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Window On Washington - October 15, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 41

Oct 15, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Recess. The Senate recessed last week after leadership reached an agreement to accelerate consideration of multiple juridical nominations in order to depart two weeks earlier than anticipated. The Senate will be out through the election and is scheduled to return on November 13. The House began its recess period at the end of September and will return when the Senate does.   

Disaster Supplemental. While FEMA currently has sufficient funds to deal with the destruction from Hurricane Michael, the situation is unlikely to last through the year. Senators from the affected states expect that a supplemental will need to be passed during the lame duck session to provide additional funding.  

Election Update. According to analysis by the National Journal and the Cook Political Report, Republicans now hold 33 governorships to just 16 for Democrats (plus one independent in Alaska). The GOP has 26 governorships up this year, Democrats only have nine. Republicans have 12 open governorships, Democrats only four. Republicans have 11 governorships rated as Toss-Up or worse for the GOP, Democrats have one. Cook is expecting net gains for Democrats in governorships of between six and a dozen.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

Senate Republicans Ready to Limp into Border Wall Fight: Senate Republicans say they are willing to join their House counterparts in a postelection fight over border wall funding but recognize that their chamber will be more constrained by the need for Democratic votes. Speaker Paul D. Ryan predicted that there would be a “big fight” in December on appropriating more money for President Donald Trump’s desired wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while speaking at an event wouldn’t rule out a scenario in which some agencies would be shuttered under an appropriations stalemate over border wall funding but sought to distinguish that from a full government shutdown. (Roll Call)

Health

Senate Defeats Measure to Overturn Trump Expansion of Non-ObamaCare Plans: The Senate on defeated a Democratic measure to overrule President Trump’s expansion of non-ObamaCare insurance plans as Democrats seek to highlight health care ahead of the midterm elections. The Democratic measure would have overruled Trump’s expansion of short-term health insurance plans, which do not have to cover people with pre-existing conditions or cover a range of health services like mental health or prescription drugs. (The Hill)

Sen. Grassley Asks FTC to Probe Hospitals' Contracts with Payers: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate contracts between hospital systems and insurers. He asked the FTC to examine whether contracts between health systems and payers are limiting competition and causing healthcare costs to rise. (Becker’s Hospital Review)

Tax Reform

Tax Reform 2.0 Holds House GOP Retirement Policy Bargaining Chip: The retirement portion of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady ‘s Tax Reform 2.0 package could be the first step toward negotiations with the Senate over a stalled piece of sweeping retirement legislation.  The Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act (S. 2526; H.R. 5282), or RESA, is a bipartisan bill in the House and Senate that pulls together over 30 separate retirement provisions to make saving easier. While the legislation initially gained traction when it was introduced, it hasn’t budged from its respective committees in months, including Brady’s Ways and Means.  The Family Savings Act (H.R. 6757), one of three bills that make up Tax 2.0, could change that. (BNA)

Defense

U.S. Congress Approves Reprogramming of DOD Funds Initially Meant for Pakistan: The US Congress approved in late September the reprogramming of USD300 million in Department of Defense Coalition Support Funds originally meant for Pakistan but held back for months due to what Washington has described as a lack of decisive Pakistani actions in countering terrorism. These funds have now been applied to "various other requirements within the DOD prior to the end of fiscal year 2018," Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Koné Faulkner said. (Jane's 360)

Banking & Housing

Bitcoin is the 'Mother of All Scams' and Blockchain is Most Hyped Tech Ever, Roubini Tells Congress: Global economist Nouriel Roubini, one of the few who predicted the 2008 financial crisis, is making sure U.S. senators don't miss his warning on cryptocurrency.  Within minutes of testifying at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Roubini sounded alarms on multiple aspects of the new digital asset class.  "Crypto is the mother or father of all scams and bubbles," Roubini, also a professor at New York University, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Community Affairs at a hearing. (CNBC)

Homeland Security

DHS, FBI chiefs say cyber inflects every security and criminal threat: Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told senators at an Oct. 10 hearing that globally pervasive internet connectivity not only makes the U.S. and its allies more susceptible to cyberattacks, it also makes it easier for terrorist organizations and transnational criminal groups to coordinate and recruit new followers, while leaving the country more susceptible to foreign influence operations online. Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, agreed, telling the committee in his opening statement that "virtually every national security and criminal threat the bureau faces is cyber-based or technologically facilitated." (FCW)

Agriculture

Cotton Growers vs. Urban Farmers: Bitter Partisan Fight Threatens Farm Bill: Mounting tensions between two of the lead negotiators on the farm bill are jeopardizing Congress’ chances of passing a measure allocating hundreds of billions of dollars for agriculture and nutrition programs before a new session begins next year. Texas Republican Mike Conaway, the House Agriculture chairman, wants more money for Southern cotton growers. Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, Senate Agriculture’s ranking member, is pushing funds for urban farming and renewable energy. Their bitter fights over farm subsidies have deadlocked talks in a conference committee. The 2014 farm bill expired on Oct. 1 without a single face-to-face negotiating session between top negotiators in the three days before the deadline -- a sign of just how far lawmakers are from any kind of deal. (Politico)

Transportation

Senate Clears Water Infrastructure Bill for Trump’s Signature: A water infrastructure policy measure easily cleared the U.S. Senate and it’s ready for President Donald Trump’s signature. The legislation, passed 99-1, would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the dredged material management plan process, as well as maximize the use of existing information, studies and innovative dredge material management practices. It also would authorize a dozen water resources projects recommended by the chief of engineers. (Transport Topics)

Shipping Companies Want Congress to Increase Shipping Truck Size: The shipping industry is pushing Congress to increase the size of some shipping trucks, which could affect the nation's highways, consumers and e-commerce. Shipping companies like FedEx, UPS and Amazon say allowing so-called twin 33s, a configuration that allows trucks to haul two connected 33-foot trailers, would help increase shipping capacity and lower costs when online sales are booming. Current law limits the trucks to two 28-foot trailers. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

HHS

Trump Set to Force Drugmakers to Post Prices in Ads: The Trump administration will require drug companies to post their list prices in consumer ads under a proposal to be announced this week — a prominent part of its drug price agenda. The move — which follows months of battles between the administration, congressional leaders and the pharmaceutical industry — is one of many proposals in President Donald Trump's blueprint to lower drug prices. But experts caution that the impact may be relatively insignificant and it could even confuse patients, considering the complexities of drug pricing. (Politico)

Some ObamaCare Premiums Will Drop Next Year for First Time: Average premiums for the most common “silver” level insurance plan sold under ObamaCare will fall 1.5 percent in 2019, according to the Trump administration, the first time rates have fallen since the law took effect. The premium decreases are a sign that the insurance marketplace is stabilizing after two years of massive premium spikes, and the Trump administration is taking credit for it. (The Hill)

NIH's Undiagnosed Diseases Network Identifies 31 New Syndromes: In 2014, the U.S. National Institutes of Health launched a program called the Undiagnosed Disease Network. Recently, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study looking at the results of the network. Between 2015 and 2017, more than 1,500 people applied to the network’s seven patient sites for an evaluation. Physicians and researchers affiliated with the network found a diagnosis for about a third, or 132 of the first 382 patients who completed their evaluations. And, according to the report, 31 of those diagnosed were for syndromes that were identified for the first time. (BioSpace)

Defense

U.S. Sold $56B in Weapons to Other Countries in 2018: American defense companies sold $55.6 billion in weapons to foreign nations in fiscal 2018, a 33 percent jump from the year prior, according to the agency in charge of selling armaments to other countries. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the amount includes $47.7 billion from foreign military sales, $3.5 billion from the State Department’s foreign military financing program and $4.4 billion under the Defense Department. (The Hill)

DOD Scrambles To Write Space Doctrine As Space Command Plan Takes Shape: Deputy Defense Secretary Shanahan said that the final figure for a Space Force is unclear and is far from a done deal, even though the Air Force recently threw out a figure of $13 billion. “The final answer won’t happen this month or next month,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told a small group of reporters here. Shanahan didn’t address the Air Force cost estimate, but said that much of the talk right now revolves around which services or offices will undertake which responsibilities, or if they should establish a new Space Development Agency. (Breaking Defense)

Labor & Workforce

Walmart, White Castle Raises Could Color Trump Overtime Rule:  Two companies that opposed an Obama-era proposal to expand overtime pay requirements have become the unlikely poster children for reviving the rule.  A federal judge halted the regulation in 2016, saying the Labor Department went overboard by doubling the salary level under which workers would be automatically eligible for overtime pay. By then, Walmart Inc. and White Castle Management Co. had already given some midlevel managers raises to keep them exempt from overtime-eligibility. They decided to keep those raises in place.  Now, as the Trump administration puts the finishing touches on its own overtime proposal, worker advocates say the raises show employers can handle updated salary requirements near the Obama level. (BNA)

DOE

Innovative Solution to Solving a Longstanding Fusion Challenge: A class exercise at MIT, aided by industry researchers, has led to an innovative solution to one of the longstanding challenges facing the development of practical fusion power plants: how to get rid of excess heat that would cause structural damage to the plant. The new design, unlike that of typical fusion plants, would make it possible to open the device’s internal chamber and replace critical components; this capability is essential for the newly proposed heat-draining mechanism. (SciTechDaily)

Space, NASA & NOAA

NASA Should Expand the Search for Life in the Universe and Make Astrobiology an Integral Part of its Missions, Says New Report:  To advance the search for life in the universe, NASA should support research on a broader range of biosignatures and environments, and incorporate the field of astrobiology into all stages of future exploratory missions, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe, is a rapidly changing field, especially in the years since the publication of NASA's Astrobiology Strategy 2015. Recent scientific advances in the field now provide many opportunities to strengthen the role of astrobiology in NASA missions and to increase collaboration with other scientific fields and organizations. The report finds that these changes necessitate an updated science strategy for astrobiology. (Astrobiology Web)

Russia Is Riled Up About Being Left Behind in Space:  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visitied Russia and Kazakhstan last week in advance of an ISS crew launch on Thursday.  The new NASA boss faces a difficult trip, one that includes a difficult conversation with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Rogozin.   For starters, Bridenstine must meet Rogozin in Moscow (as opposed to, say, the sidelines of the International Space Congress last week) because U.S.-led sanctions don't allow Rogozin much room for travel outside Russia. If that's not weird enough as a backdrop, then remember that in August the ISS crew discovered its lifeboat Soyuz spacecraft had been leaking air through a small hole—which, according to Russian investigators, could be a result of sabotage by American astronauts. NASA has officially denied these allegations.  Needless to say, things could get awkward. And yet all the drama is in some ways a sideshow, masking Russia's falling star when it comes to all things space.  Its commercial launch business, hopes for planetary exploration, and other domestic programs are all in trouble. (Popular Mechanics)

Cybersecurity

Google Drops Out of Pentagon's $10 Billion Cloud Competition: Alphabet Inc.’s Google has decided not to compete for the Pentagon’s cloud-computing contract valued at as much as $10 billion, saying the project may conflict with its corporate values. The project, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud, or JEDI, involves transitioning massive amounts of Defense Department data to a commercially operated cloud system. Companies are due to submit bids for the contract, which could last as long as 10 years, on Oct. 12th. (Bloomberg)

FICO, Chamber of Commerce Release Tool to Score Businesses on Cybersecurity: The tool, called the Assessment of Business Cybersecurity, uses an algorithm known as the FICO Cyber Risk Score to determine how secure a business or business sector is. The algorithm considers factors like the health of a company’s network infrastructure and the scope of their internet-exposed systems to reach a score, similar to a credit score. (The Hill)

Trade

Here's Exactly How Trump's Trade War with China Could Affect You: Both Trump's tariffs on China and China's retaliatory tariffs are likely to impact the economy in various ways. At the most basic level, tariffs increase the prices of goods, directly by making imported goods more expensive via the imposed tax, and indirectly by allowing domestic manufacturers who do not have to pay the tariff to charge higher prices. Indeed, that latter effect is the main argument in favor of tariffs: By being able to charge higher prices, domestic producers can theoretically become more profitable and invest more in factories and workers. However, those higher prices can either be passed on to consumers or absorbed by companies buying intermediate products, which can cause economic harm. (Business Insider)

DOT

U.S. DOT to Create Aviation Consumer Advocate Position: A little-noticed provision in the 1,200-page bill to reauthorize the FAA will create an aviation consumer advocate within the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The new position will be charged with assisting consumers in resolving carrier service complaints, reviewing the resolution by DOT of such complaints and recommending actions the agency can take to improve enforcement of aviation consumer protection rules. (Air Transport World)

DHS

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Funds Indoor Mapping startup to help millions of passengers navigate through CBP Processing: LocusLabs, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) announced a real-time wayfinding and communication initiative that will help enhance the traveler experience during the international customs and security process. Through the Silicon Valley Innovation Program, DHS S&T is investing in LocusLabs’ development of guidance software and valuable analytics technology for potential U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Administration applications. (Geospatial World)

JUDICIARY

Immigration

Supreme Court Divided Over Immigrant Detention Dispute: The Supreme Court appeared divided Wednesday over whether the Trump administration can detain immigrants with criminal records indefinitely, years after they’ve served time for the offense. The government argued aliens who commit crimes that subject them to deportation can be taken into custody at any time and detained for the duration of their removal proceedings without a bond hearing. But immigrants in two class-action lawsuits — consolidated for arguments Wednesday — claim they are exempt from mandatory detention because the Department of Homeland Security didn’t detain them immediately after their sentence ended. A majority of justices on the court seemed to agree there should be some sort of time limit on the government’s ability to pick them up. (The Hill)