Window On Washington - September 10, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 36

Sep 10, 2018

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Minibus Progress. The first minibus package, which contains the Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch appropriations bills, is in the process of being finalized if not already so and should be on the House floor this week. Also, the Senate named conferees to the second minibus, which contains the Agriculture, Financial Services, Interior, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills, and third minibus – Labor-HHS and Defense appropriations bills. There is also a rumor that the conference process on the Defense appropriations bill is close to completion.     

Election Update. Midterm elections are 56 days away and the latest Cook Political Report on House 2018 races is showing that House Republicans are defending 92 competitive seats while Democrats only have 13.  A summary of the races is available here.

 

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget

Trump Says He Wants Shutdown Over Wall, But Not Before Election: President Donald Trump said he’d like to shut down the U.S. government to try to force congressional Democrats to fund a wall along the Mexican border, but likely won’t do it before the midterm elections. Trump said he had a “commitment” from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to force a budget showdown with Democrats over the wall “right after the election.” (Bloomberg)

Health

Senate to Vote This Week on Opioid Package: The Senate will vote this week on a package of bills aimed at curbing the nation's opioid epidemic, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced after the Democrats dropped their holds on the legislation. The sweeping opioid package focuses on treatment and prevention as well as curbing the flow of illicit substances into the US. (Politico)

Kavanaugh's Abortion Views under New Scrutiny: Brett Kavanaugh's views on abortion are under fresh scrutiny following his days-long, heated confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats and outside groups pounced on previously unreleased emails from the Supreme Court nominee’s time in the White House counsel's office, as well as his dodges on questions about legislation, contraception and Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh, if confirmed, is expected to tilt the court to the right by giving conservatives a fifth vote in cases on crucial issues like abortion. (The Hill)

McConnell: No Plan to Try Again on ObamaCare Repeal Soon: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled to reporters that he doesn’t have any plans to move again this year to repeal ObamaCare, even though Republicans might now have a better chance of success after Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was sworn in. Senate Republicans view Kyl as someone more likely to vote with GOP leaders on health care reform legislation than was late Sen. John McCain. (The Hill)

Tax Reform

House Republicans Huddle on 'Tax Cuts 2.0':  House Republicans last Thursday met to discuss a second package of tax cuts, ahead of the rollout of legislation planned for this week. The meeting came as some lawmakers from high-tax states have voiced concerns about the package, which is expected to cement the 2017 tax law's $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction.  The centerpiece of the package, known as "tax cuts 2.0," is to make the 2017 tax law's changes for individuals permanent. (The Hill)

Homeland Security

DHS House Votes to Create Drone Czar at DHS: House lawmakers voted Tuesday, September 4, to require the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to create a position for someone to focus solely on drones as the devices relate to national and border security. Rep. Scott Perry’s (R-PA) DHS Countering Unmanned Aircraft System Coordinator Act, H.R. 6438, would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to appoint an official to serve as the countering unmanned aircraft systems coordinator. (Washington Examiner)

Banking & Housing

Hensarling’s Hail Mary: Top Republican Unveils Sweeping Bipartisan Housing Finance/GSE Reform Bill:  It’s now officially been 10 years since the government took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship. And in that decade, an uneasy status quo has developed with Fannie and Freddie dominating the housing finance system, despite their limited capital bases and unresolved position as wards of the federal government. But if House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling has anything to say about it in his final days in office, all of that uncertainty will soon be resolved - he plans to introduce two major housing finance reform bills, both of which would upend Fannie and Freddie’s place in the market and work to bring private capital back into the market and which diverge from his previous attempts at reform. (Housing Wire)

Cybersecurity

Tech Giants Testify About Election Interference: Facebook and Twitter executives issued mea culpas Wednesday for failing to root out Russian meddling in the 2016 election, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg saying it was “completely unacceptable,” and promising to keep cracking down. “We were too slow to spot this and too slow to act. This is on us,” she said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. “This interference was completely unacceptable.” (Fox News)

Agriculture

Senate Leader Prods Farm Bill Negotiators for Quick Deal: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday pressed farm bill negotiators to finalize an agreement as quickly as possible, but House Republicans used the conference committee’s first formal meeting to continue to press senators to accept tighter work requirements for food stamp recipients. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., indicated during his opening remarks that the negotiators have yet to settle a number of key differences. (Ag Week)

Defense

Kyl, a DOD and Defense-Sector Ally, to Join Senate Armed Services: Jon Kyl, the former senator sworn in to fill the late John McCain’s Senate seat, will also join the Senate Armed Services Committee. As the Senate’s Republican whip, Kyl, 76, was a longtime Pentagon and defense-sector ally, then known as the Senate’s biggest advocate for missile defense spending and its strongest opponent to nuclear weapons reduction. More broadly, Kyl — who retired in 2013 — represents a more conservative perspective than McCain, known as a maverick who sometimes voted against his party. (Defense News)

Inhofe Officially Chosen to Succeed McCain as Armed Services Chairman: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has officially been tapped to succeed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

HHS

Trump Administration to Consider South Carolina Proposal to Defund Planned Parenthood: The Trump administration is considering a proposal submitted by South Carolina that would cut abortion providers from the state’s Medicaid program. South Carolina is now the third state to make such a request with the Department of Health and Human Services already reviewing similar proposals from Texas and Tennessee. (The Hill)

Trump’s New Limits on Hiring Foreign Scientists Making It Harder to Attract Top Talent at FDA: The Trump administration’s restrictions on hiring foreign scientists are making it more difficult for the agency to attract top scientific talent, a top Food and Drug Administration official said. The official was referring to a Department of Homeland Security policy the agency has been implementing since at least last August, which requires the agency to restrict many of its employment offers to people who have lived in the U.S. for three of the past five years. (STAT News)

NIH Grants Will Spur Innovation in Under-resourced States: Four new grants will help to move scientific discoveries and technologies out of the lab and into commercial products that improve patient care and enhance human health. Awards for Regional Technology Transfer Accelerator Hubs for Institutional Development Award (IDeA) states will total almost $2 million in the first year and potentially more than $13 million over three years, pending the availability of funds. (NIH News Releases)

Defense

America’s Defense-Industrial Base Study Finally Coming Next Week: The Trump administration’s long-awaited defense-industrial base study will roll out next week, according to Ellen Lord, the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment. (Defense News)

Top U.S. Air Force Official is Now on Board with Trump’s Space Force Plan: Air Force Secretary, Heather Wilson, has been one of the biggest critics of creating a Space Force, but now that President Trump has directed the Pentagon to craft a “Space Force”, she wants to make sure it is done correctly. Secretary Wilson at the Defense News Conference that she was now in “complete alignment” with Trump’s desire to stand up a Space Force, complete with a separate military department with the same authorities as any other service. (Defense News)

DOE

Karen Evans Sworn in as DOE Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER): Evans was confirmed as Assistant Secretary for CESER by the U.S. Senate. Before her nomination, Evans served in the public sector as a top IT official at the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, in the position that is now known as the federal CIO. She has also previously served as DOE’s CIO. (DoE Press Releases)

Treasury

A “SALT” Shakeup:  Did the Treasury Department just start chipping away at its own rules limiting state efforts to circumvent the new cap on state and local deductions — not even two weeks after releasing that guidance?  It sure looks that way, according to a range of experts and tax lawyers - The IRS on Wednesday clarified that there are times when a company can write off donations as normal business expenses, and not a charitable contribution. That comes after August’s proposed SALT rules, which would force taxpayers to subtract from their federal charitable deduction any state incentives they receive from a donation. (Politico)

Trade

Trump Threatens Tariffs on All Imports from China, Escalating Trade Feud: President Trump threatened China with another round of punishing tariffs on Friday, saying he was prepared to tax essentially all Chinese goods imported into the United States if Beijing did not change its trade practices. The threat comes as the administration prepares to move forward with another round of tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, including many everyday consumer products like electronics and housewares. (The New York Times)

Labor & Workforce

Berkeley Study Sparks Debate Over Effects of Minimum Wage Increases: Economists are debating the effects of minimum wage increases after the University of California, Berkeley, published a study showing pay increases for restaurant workers did not harm job growth in six major U.S. cities.  The report, compiled by researchers for Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, found no negative impact on hiring within the food services industry in cities that adopted minimum wages in excess of $10 an hour. (The Hill)

Trump Rolls Back Worker Safety Rules:  When President Donald Trump came into office pledging to cut regulations “massively,” he made a point of exempting regulations that protected workers’ health.  But almost two years in, the Trump administration has done the opposite, rolling back worker safety protections affecting underground mine safety inspections, offshore oil rigs and line speeds in meat processing plants, among others. (Politico)

Space, NASA & NOAA

Exoplanet Report Recommends Development of Large Space Telescope:   A National Academies committee recommends that NASA pursue development of a large space telescope to search for potentially habitable exoplanets, but declined to choose a specific concept for such a mission.  The “Exoplanet Science Strategy” report, requested by Congress in a 2017 NASA authorization act also recommends continued development of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope and funding by the National Science Foundation of two large ground-based observatories.  The recommendations of the report are based on an underlying conclusion that the science of exoplanet research has advanced to the point where it will soon be possible identify planets that are potentially habitable and even discern so-called “biosignatures,” or evidence of life, on them. (Space News)

Texas Lawmakers Press NASA to Base Lunar Lander Program in Houston:  The Apollo missions that flew to the Moon during the 1960s were designed and controlled by what is now known as the Johnson Space Center, the home of the famous "Mission Control.", and many want the same Center to have a primary role in the return to the Moon. In recent months, the politically well-positioned Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, has been quietly pressing leaders with NASA HQ for program management of mid- to large-size landers to the lunar surface, which would evolve into human landers. Sources indicated this effort was having some success.  However, Texas legislators have now begun to push back, with both of Texas' Senators as well as three Representatives with space-related committee chairs (John Culberson, Lamar Smith, and Brian Babin), writing a letter to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. (ARS Technica)

Cybersecurity

Connecticut to Invest Federal Money in Cybersecurity Training Ahead of Elections: In preparation for the midterm elections, Connecticut plans to provide cybersecurity training to all elections officials and hire IT professionals to assess vulnerabilities within voter registration lists maintained at the local level, using money from a $5 million federal election security grant. (Government Technology

DHS

How Risk-Adaptive Programs Can Boost Government Cybersecurity: Over the course of its first two phases, the Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program has effectively laid the groundwork for better security. Phase 3 – “What is happening on the network?” – and Phase 4 – “How is data protected?” – are about to take the program to a new level. These final phases will be centered on “Dynamic and Evolving Federal Enterprise Network Defense”, or DEFEND, which is specifically designed to help monitor cloud systems and protect data that is accessed, stored and transmitted using cloud services, mobile, and applications, like email or productivity software. (Fifth Domain)