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Window On Washington - September 23, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 35

Sep 23, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Continuing Resolution. After delays related to trade assistance to farmers and extenders for certain healthcare programs, the House passed a continuing resolution with bipartisan support to fund the government until November 21. The Senate will take up the legislation this week and the President is expected to sign it, avoiding a government shutdown as the fiscal year nears an end.

Senate Appropriations. Despite the Senate continuing to markup bills in the appropriations committee, lawmakers have stalled on a path forward for floor passage. Committee leadership has discussed the possibility of bringing some of the smaller, less controversial bills to the floor, but have yet to receive the sign off from Senate leadership. The Committee cancelled markups for Labor-HHS and State-Foreign Operations bills earlier in the month after Democrats planned to offer amendments related to abortion. In an attempt to get the Labor-HHS bill moving again, Republicans offered to increase the bill's funding allocation by shifting funds from the Pell grant program. Democrats rejected the offer. Efforts to move the Defense appropriations bill off the floor remain stalled as the bill has become bogged down in the border wall controversy.

Immigration. The House plans to take up two immigration bills this week - one related to medical screening at ports of entry, and the other to increase transparency at DHS, provide oversight of border security activities, and improve training of CBP and ICE agents. On Friday, DHS announced that the US signed a new cooperation agreement with El Salvador that allows the US to send some asylum seekers at its borders to El Salvador.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

House Approves Bill to Avoid Shutdown but Wall Fight Looms: The House easily passed a stopgap spending measure to avert a shutdown at month’s end. But the hardest part is just beginning. Democratic and Republican leaders will spend the next two months attempting to forge a lasting deal to fund the government, with all of the same political landmines that thrust Washington into a 35-day shutdown earlier in the year still present. Congressional leaders will then have until Nov. 21 to reach an accord for full-year funding, or, as many lawmakers expect, another funding patch through Christmas. (Politico)

Senate Democrats Block Government Spending Bill on Floor: Senate Democrats blocked a bill on the floor to fund most of the federal government, marking the latest setback for spending talks. Senators voted 51-44 on taking up a House-passed bill that was expected to be the vehicle for any Senate funding action, depriving it of the 60 votes needed to overcome the initial hurdle. The stalemate comes as Senate spending negotiations have been largely derailed over partisan battles on issues, including the wall and Republicans’ concerns that Democrats could try to muscle in abortion-related language. (The Hill)

Senate Appropriations Committee Advances Three More Appropriations Bills: Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Financial Services, Agriculture and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills. The Financial Services bill, which funds the Treasury and other agencies, would provide $24.2B, a $733M increase over FY19. The Agriculture bill, which funds USDA and FDA, would provide $23.1B in discretionary funding, a $58M increase over FY19. The Transportation-HUD appropriations bill would provide $74.3B, a $3.2B increase over FY19. (Senate Appropriations)

Health

Senate Bill Would Give NIH $3B in 2020, or 7.7% Boost: A Senate spending panel last week released a draft 2020 spending bill containing a hefty $3 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that would bring the agency’s total budget to $42.1 billion. That 7.7% boost is $1 billion more than a House committee approved in its version of the bill in April, and would complete a 40% increase in NIH’s budget over the past 5 years. (Science)

Speaker Pelosi Unveils Drug Price Plan, Trump Welcomes It: Speaker Pelosi proposed legislation on Thursday to let the federal government negotiate lower prices for costly prescription drugs, drawing praise from President Trump, who urged a bipartisan solution. Initial reaction to Pelosi’s plan was negative from House and Senate Republicans, many of whom are not keen on letting the government negotiate prices, viewing it as price fixing. (Reuters)

House Panel Delays Vote on Surprise Medical Bills Legislation: The House Education and Labor Committee called off plans last week to vote on legislation to protect patients from “surprise” medical bills because of divisions among lawmakers on the panel. It is unclear when it will be scheduled. The push for legislation hit fresh obstacles amid a fierce lobbying push from doctors and hospitals, as well as disagreements about the best way to address the problem. The delay in the markup is another sign of those divisions. (The Hill)

Defense

Defense Committees Start Conference on FY20 Authorization Bill: With 11 days to go until Fiscal Year 2019 ends, lawmakers from the House and Senate held their first armed services conference committee meeting to iron out differences between each chamber’s version of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act. (USNI News)

Cyber

McConnell Support for Election Security Funds Leaves Dems Declaring Victory: McConnell, who had been derided as "Moscow Mitch" by Democrats over his refusal to give election security legislation a vote, in a surprise move Thursday said he would back an amendment providing funds to help states shore up their voting systems. (The Hill)

With 5G in Mind, Senators Plan Big Boost for Pentagon Cybersecurity: Lawmakers are proposing to add more than half a billion dollars to the Pentagon’s 2020 budget for cybersecurity measures, in particular asking the department to include security features enabling its weapons and information systems to safely operate on future 5G worldwide wireless networks. (Roll Call)

Justice

Lewandowski Stonewalls and Frustrates Democrats in Contentious Capitol Hill Hearing: President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski antagonized Democrats and stonewalled their questions about obstruction of justice during the first official impeachment-related hearing on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Russia investigation. (CNN)

‘Get Real’: Senior Democrats Shut Down Kavanaugh Impeachment Push: Democrats are already wrestling with whether to try to oust President Donald Trump, and leadership sees little room for the party to take on a second divisive impeachment saga barely a year before the presidential election. (Politico)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Congress Plans to Investigate How Social Media Giants are Fighting Hate: Members of Congress plan to introduce a "national commission" at the Department of Homeland Security to study online hate. The commission would have the authority to hold hearings and issue subpoenas.  (Engadget)

Senate Energy Panel to Mark Up 21 Bills on Sept. 25: The bills will range from topics like energy efficiency and electric grid security to energy storage. An agenda also lists bills that would make it easier to raise salaries for FERC employees. The committee will also mark up two House-passed measure to expand grants to states to prepare their energy security plans. (Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources)

Environment/Interior

Murkowski Working Toward EPA-Interior Markup This Week: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding EPA and Interior, said she's still working toward a markup of her bill next week. “Yeah, we’re working on it,” she told reporters when asked if she intended to move forward with a fiscal 2020 spending bill. (Clark Hill Insight)

Teen Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Tells Congress: ‘Unite Behind the Science’: Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg implored Washington lawmakers on Wednesday to take climate science seriously — bringing her simple and direct message as one of the world's youngest and most prominent climate change activists to the halls of a normally divided Congress. (NBC News)

Banking & Housing

Cannabis Banking Vote a “Go” in the House This Week: Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) believes the bill will move this week, and that he thinks he has the votes to call for a “motion for suspension” on the bill, after a number of tweaks and changes were made to the original bill to address various Members concerns. (Politico)

Transportation

Senate Appropriators Approve T-HUD Spending Bill: A floor vote on the legislation could come soon, as Senate Appropriations leaders say it’s one of the few spending pieces that could have enough bipartisan support to pass the full chamber. (Politico)

House Oversight Probing Whether Chao Improperly Helped Her Family’s Company: The House Oversight Committee sent Chao a letter today asking her for all communications since President Trump‘s inauguration between DOT and her family business, the Foremost Group, as well as related documentation. (Politico)

Tax Reform

State and Local Tax Cap Rollback Included in Year-End Tax Talks: Ways and Means Committee Democrats discussed in a caucus meeting last week how a “SALT” rollback and a raft of other tax legislation the committee has advanced or will soon consider might fit into a deal later this year with Senate Republicans. (Roll Call)

Trade/IRS

Senate Panel Approves $11.4B In IRS Funding For 2020: The Senate committee approved that funding level when it passed by voice vote the 2020 financial services and general government appropriations bill, which the full chamber may now consider. (Law 360)

U.S. Trade Groups Urge Congress to Rein in ‘Tariff Man’ Trump: Nearly two dozen U.S. lobbying groups have joined forces to try to rein in U.S. President Donald Trump’s power to unilaterally impose tariffs amid growing concern about the negative economic impact of his trade policies. (Reuters)

Education

Congress’s Looming $4 Billion Showdown Over Education Funding: As Senate Releases 2020 Priorities, a Huge Split With House Over Title I, IDEA, Charters & More: Senate Appropriations Committee leaders released their bill funding the Education Department Wednesday, setting up a collision course with the House as lawmakers work to fund the federal government for 2020. (The 74)

Agriculture

House Ag Committee Bitter Partisan Divide Laid Bare in Nasty Trade-Aid Skirmish: Partisan rancor on the House Agriculture Committee has reached new heights of bitterness, personal attacks and Twitter-delivered insults, and this week stemmed from a drawn-out debate among House Democrats this week over whether to grant USDA some leeway on the $30 billion cap on borrowing for the Commodity Credit Corporation, the institution the Trump administration has used to make trade aid payments to farmers. (Politico)

Space/NASA & NOAA

House Members Skeptical About NASA’s Approach to Returning Humans to the Moon: Members of the House Science Committee expressed skepticism about NASA’s reliance on commercial launch vehicles to carry out human lunar landings by 2024 rather than an upgraded version of the Space Launch System, at a hearing with key NASA officials last week. (Space News)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Health/HHS/NIH

White House Abruptly Cancels Meeting with Vaping Advocates: The White House abruptly organized — and then quickly canceled — a meeting Thursday with frustrated conservative policy leaders, to try to tamp down anger about a sweeping vaping ban that’s inflamed the Trump administration’s traditional allies. While public health officials largely cheered Trump’s crackdown, conservatives have sought to convince the White House that the president’s ban is a federal overreach that will anger millions of adult vapers, including as many as 2.55 million in 12 swing states. (Politico)

Nurses Criticize NIH Move to Appoint Dentist to Head National Institute of Nursing Research: Former principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak, who holds a doctor of dental surgery, or DDS, will serve as interim director of the National Institute of Nursing Research. Tabak will take over for Ann Cashion, who announced her resignation on August 30. The Truth About Nursing recently put out a petition demanding the NIH rescind their appointment and choose a nurse to lead the organization. (Business Insider)

Labor & Workforce

White House Intervenes in General Motors Strike: The White House is seeking to end the United Auto Workers strike against General Motors with an agreement that would reopen an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio that GM shut down in March, and the dynamics of the negotiations essentially puts the White House on the same side of the issue as the UAW. (Politico)

Labor Dept. Moves Recruitment Online For H-2A Employers: The U.S. Department of Labor will no longer require employers to run print ads in newspapers to recruit for open positions before they can hire migrant farmworkers under the H-2A visa program, with the agency announcing it will instead move the process online. (Law 360)

Space, NASA & NOAA

NASA Estimates Tropical Depression Imelda's Huge Texas Rainfall: NASA and NOAA's National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center have been providing near-realtime rainfall estimates of Imelda’s heavy rains, by utilizing NASA's Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) algorithm, which combines observations from a fleet of satellites, in near-realtime, to provide near-global estimates of precipitation every 30 minutes. (Space Reference)

An Exclusive Image of the Interstellar Comet That Stunned Astronomers: A new interstellar object was discovered late last month by an astronomer at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, and in the next few months this object (C/2019 Q4) could reveal insight into the formation of distant star systems and, possibly, the universe, as it transits through our solar system. (Popular Mechanics)

Defense/DOD

Trump Names Robert O'Brien as New National Security Adviser: Robert O’Brien, a State Department official who has specialized in hostage issues, will replace John Bolton, who Trump fired last week after a string of disagreements. (NBC)

Trade

Trump Announces New Sanctions on Iran: The sanctions targeting the Iranian national bank add to the pressure on Iran, which the United States accuses of attacking Saudi oil facilities. (New York Times)

Trump Lifts Some Tariffs, in Sign Trade War is Inflicting Harm on U.S. Economy: The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced that it is granting tariff exemptions to more than 400 items imported from China. According to trade experts, the move indicates that the trade war is inflicting increasing harm to American industries and consumers — and that the White House is trying to mitigate that damage and lower tensions as negotiators from the two countries try to work out a deal. (NBC News)

DHS/Immigration

Federal Agency Ordered to Investigate Homeland Security Nominee: The Department of Energy has been told to investigate allegations of corruption by William N. Bryan, the White House’s nominee for a senior post at the Department of Homeland Security. (Roll Call)

DHS Formally Backs Off Plans to Deport Sick Immigrant Children: In a letter sent to the House Oversight Committee, the Department of Homeland Security said that it is “resuming its consideration of non-military deferred action requests on a discretionary, case-by-case basis.” (NBC News)

Energy/DOE

FERC Moves to Gut PURPA: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a proposal to allow states to remove the long-term price certainty in PURPA, and shrink the size of facilities that automatically quality for contracts from 20 MW to 1 MW. (PV Magazine)

Transportation/DOT

California Sues Trump Administration Over Revoking Authority to Limit Car Pollution: The legal battle’s outcome will affect which vehicles Americans drive in the years to come, as well as the country’s effort to tackle climate change and the balance between federal and state power. (Washington Post)

Justice/DOJ

Ukrainian President to Meet with Trump Amid Whistleblower Probe: President Trump will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the United Nations General Assembly this week, amid reports that Ukraine is the subject of a whistleblower complaint causing a standoff between Congress and the intelligence community. (CBS News)

Trump Announces Two Judicial Nominees for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Patrick Bumatay, an assistant U.S. attorney in California, and Lawrence VanDyke of Nevada, who works for the Justice Department, have been tapped to fill two of the court’s vacancies. (Washington Times)

 Environment/EPA

Environmental Rollbacks Give Trump Rare Win With Farmers: Amid President Donald Trump's ever-deepening trade wars, immigration crackdown and controversial approach to ethanol policy, deregulation has provided a rare bright spot for farmers and ranchers over the past two and a half years. (Politico)

Interior Department Transferring Federal Land to Army for Border Wall Construction: The Trump administration plans to transfer federal land to military control in order to continue construction of the wall along the southern border, officials from the Interior Department announced Wednesday night. (ABC News)

IRS

I.R.S. Offers Deal to Small Insurance Companies Under Scrutiny: The offer pertains to captive insurance, a way to insure against risks not covered by traditional means. But it has created an incentive for tax avoidance. (New York Times)

Agriculture/USDA

Senate Democrats Accuse Administration of Burying Climate Change Reports:  The lawmakers released a report and a list of more than 1,400 Department of Agriculture (USDA) climate studies last week, saying that the administration has "largely failed to publicize" climate research regarding climate change impacts on specific crops and the agriculture sector. Democrats are highlighting the issue as part of a push for passage of legislation titled the Science Integrity Act that aims to protect science from political interference. (The Hill)

Department of Education

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Visits School with Anti-Transgender Policy: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has embarked on her third annual "back-to-school" tour, and on Thursday, she stopped by Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School — a school with a strict policy on transgender students. (CBS News)

Banking & Housing

Trump Upends Bipartisan Consensus on Homelessness: Donald Trump has challenged the idea, pioneered in George W. Bush's administration, that the best, and most cost-effective way to end homelessness is to offer people living on the streets homes, no strings attached, and to service their needs in a home setting. Richard Cho, who served in top positions at the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness during the Obama administration and now heads the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, discusses on a new Roll Call podcast. (Roll Call)