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Window On Washington - September 8, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 36

Sep 08, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is back in session, while the House returns from recess next week. Congress is now working on talks to pass a short-term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month, and though the length of it has not yet been decided, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated he expects it to extend into December. Tomorrow, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending facilities; the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will hold a hearing on vaccines featuring NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and Surgeon General Jerome Adams; the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the impact of COVID-19 crisis on university research; and the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs will hold a hearing on mental health care and suicide prevention. On Thursday, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on aid to states and territories during the pandemic. The Senate will also hold hearings and floor proceedings this week on a handful of judicial nominations, as well as a possible vote on a slimmed-down coronavirus relief package.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Senate Republicans are aiming to put a “skinny” coronavirus relief measure on the floor as soon as this week, with reports indicating that this version is getting close to gathering the support of 51 Republican Senators, two shy of the entire Republican conference. Sources familiar with the talks indicate the price tag could fall between $500 billion–$700 billion, which is far shorter than the $2.2 trillion topline called for by Democrats. The first “skinny” bill that circulated earlier in August had opposition from over 20 Republican Senators, so this bill is an effort from Senate Republicans to show more of a united front. Democrats are expected to block it in the absence of a deal between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the White House, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed his doubts about bipartisanship on this next package. However, McConnell’s comments indicate he plans to bring the bill to the floor for election reasons given the various Republican-held seats considered to be vulnerable this November. Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) continue to reject the piecemeal approach to the package and have shared that serious differences remain between Democrats and Republicans.

2020 Elections. Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden continues to retain his lead over President Donald Trump in national polls with less than two months left before the election, though neither candidate saw a bounce in polling after their conventions last month. President Trump and Biden will both be traveling throughout this week, with Trump campaigning in North Carolina today and Biden in Michigan tomorrow. Trump will campaign in Michigan on Thursday as well. Both Trump and Biden are expected to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Pelosi, Mnuchin Talk Stimulus but Stalemate Remains: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone last Tuesday but did not make headway on a weeks-long stalemate over a stimulus package. (The Hill)

Senate GOP 'Goal' is to Vote This Week on 'Targeted' Coronavirus Relief Bill: Senate Republican leaders hope to vote this week on what they are calling a “focused” and “targeted” coronavirus relief bill, setting up what they hope will be a tough political vote for Democrats shortly before November's elections. (The Hill)

Health

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Testified Before House Committee Over Coronavirus Relief: Secretary Mnuchin testified last Tuesday before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, his first testimony since negotiations over additional stimulus stalled between the White House and top Democratic lawmakers. (CNBC)

Democrats Unveil Plan Declaring Racism a Public Health Issue: A trio of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation last Thursday that would label racism as a nationwide public health crisis. The bill, titled the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, was created by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). (The Hill)

Pelosi Says Democrats, White House Have ‘Serious Differences’ Over Coronavirus Aid After Call with Mnuchin: After a call with Secretary Mnuchin last Tuesday, Pelosi indicated the sides stand far apart on the price tag for a fifth package. Democrats first proposed more than $3 trillion in spending but later said they would accept a $2.2 trillion bill. The Trump administration has not gone higher than roughly $1.3 trillion. (CNBC)

Banking & Housing

Congressional Investigation Finds Over $1 Billion in Coronavirus Aid Fraud: Over $1 billion in emergency coronavirus aid relief went to companies that "double dipped" and received multiple PPP loans in violation of the program's rules, according to a preliminary analysis released last Tuesday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. (NBC News)

Tax Reform

Senate Democrats Are Pushing to Undo the Payroll Tax Deferral: Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to the Government Accountability Office, requesting that the congressional watchdog determine whether guidance issued by the Treasury Department and the IRS on the payroll tax suspension is deemed a “rule” for the purposes of the Congressional Review Act. (CNBC)

Transportation

Critical Deadlines Loom for Highways, Airlines and Transit: With just weeks left in the legislative year, Congress faces a variety of deadlines by the end of the month, including the extension of current highway and transit law and support for airlines. (Roll Call)

Trade

House Panel Opens Probe of White House Trade Advisor Navarro After Abrupt Cancellation of Ventilator Contract: A House Oversight subcommittee has opened a probe of all federal contracts negotiated by White House trade advisor Peter Navarro after the Trump administration abruptly canceled the bulk of a $646 million ventilator contract with Royal Philips. (CNBC)

Defense/Intelligence

Democrats Explore New Ways to Resurrect Election Security Briefings: Eighteen Democratic lawmakers are calling on House leaders to include language in either a spending bill or the annual reauthorization of intelligence programs that would force the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to reinstate regular election security briefings. Both measures are expected to receive floor votes in September. (The Hill)

Judiciary/Justice

D.C. Circuit Panel Guts House Subpoena Power: A divided federal appeals court panel dealt a severe blow to the U.S. House of Representatives’ investigative power, ruling that the House can’t go to court to enforce subpoenas because there is no statute giving that chamber the authority to do so. (Politico)

Agriculture

USDA is Pursuing ‘Rushed and Flawed’ Reopening Plans, According to House Members: The USDA’s plans to return employees in the Washington, D.C.-area to in-person work has raised the concerns of employees and members of Congress. (Federal Times)

Environment & Interior

Democrats Say New EPA Office Requires Congressional Approval: Two Democratic lawmakers are raising concerns about a recent move by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a Colorado office that deals with issues relating to Western lands such as waste cleanup from mining. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget and Appropriations

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Expects Congress Will Extend Government Funding into December: A developing plan to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month would likely fund federal operations into December, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday. His comments come after the White House and Democrats announced a deal last week to move forward with a “clean” temporary spending bill, which would not attach coronavirus relief provisions to the funding plan. (CNBC)

Trump Calls for Review to Cut Funding to Cities with 'Lawless' Protests: President Trump last Wednesday called for federal government agencies to begin reviewing potential funding cuts to cities having what the president deemed “lawless” protests. (The Hill)

Trump Administration Requests Funds for Agencies Hurt by the Pandemic: In a 23-page “anomalies” document, the Office of Management and Budget last Wednesday requested dozens more adjustments in spending in a continuing resolution that would extend fiscal 2020 spending levels into the next fiscal year. (Roll Call)

U.S. Deficit Triples in 2020 to Highest Percentage of GDP Since WWII: The U.S. government budget deficit will triple this year to $3.3 trillion, soaring to the largest percentage of gross domestic product since 1945, the Congressional Budget Office projected last Wednesday. (Politico)

Health/HHS/NIH

HHS Secretary Insists No Politics at Play in Coronavirus Vaccine Race: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar last Thursday rejected concerns that the Trump administration is rushing the approval of a coronavirus vaccine in the run-up to Election Day, after the CDC directed states to prepare to begin vaccine distribution by Nov. 1. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Economy Adds 1.4 Million Jobs in August, Unemployment Falls to 8.4 Percent: The U.S. added 1.4 million jobs in August, the Labor Department reported last Friday. The unemployment rate also declined to 8.4 percent from 10.2 percent in July, according to the report, falling below 10 percent for the first time since March. (The Hill)

Department of Education

DeVos to Enforce School Testing Mandates Amid Pandemic: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told state school chiefs in a letter that they should not expect the Education Department to again waive federal testing requirements as it did this spring amid sudden school closures. (Politico)

Judge Strikes Down Devos Plan to Boost Pandemic Relief for Private Schools: A federal judge last Friday ruled that Secretary DeVos’ effort to boost the amount of emergency pandemic relief that flows to private school students is illegal and struck down the policy. (Politico)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Trump Moves to Ban Evictions Nationwide Through December: The Trump administration said last Tuesday that it will ban evictions of tenants who are unable to pay rent because of the coronavirus crisis through the end of the year with a broad new order under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health powers. (Politico)

Top Regulator Pushes Ahead with Plan to Reshape Banking, Sparking Clash With States: A federal regulator is moving to offer national charters to companies that provide payments services, escalating a battle with states over whether businesses that don’t take deposits should be given national bank status. (Politico)

Transportation/DOT

Airline Industry Warns it May Not Fully Rebound Until 2024: Airlines for America, which represents the major U.S. airlines, announced that it predicts that demand for air travel won’t fully recover for several more years, and that more federal help will be required to sustain the industry, in addition to the $25 billion made available in the CARES Act. (The Hill)

Infrastructure Starts Plummet 31% in July, Other Sectors Make Small Gains: Updated data from July indicates that tighter credit conditions, challenged state and local government finances and profound levels of economic uncertainty have already begun to negatively impact construction spending. (Construction Dive)

Space/NASA & NOAA

China’s Secretive Space Plane Launches and Lands: The reusable spacecraft launched by China last Friday successfully returned to Earth. Experts on the Chinese space program characterize it as a spacecraft similar to the winged U.S. X-37B that resembles a small space shuttle. (Space Policy Online)

Study Raises New Concerns About Lack of Governing Norms in Space: A new CSIS report looks at three key governance issues: orbital debris mitigation, rendezvous and proximity operations, and insurance requirements, and the present lack of progress in establishing rules and norms of behavior. (Space News)

Half of Carbon Dioxide Emitted by Airplanes Came in Last Two Decades, Research Shows: The new research, published last Thursday in the journal Atmospheric Science, also showed that aircraft emissions account for 3.5% of climate change driven by human activities. (Weather)

Defense/DOD

Trump Says Stars and Stripes Will Stay Funded, After Reports the Pentagon Was Shutting It Down: President Donald Trump committed last Friday to preserving funding for Stars and Stripes, the military's independent newspaper, following reports that the administration was moving to dissolve the publication. (Politico)

Budget Dysfunction Threatens Delays to U.S. Navy’s Columbia Program: The White House is asking Congress to keep budget chaos from upending the Navy’s plans to begin detailed design and construction work on two Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, since barring congressional intervention, the Navy would not have the money or authorization to begin work on the boats the Navy announced in June as part of a planned $10.4 billion contract with General Dynamics Electric Boat. (Defense News)

China Amassing Arsenal of Anti-Satellite Weapons: China is progressing with the development of missiles and electronic weapons that could target satellites in low and high orbits, the Pentagon says in a new report released Sept. 1. (Space News)

DHS & Immigration

DHS Withheld Bulletin Warning of Russian Planned Attack on Biden's Mental Health: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in July withheld an analysis meant for its federal, state and local law enforcement partners that warned Russia would attempt to push “allegations about the poor mental health” of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. (The Hill)

Judiciary/DOJ

DOJ Plans on Filling Antitrust Charges Against Google in September: U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is planning an antitrust case against Google this month, despite career lawyers saying they need more time to build a strong case and worries that Barr is rushing the inquiry on behalf of the Trump administration. (Forbes)

Cyber

Fearing Satellite Hacks and Hijacks, White House Issues Space-Security Directive to Industry: The threat of malicious cyber activity against space communications, whether targeted at satellites or the ground software and hardware, is among the most severe threats facing U.S. space assets, which lead to the new cybersecurity directive from White House last week. (Defense One)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Allows School Districts to Resume Serving Free Grab-And-Go Meals Through 2020: After pressure from lawmakers and districts, the USDA announced last Monday that it is extending the federal waivers that allow schools to offer free grab-and-go meals to any student, regardless of eligibility. (EdSource)

EPA & DOI

Interior Watchdog Says Top Officials Misled Congress on Bureau of Land Management Relocation Out West: A report last Tuesday from Interior’s Office of Inspector General found that two officials overplayed the cost of BLM’s M Street SE lease near Nationals Park as a motivating factor in the move, as the agency already had plans underway to return to office space owned by the government. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

NuScale’s Small Nuclear Reactor is First to Get US Safety Approval: Last week, the first small modular reactor received a design certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, meaning that it meets safety requirements and could be chosen by future projects seeking licensing and approval. The design comes from NuScale, a company birthed from research at Oregon State University that has received some substantial Department of Energy funding. (Ars Technica)