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Window On Washington - September 30, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 36

Sep 30, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Recess. Congress adjourned on Friday for a two week recess for the observance of the Jewish holidays. The House Intelligence Committee continues its work this week with depositions of several personals connected to the Ukraine whistleblower investigation.

Appropriations. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) met with President Trump last week to discuss an appropriations strategy for when Congress returns from recess, now that the government is funded through November 21. Shelby would like to bring some of the non-controversial appropriations bills to the floor and then begin conference with the House once Congress reconvenes in mid-October. Though Senate leadership has yet to bless this strategy, it does have the support of Shelby's Democratic counterpart, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy has called for bills to be brought to the floor after the Senate returns from recess. After his meeting with the President, Shelby did not indicate if there was any discussion about a strategy for how to negotiate the border wall, which threatens to derail multiple appropriations bills.

Impeachment Investigation. After months of talk related to impeachment, the House quickly got underway with its impeachment inquiry last week. Some lawmakers have said that the goal is to produce impeachment articles before December. Speaker Pelosi said the investigation will be focused in the Intelligence Committee, and the panel is expected to call upon President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Attorney General William Barr and about a dozen White House officials that listened to the President's call with the Ukrainian president. The Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) stated that his panel would also conduct an investigation into the President's actions regarding Ukraine. For a primer on the mechanics of impeachment, click here.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Senate Passes Continuing Resolution, Trump Signs into Law: President Donald Trump signed a short-term spending bill that averts a government shutdown and extends current funding levels and programs through Nov. 21. The continuing resolution buys more time for bicameral negotiations on a dozen fiscal 2020 spending bills that would provide updated funding levels for 15 federal departments and dozens of smaller federal agencies. (Politico)

Senate Marks Up Five Appropriations Bills: Senate Appropriations passed five of its appropriations bills out of committee – Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch, State-Foreign Operations, and Interior-Environment. The Senate has now marked up 10 of the 12 appropriations bills with the Labor-HHS and Military Construction-VA bills remaining. (Senate Appropriations)

Health

Grassley: Drug Pricing Reform Key to Keeping GOP's Senate Majority: Passing a bill to control drug prices will be essential to Republicans “keeping a majority in the Senate,” Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters last week. But he predicted the task will probably slip into next year. Grassley said he was optimistic he could sell GOP lawmakers on the sweeping bipartisan bill he and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) developed, even though most Republicans opposed when the Finance committee advanced it on a 19-9 vote this summer. (Politico)

Democrats Divided on Surprise Medical Bill Fix: The divisions within the Democratic caucus and between the two parties threaten what was touted as a rare opportunity for Congress to enact bipartisan health care legislation this year. Adding to the delays, three different House committees, all controlled by Democrats, are working on their own rival bills. Republicans have seized on the issue of surprise medical bills as a way to support action on health care that gets away from the politically damaging effort to repeal ObamaCare. (The Hill)

Defense

Senate Confirms Trump’s Army Secretary Nominee: Last week, the Senate confirmed Ryan McCarthy as Army secretary, the top civilian leading the Army. McCarthy, who has served as Army under secretary since 2017, will fill the role formerly held by Mark Esper until he became Defense secretary in July. (The Hill)

Senate Confirms Air Force Gen. Hyten as Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman: After a months-long inquiry into sexual assault allegations that surfaced this summer, the Senate last Thursday confirmed Air Force Gen. John Hyten to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. (Military.com)

Cyber

Cyberspace Solarium Commission Meets: The Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a congressionally mandated panel working on a comprehensive cyber strategy, met for the first time last Monday with leaders of the energy, financial and telecommunications sectors, featuring representatives from the likes of AT&T, Berkshire Hathaway and US Bank. (Politico)

Democrats Seize on Whistleblower Report to Push for Election Security: Democrats renewed their push for election security legislation after a stark warning from acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and the release of a whistleblower complaint about President Trump's call with Ukraine's leader. (The Hill)

Justice

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Commerce, Justice, Science Bill for Senate Consideration: Last week, the full committee unanimously approved a $70.8 billion spending bill that includes $32.5 billion for the Department of Justice ($1.51 billion over FY19 levels). The legislation funds the FBI at $10 billion, the DEA at $2.8 billion, and the U.S. Marshals Service at $3.3 billion. The bill also includes $2.7 billion for a variety of law enforcement grant programs, and would level-fund the STOP School Violence Act at $100 million, which helps schools improve their security infrastructure, among other things. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Democrats Launched an Impeachment Inquiry Into President Trump. Here’s What That Means: Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last Tuesday that the House of Representatives will open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. While it’s unclear how it will change the Democrats’ current investigative work, it undoubtedly marks a new phase in these probes. (Time)

Homeland Security/Immigration

Senate Appropriations Committee Sends FY2020 Homeland Security Bill to Full Senate: Last week, the full committee approved the $70.7 billion bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security and includes $5 billion for President Trump’s border wall. The bill passed the Republican-led committee with a 17-14 vote that fell largely along party lines. Nearly all Democrats opposed the legislation, with only Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) joining Republicans to advance it. The bill includes a nearly 8% base discretionary funding boost for DHS, including $4.9 billion for TSA after crediting fees, and $21.8 billion for FEMA. (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Democrats Decry Trump’s Push to Slash Number of Accepted Refugees: Those condemning the change included presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. Other Democratic lawmakers also expressed disapproval. (The Hill)

Energy

Key House Panel Adopts Legislative Package To Protect Public From Asbestos, PFAS Chemicals: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee advanced 15 bills that would tackle asbestos and nuclear waste storage as well as a measure to designate toxic PFAS chemicals as hazardous under Superfund law. (EWG)

Senate Bill Would Let Utilities Pass on Cybersecurity Costs: A bipartisan group of four senators have proposed a bill that would allow utilities to charge ratepayers for cybersecurity investments. The bill from Energy Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Jim Risch (R-ID) aims to creates incentives for electric utilities to spend more on advanced cybersecurity measures. The bill, called the PROTECT Act, orders FERC to create a rule that would allow utilities to include some cybersecurity spending in the rates consumers pay for power. (Clark Hill Insight)

Environment/Interior

Senate Appropriators Approve Interior-EPA Bill: The Senate Appropriations Committee last week unanimously advanced a $35.8 billion Interior-EPA spending package to the full Senate. The bill funds the Department of the Interior at $13.7 billion, the National Park Service at $3.36 billion, and the EPA at $9.0 billion, which includes $20 million to help states address PFAS contamination.  (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Proposed Senate Budget Offers No Funding for BLM Headquarters Move: The final Senate budget deal appears set to offer no funding for the Trump administration's plans to move the headquarters of the Interior Department’s land management agency out West. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

Cannabis Legislation Expected to Get Traction in Senate — in the Banking Committee of All Places: The Senate is poised to take up legislation to boost the nation’s booming cannabis industry, with its backers feeling bullish and selling it as a bill that is more about banking than marijuana. Their confidence follows action in the House on Wednesday, where Democrats and Republicans joined forces to pass an historic bill that would give legalized marijuana businesses access to banking services. (Politico)

Congress Presses Fed On Real-Time Payments Plan: The U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Task Force on Financial Technology held a hearing last week titled “The Future of Real-Time Payments” to discuss the development of FedNow and its implications for the U.S. payments ecosystem. Despite some previous pushback, the Fed, represented by Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President and Chief Executive Officer Esther L. George, was met with widespread support from her fellow witnesses. (Payments.Com)

Transportation

Cyber Rules for Self-Driving Cars Stall in Congress: Major automakers are moving full steam ahead with their plans to put self-driving cars on the road, even as lawmakers and regulators in Washington fall behind on creating a cybersecurity framework for those vehicles. (The Hill)

Education

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Proposal Would Designate Long-Term Funding for HBCUs: Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) proposal is one of several of a bipartisan package of bills that would make changes for minority-serving colleges across the country. His proposal would designate $255 million in permanent and mandatory funds each year for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. (Tennessean)

Agriculture

Senate Produces US Department of Agriculture Funding Bill: The Senate’s bill, passed in Committee last week, contains numerous proposed cuts to discretionary programs at USDA compared with the House bill, as well as providing funding to complete the relocation of two Washington-based USDA research offices to Kansas City. Differences will need to be negotiated in a joint House-Senate Conference Committee before the final FY20 appropriations bill is complete. (Daily Yonder)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Senate Appropriators Advance Bill Funding NASA Despite Uncertainties About Artemis Costs: The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill last week that would give $22.75 billion for NASA in FY20 (an increase of $1.25 billion over FY19), but expressed some frustration about the lack of details in the agency’s plans to return humans to the moon, and did not fund those requests fully. (Space News)

Labor and Workforce

Senate Confirms Scalia as Labor Secretary: The Senate last week confirmed Eugene Scalia to lead the Labor Department, replacing Alexander Acosta who resigned amid questions over a plea deal he brokered for the now-deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The Senate voted along party lines, 53-44, to confirm Scalia, who is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Health/HHS/NIH

NIH Awards Nearly $1 Billion in Research Grants to Battle Addiction: The National Institutes of Health awarded nearly $1 billion to battle addiction and chronic pain, the largest financial commitment to one program ever by the government’s premier biomedical research center. The $945 million provides no direct services to people affected by the opioid epidemic and chronic pain, but will be used to fund research by 375 grantees in 41 states designed to guide future efforts. (The Washington Post)

NIH Must Better Protect Research from Foreign Influence, Federal Watchdog Says: Foreign governments and corporations could profit from American academic institutions’ failure to safeguard taxpayer-funded biomedical research, according to a set of new reports the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general. The influence concerns extend past NIH-funded researchers. A separate HHS inspector general report highlighted concerns with the peer review process the agency uses to determine which researchers it funds. (STAT News)

CMS Finalizes Rule for Cuts to Medicaid DSH Payments: Last Monday, CMS published a final rule for calculating $4 billion in state Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital cuts for fiscal 2020 and $8 billion for each subsequent year through 2025. The DSH cuts were supposed to go into effect Oct. 1, but the continuing resolution to fund the government included a provision to delay the cuts until Nov. 21. (Modern Healthcare)

Labor & Workforce

New Proposed Labor Regulations to Affect Student Unions: The National Labor Relations Board announced last week that they are pursuing a new proposal that would prevent student workers, such as graduate teaching assistants, at private universities from forming or joining a union. The proposal would achieve this by classifying student workers as students, rather than workers. The board argues “that the relationship these students have with their school is predominately educational rather than economic.” (NYU Local)

Space, NASA & NOAA

Unpacking the Proposed Exo-Planet Imaging Telescope HabEx: As part of NASA’s continued effort to ensure a steady supply of astrophysics and astronomy missions, the agency is undertaking the Astro2020: Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics. Currently, in the “Concept Study” phase, the survey includes proposals for four large-scale space telescopes – including the Habitable Exoplanet Observatory (HabEx), which would facilitate direct observation of exoplanets, carry a primary focus on imaging Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars, and be able to detect biomarkers or signs of possible life in those exoplanets’ atmospheres via spectroscopic observations. (NASA Spaceflight)

NASA and JAXA Reaffirm Intent to Cooperate in Lunar Exploration: NASA and its Japanese counterpart confirmed last week their intent to cooperate on lunar exploration, including Japanese roles in the lunar Gateway and human lunar landings. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, on a visit to Japan, met with Japanese officials including Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to discuss cooperation in space exploration, specifically NASA’s Artemis program to land humans on the moon in 2024. (Space News)

Defense/DOD

Suicide Among Troops Spikes in 2018 to Highest Rate in Five Years, Pentagon Says: The Pentagon attributed the overall spike in the rate to small increases in suicides across all the services. (USA Today)

Trade

U.S., Japan Reach a Limited Deal on Agriculture, Digital Trade: President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinz┼Ź Abe announced the agreement during a meeting last Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. (Politico)

Transportation/DOT

DOT Ends Century-Old Restriction on Highway Construction: A rule adopted in 1916 that discourages US state contractors from deploying innovative products and services in road design and repair has been updated to give states more choices for federally funded highway projects. (Freight Waves)

Justice/DOJ

Barr is Thrust Back in Harsh Glare as Ukraine Scandal Grows: President Donald Trump never directly asked Attorney General William Barr to launch any type of investigation into Joe Biden, a Justice Department spokeswoman said last Wednesday, clarifying that Barr’s denial of involvement extended beyond the Ukraine scandal. (Politico)

Environment/EPA

EPA to California: You’re Also ‘Failing’ to Meet Water Pollution Standards: The Trump administration warned California officials this past Thursday that the state is “failing” to meet federal water quality standards, the latest move in the president’s escalating political feud with the state’s liberal leaders. (LA Times)

Tax Reform/IRS

Continued Strong Job Growth In Low-Tax States Since The Trump Tax Cut: Job growth in the 27 states with low state and local taxes continues to double the pace of employment gains compared to their high-tax peers. (Forbes)

IRS Estimates Average Annual ‘Tax Gap’ of $441 Billion for 2011 to 2013: Last Thursday, the IRS released new estimates of the “tax gap” – the difference between the amount of taxes owed and the amount that’s paid on time – which lawmakers had been awaiting as they consider funding for the agency and ways to boost tax compliance. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Hemp Regulations Draft Sent to White House: The agency has completed a long-awaited draft of federal regulations for the cultivation of hemp and submitted them to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. The USDA has up to a year to finalize the regulations, but the agency recognized that states and farmers around the country are anxious for the new rules to help guide the 2020 growing season. The agency earlier had promised to present the rules by August. (UPI)