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Window On Washington - November 30, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 48

Nov 30, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both back in session this week. The House will hold its committee leadership elections this week as well, which include selecting the next chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee as well as the next Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair. The Senate plans to continue voting on judicial nominations this week, and the House will hold votes on a number of legislative items on Wednesday and Thursday, including the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (H.R. 3884).

Separately, today the General Services Administration (GSA) will provide a closed-door briefing to members of Congress about the presidential transition, tomorrow the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the quarterly CARES Act report, and on Wednesday the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Treasury and Federal Reserve’s pandemic response, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on state/local cybersecurity during COVID-19, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will vote on a few nominations.

FY21 Appropriations. House and Senate appropriators reached an agreement on the topline funding levels for all 12 FY21 appropriations bills, which likely paves the way for a $1.4 trillion omnibus package to be passed before the Dec. 11 deadline in order to avoid a government shutdown and the need for another continuing resolution.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Prospects for another coronavirus relief package before the end of the year remain unclear given the on-going divisions on the ultimate price tag of the bill and key provisions, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have both indicated the need for a deal before the end of the year. President-elect Joe Biden also indicated he would like a deal by the end of the year and has indicated his support for the efforts of Democratic Congressional leadership, but he himself has not spoken on what he believes the price tag should be.

2020 Elections. President Donald Trump authorized the General Services Administration (GSA) to formally begin the transition process, clearing the way for President-elect Biden’s team to receive funding, briefings, and access to federal agencies and personnel. President Trump has not yet officially conceded, but for the first time indicated that he will vacate the White House should the Electoral College vote for Biden.

 Meanwhile, the Biden Transition Team has started to announce its nominees for key cabinet and White House positions. The national security team was announced including Antony Blinken for Secretary of State and Alejandro Mayorkas for Secretary of Homeland Security. The transition team also announced members of the White House senior staff and an all-female senior communications staff. Numerous news outlets are reporting that they will soon announce Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget and Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Biden also gave his first interview as President-elect to NBC News’ Lester Holt, where he discussed that his priorities for his first 100 days include immigration reform and COVID-19 relief with Congress. 

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Lawmakers a Step Closer to Averting Dec. 11 Government Shutdown: Top appropriators reached bipartisan agreement last Tuesday on the framework for an omnibus spending package that would avoid a partial government shutdown next month. (Roll Call)

Health

House Oversight Panel Asks Purdue Pharma's Sackler Family to Testify Over Opioid Crisis: The House Oversight and Reform Committee has invited Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family to testify at a hearing in December on what the panel described as "their role in fueling the opioid epidemic." (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Millions of Workers Poised to Lose Access to Paid Leave as Virus Spikes: Tens of millions of workers stand to lose access to federally mandated paid sick and family leave at the end of December, compounding the hardship over the surging pandemic for American families. (Politico)

Defense

Dem Divide Over Confederate Bases Threatens Massive Defense Bill: All Democrats — and many Republicans — support scrubbing the names of Confederate leaders from military facilities, but the provision in the annual defense policy bill has caused a splinter within the Democratic Caucus as lawmakers weigh what’s more important — axing the language and ensuring the $740 billion bill is passed on time, or forcing the issue, all but guaranteeing a showdown with Republicans and President Donald Trump, who has threatened to veto the bill if it remains. (Politico)

Lawmakers, Former Officials Surge Support for Flournoy to be Biden’s Defense Secretary: With President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for defense secretary still in flux, a new surge of support for Michèle Flournoy has emerged, with key House Armed Services Committee Democrats joining a former defense secretary and a host of other supporters who were publicly stumping for her last Wednesday to become the first woman to run the Pentagon. (Defense News)

Homeland Security & Immigration

House Dems Subpoena ICE Detention Facility Over Allegations of Medical Abuse: Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the Oversight Committee, issued the subpoena after having launched investigations into LaSalle Corrections, which runs the Irwin County Detention Center, back in September. (Politico)

Judiciary/Justice

Feinstein Departure from Top Sets Stage for Judiciary Fight: Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) departure came after weeks of pressure from Democratic colleagues and others who want a new strategy to counter Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), particularly after President Trump successfully appointed his third Supreme Court justice. (The Hill)

Cyber

Senate Also Passes Minimum Security Standards for Federal IoT Devices: The Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act (H.R. 1668), introduced by Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL), would oblige all internet-connected devices purchased by the federal government to conform to a set of minimum security recommendations issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The legislation was unanimously approved by the House in September, and it passed on the Senate floor by unanimous consent on the evening of 17 November. (IT Pro)

Agriculture

Ohio Rep. Fudge, Supporters Eye Agriculture Secretary Post: Unions, anti-hunger groups and advocacy groups have launched a letter-writing campaign to support Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH) for the post of Agriculture secretary in the Biden administration. (Roll Call)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Health/HHS/NIH

Initial Batch of COVID-19 Vaccines Will Go to States Based on Population, Not Risk: Top officials from Operation Warp Speed, the government's program to fast-track the development and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, announced they've allocated 6.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to states based on their total populations. (NPR)

Biden Eyes New Mexico Governor, Obama Surgeon General for Health Secretary: New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy have emerged as top contenders to be President-elect Joe Biden’s health secretary, with Hispanic advocacy groups making a strong push for Lujan Grisham. (Politico)

Biden Transition Adds New Members to Coronavirus Task Force: President-elect Joe Biden announced Saturday he is adding three new members to his transition team's coronavirus task force as the incoming administration focuses on preparation to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Weekly Jobless Claims Higher Than Expected as Labor Market Takes Hit from Rising COVID Cases: Claims totaled 778,000 for the week ended Nov. 21, ahead of the 733,000 expectation from economists surveyed by Dow Jones and up from 742,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported last Wednesday. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Ed Dept. Analysis Projects $435B in Student Loan Losses: A new analysis conducted for the U.S. Department of Education puts the amount of money the federal government stands to lose on its student loan portfolio in roughly the same ballpark as the amount private lenders lost on subprime mortgages during the 2008 financial crisis. (Inside Higher Ed)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Biden Chooses Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen to be Treasury Secretary: President-elect Joe Biden has chosen former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as his Treasury Secretary nominee, a historic decision that could make her the first woman to lead the department. (CNBC)

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Conforming Loan Limits Increase for 2021: The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced a new baseline conforming loan limit for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2021: $548,250. (HousingWire)

Transportation/DOT

GM Reverses on Trump, Exits Suit Challenging California's Tougher Emissions Standards: The upcoming change in administrations has led to a change of heart for one of the nation’s largest automakers. General Motors will no longer be siding with the Trump administration in a legal battle to hinder California’s ability to set tougher vehicle emissions standards. (The Hill)

Biden’s Infrastructure Challenge: Finding Common Ground: Finding bipartisan agreement on how to pay for large infrastructure investments has stymied administration after administration, now Biden must try to forge a path which must include new sources of tax revenue. (Roll Call)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Bringing Mars Samples to Earth Could Cost an Extra $1 Billion, but NASA Should Totally do it, Experts Say: Although challenged by cost and schedule issues, an independent review board found that the spacecraft and mission may be able to launch in 2026 as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) currently hope, though the next launch window, which is in 2028, may well be more likely. (Space)

GeoOptics and Spire Global Win NOAA Weather Data Contracts: NOAA awarded its first contracts on Nov. 20 to purchase radio occultation data from commercial satellite operators GeoOptics and Spire Global. The two awards are the culmination of years of work by both companies to develop, manufacture, and operate satellites to gather atmospheric temperature, pressure and water vapor observations to feed into operational weather forecasts. (Space News)

China Launches Lunar Sample Return Mission: If all goes according to plan on China’s first sample return mission, Chang’e-5 will bring its harvest back to Earth in mid-December and China will join the United States and Soviet Union/Russia as the only countries to return lunar samples. (Space Policy Online)

Defense/DOD

Pentagon Purges Leading Advisors from Defense Policy Board: Several members of the top federal advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Defense have been suddenly pushed out, in what appears to be the outgoing Trump administration’s parting shot at scions of the foreign-policy establishment. (Foreign Policy)

The Secretive Consulting Firm That’s Become Biden’s Cabinet in Waiting: The firm, which now looks like a government-in-waiting for the next administration, was founded in 2017 by Tony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for Secretary of State, and Michèle Flournoy, a top contender for secretary of Defense. One of its former principals, Avril Haines, is Biden’s pick for Director of National Intelligence. (Politico)

DHS & Immigration

Biden Picks Alejandro Mayorkas to Head Homeland Security: President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Cuban refugee Alejandro Mayorkas to be his Homeland Security secretary, his transition team announced, tapping the first Latino and immigrant to serve in that role. (Roll Call)

Cyber

Government Watchdog Urges Policymakers to Boost Cybersecurity for 5G Networks: The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog agency, recommended this week that policymakers consider creating cybersecurity standards to ensure a safe rollout of fifth generation, or 5G, wireless networks. (The Hill)

EPA & DOI

Trump Administration Races to Finish Environmental Rules, Actions: The Trump administration is quickly putting out new rules and regulations with a little more than 50 days to go before it leaves office as it seeks to put a deeper stamp on the government. (The Hill)

Biden Picks Kerry for Cabinet-Level Climate Role: Former Secretary of State John Kerry will be appointed as special presidential envoy for climate, a role that does not require Senate confirmation. (Roll Call)

Trump Administration Denies Permit for Controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska last Wednesday, saying the "proposed project is contrary to the public interest.” (Axios)

Department of Energy

Why are Nuclear Plants so Expensive? Safety’s Only Part of the Story: Costs attributed to safety are part of the problem, as are increased construction and material costs, but the largest increases occurred in indirect costs: engineering, purchasing, planning, scheduling, supervision, and other factors not directly associated with the process of building the plant. (Ars Technica)

How Biden May Save U.S. Natural Gas Exports to Europe: President-elect Joe Biden's plan to crack down on the energy industry's greenhouse gas pollution could offer a boon for U.S. natural gas producers who want to keep exporting to an increasingly climate-minded Europe. (Politico)