Act, aims to target issues such as limited affordable rental units and aging public housing. The California Democrats’ legislation calls for a series of infrastructure investments to improve affordable housing options. (CNBC)

Transportation

Trump Signs 'CR,' Including Repeal of $7.6B Highway Fund Cut: State departments of transportation and construction industry groups have scored a major win, with the enactment of legislation that cancels a threatened $7.6-billion cut in federal highway funds. (ENR)

Energy

Committee Sends DOE, Interior, FERC Picks to Senate Floor: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Tuesday approved the nominations of top officials at the departments of Energy and the Interior and at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (E&E)

House Committee Advances Sweeping Legislation to Battle 'Forever Chemicals': The House Energy and Commerce Committee forwarded last Wednesday major legislation that would target PFAS, a cancer-linked chemical, that is leaching into the water supply. (The Hill)

House Democrats Float Sweeping Green Energy Bill: House Ways and Means Democrats released a broad draft energy tax package that would extend and revise a host of renewable, clean energy and efficiency incentives. (E&E News)

Education

Sen. Patty Murray Urges DeVos to Halt Changes to Popular Student Loan Repayment Plans: With new findings questioning the risk of fraud, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is asking the Education Department to suspend an expanded initiative to ensure that borrowers qualify for popular student loan repayment plans. (Seattle Times)

Tax Reform

House Democrats Feeling the Heat on ‘SALT’ Cap Rollback: After almost a year of controlling the House, Democrats have yet to touch the cap on state and local tax deductions imposed by the GOP Congress and President Trump that disproportionately affect blue state districts. That’s starting to become a problem for the dozen or so freshman Democrats who flipped GOP seats after campaigning in part on getting rid of that $10,000 “SALT” limit, which was included as an offset for the 2017 tax code overhaul. (Roll Call)

IRS Whistleblower Case Advances as Senate Staff Looks at Whether Political Appointee Meddled with Audit of Trump or Pence: Two senators are looking into a whistleblower’s allegations that at least one political appointee at the Treasury Department may have tried to interfere with an audit of President Trump or Vice President Pence, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, a sign that lawmakers are moving to investigate the complaint lodged by a senior staffer at the Internal Revenue Service. (Washington Post)

Agriculture/USDA

House Panel Approves Farm Labor Reform, Floor Vote ‘Soon’: The committee cleared the farm labor bill for a floor vote just three weeks after Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) unveiled the bill in a Capitol Hill room packed with cosponsors and an array of farm groups, processors, and lenders that back the overhaul. (Successful Farming)

Space/NASA & NOAA

A Task of EPIC Proportions: Reclaiming U.S. Leadership in Weather Modeling and Prediction: The House Science committee held a hearing on the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC), which included testimony from Dr. Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction at NOAA. (Clark Hill Insight)

Impeachment Inquiry

House Holds Third Day of Public Impeachment Hearings: Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council (NSC) Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and aide to Vice President Pence Jennifer Williams testified last Tuesday morning, while former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Russia expert on the NSC Tim Morrison testified in the afternoon. (The Hill)

Key Moments From Sondland, Cooper and Hale Testimony: US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testified last Wednesday morning as part of the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale testified in the afternoon. (New York Times)

Hill Says Sondland Was Sent on "Domestic Political Errand" in Ukraine: Former official at the National Security Council Fiona Hill and State Department official David Holmes testified last Thursday in a public hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. (CBS)

Questions Over Next Steps as Judiciary Moves Into Impeachment Spotlight: The Judiciary Committee will draft and vote on articles of impeachment and send those to the full House for debate, that much is clear. But how the Judiciary panel completes the already unorthodox impeachment process is still up in the air. (Politico)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Trump Says Drug Importation Plan Coming 'Soon': President Trump last Friday said he will “soon” be releasing a plan to allow the US to import prescription drugs from abroad. Trump did not offer any details, and the Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment. A final rule that would allow states to import certain drugs from Canada has been under regulatory review at the White House Office of Management and Budget since November 1. (The Hill)

US Shelves Plan to Sharply Cut Nicotine in Cigarettes: The Department of Health and Human Services has dropped a proposal unveiled two years ago to cut the level of nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, according to a regulatory document published last week. Abandoning the plan, which almost certainly would have meant a sharp reduction in tobacco sales, would be a major victory for the tobacco industry. (Bloomberg)

Trump Admin Pushing New Drug Spending Cap: The Trump administration is pushing for a monthly cap on what seniors pay out-of-pocket for drugs through Medicare's pharmacy benefit to be added to a bipartisan drug pricing bill in the Senate. (Axios)

Labor & Workforce/DOL

FLSA Joint Employment, Regular Rate Regs Coming in December: The US Department of Labor will finalize regulations changing both regular rate and joint employment mandates in December, it announced Nov. 20 in its fall regulatory agenda. (HR Drive)

Defense/DOD

Pentagon Audit’s Secret to Success is Failure: In testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support on Wednesday, the official who spearheaded the first two annual audits, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, said Pentagon leaders in prior years wanted to avoid the hefty expense of an audit until the department felt it was prepared to pass. (Defense News)

Amazon’s Formal Challenge to Huge Pentagon Award Uses Videos That Mark Potential Influence Exerted by Trump: Amazon on Friday cited comments by President Trump at a rally and to journalists as it pursues its challenge to the Pentagon’s surprise decision to award a lucrative contract to rival Microsoft last month. (Washington Post)

Trade

House Dems, Trump Administration Fail to Reach Deal on USMCA Trade Agreement: House Democrats and the Trump administration did not come to an agreement on moving forward with President Trump’s new North American trade deal during a meeting last Thursday. (CNBC)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Trump’s Fed Pick Judy Shelton Cast Doubt on Central Bank Independence: Judy Shelton, one of President Trump’s most recent picks for the Federal Reserve board, challenged an article of faith regarding the US central bank in private comments to a bank executive last month: that it should operate free of political influence. (Yahoo Finance)

Homeless Advocates Worry Official's Firing Means Change In Trump Strategy: Tensions are growing between homeless advocates and the Trump administration, which is in the process of crafting a new strategy to deal with rising homelessness in California and other states. (NPR)

Cyber

UN Votes to Advance Russian-Led Resolution on a Cybercrime Treaty: A United Nations General Assembly committee voted last Monday to advance a Russian-drafted resolution, paving the way for a global cybercrime treaty over the opposition of the United States and Western allies. US and European officials and human rights groups view the resolution as an opportunity for authoritarian states such as Russia and China to create global norms that endorse state control of the Internet. (Washington Post)

DHS Cyber Agency Invests in Election Auditing Tool to Secure 2020 Elections: The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity agency announced last Thursday it would partner with election officials and private sector groups to develop an election auditing tool that can be used to help ensure the accuracy of votes in 2020. (The Hill)

DHS/Immigration

Hardliners Gain Key Posts at Trump's Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency: A group of immigration hardliners, including some who worked at an organization that has been described as a hate group by an advocacy watchdog that monitors extremism, have gained powerful posts in the federal agency in charge of administering benefits for immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. (CBS News)

Justice/DOJ

DOJ Will Appeal AFTER District Judge Blocks Trump Administration Plan to Restart Federal Executions Next Month: Federal executions have not been carried out in 16 years. There are five individuals on death row set to be executed, a process the government could begin as soon as December 9 if it can win the appeal. (Newsweek)

Environment/EPA/DOI

EPA Finalizes Rule Easing Chemical Plant Safety Regulations: Under the finalized tweaks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) risk management program (RMP), chemical plants will be rid of what officials determine to be "unnecessary regulatory burdens," aligning with the wishes of the chemical industry. (The Hill)

Department of Education

Education Department Releases Wage, Debt Data for Specific College Majors: The Education Department released information for the first time last Wednesday detailing the median debt and earnings for specific programs at colleges and universities across the country. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

Trump Touts Cash Payout to Farmers: President Trump has touted an upcoming cash payout to farmers that is planned for before the Thanksgiving holiday. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

US Offers $30 Million in Grants to Help Coastal Areas Mitigate Flooding, Rising Seas: Grants through the program are designed to restore or expand coastal wetlands, dunes, reefs, mangroves and barrier islands that are key to coastal protection, said NOAA in an announcement. (Insurance Journal)

Trump's NOAA Pick Withdraws, Cites Health: President Trump's much-scrutinized pick to lead NOAA, Barry Myers, has withdrawn from consideration, citing health concerns. (The Hill)

NASA's Difficult Road to the Moon: A new report paints a stark picture of NASA's progress toward accomplishing its Artemis mission to the Moon in 2024. (Axios)

NASA to Seek Ideas for an Artemis Lunar Rover: NASA plans to issue a call for ideas for a lunar rover that could be used by future crewed missions to the moon and, like many other elements of the Artemis program, be developed in a partnership with industry. (Space News)