Window On Washington - April 26, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 17
Congress. The Senate is in session this week, and the House is out of session until May 10. House Republicans are headed to Orlando, FL this week for their annual issues retreat, which will include numerous speakers, though former President Donald Trump has not been invited. Meanwhile, the Senate is set to vote on numerous nominees as well as on Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) “Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021,” which earned a unanimous vote last month in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Additionally, there are a handful of committee hearings this week, including a hearing from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on Wednesday on the COVID response and one from House Science, Space, and Technology (SST) on National Science Foundation research. On Thursday, the hearings include ones from the House Education and Labor and House Small Business Committees on Building Back Better and from House Ways and Means on the future of telehealth. On Thursday, House SST will hold a hearing on Mars Perseverance Rover’s science data, and House Ways and Means has a hearing on economic competitiveness through infrastructure investments.
FY22 Budget and Appropriations. Senate Republicans met last week to discuss their rules around earmarks, otherwise known as “community project funding,” for the FY22 cycle. They ultimately decided to keep the “ban” in place for their members, but their rules will allow for Republican Senators to make earmark requests if they choose to do so, and there will not be any consequences from the Republican Conference. Both House and Senate Democrats, as well as House Republicans, have agreed to bring back the practice with some modifications; however, it is ultimately up to the member to decide whether they will participate or not.
Separately, the House Appropriations Committee will hold hearings this week on Coast Guard readiness, violent extremism and domestic terrorism, and the FY22 budget requests for the Depart of Labor, the U.S. Navy, and the Marine Corps. The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold hearings on the VA’s telehealth program, diversifying on-farm income, addressing health disparities in Indian County, and the FY22 budget requests for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office.
Infrastructure Package. White House officials are still working on the American Families Plan, which is the second part of the infrastructure package. The package could amount to at least $1 trillion in new spending and $500 billion in new tax credits focused on fighting poverty, reducing child care costs, establishing a national paid leave program, and making prekindergarten and community college free to all. President Joe Biden plans to outline the proposal in his address to Congress this week.
Biden Administration. President Biden will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday- the night before his 100th day in office. He will likely discuss his Administration’s efforts to fight the pandemic and detail what is next on the Administration’s agenda. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) will deliver the GOP response, and the Working Families Party, a progressive group, has decided to deliver a formal response as well. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) will deliver the response and has indicated it is not intended to be critical of President Biden. On Thursday, President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Atlanta to mark his 100th day in office.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
Senate GOP Conference Upholds Earmarks ‘Ban’: Senate Republicans last Wednesday stuck with their conference’s internal earmark ban, but that won’t prevent those who want funding for home-state projects from requesting it. The earmark prohibition — which GOP senators voted to make “permanent” in their rules two years ago — isn’t binding, meaning any Republican who wants to request earmarks likely won’t face repercussions for doing so. (Roll Call)
Senate Panel Split on Brooks-LaSure Nomination After Biden Pulls Texas Medicaid Waiver: The Senate Finance Committee split upon party lines in a vote last Thursday on the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the powerful agency overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, voting 14-14 to move to a full Senate vote without a recommendation for confirmation. The split Committee vote will slow the confirmation process but not stop it. (Healthcare Dive)
Labor & Workforce
Lawmakers Push PPP Revamp as Funding Lapse Looms: A bipartisan group of senators last Tuesday unveiled plans to offer more emergency pandemic relief to the country’s tiniest employers, a last-minute revamp of Washington’s nearly $1 trillion small business rescue that is close to exhausting its funding. It was not immediately clear how quickly the legislation would move ahead. (Politico)
Banking & Housing
Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez Unveil Sweeping Public Housing Plan in Rebuke to White House: The climate-focused “Green New Deal for Public Housing Act,” co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would spend up to $172 billion on public housing over 10 years. (Politico)
U.S. House of Representatives Approves Cannabis Banking Bill: The U.S. House of Representatives last Monday passed legislation that would allow banks to provide services to cannabis companies in states where it is legal, a step towards removing what analysts say is a barrier to development of a national industry. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated he would like to see such a bill move forward, even if President Biden is not supportive of it. (Reuters)
Senate Democrats Ask Regulators to Look into Driver-Assist Systems After Deadly Tesla Crash: Two key Senate Democrats wrote to a pair of federal agencies last week urging them to come up with recommendations for improving self-driving automobile software following a fatal crash involving a Tesla in Texas. (The Hill)
Senate Republicans Outline Their Own Infrastructure Plan: The proposed GOP package focused on transportation, broadband, and water systems would cost $568 billion, only a fraction of President Biden’s more than $2 trillion package. It also would not address policies such as care for elderly and disabled people, which Biden included in his plan. (CNBC)
Problem Solvers Caucus Outlines Alternative Infrastructure Proposal: Last Friday, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus released their proposed framework for an infrastructure package, though they did not put a price tag on it. (Problem Solvers Caucus)
Senators Request ITAR Control of Commercial Firearms: Three Democratic Senators sent a letter to President Biden last Monday requesting executive action to reverse a Trump-era transfer of export control jurisdiction over commercial semi-automatic firearms to the Department of Commerce and requesting return of such items to the export control jurisdiction of the Department of State. (Senate Foreign Relations Committee)
Bipartisan Group of 40 Senators Call for USTR to Reopen 301 Exclusion Process: Last Wednesday, a group of 40 Senators led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE) sent a letter to the United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai requesting that USTR reopen the process for requesting exclusions from the Section 301 tariffs against China. Highlighting the need for certainty and predictability in global supply chains, the Senators also acknowledged their support for the Administration’s challenge to China’s unfair trade practice, so long as it does not come at the expense of domestic manufacturers and small businesses. The Senators’ letter comes just a week before Ambassador Tai is expected to testify before the Senate Appropriation Committee on USTR’s FY2022 budget. (Clark Hill Insight)
Lawmakers Briefed on Directed-Energy Attacks on US Troops: The Pentagon has reportedly briefed top lawmakers that Russia likely carried out a series of suspected directed-energy attacks against U.S. troops, including this past Fall in Syria. (The Hill)
Homeland Security & Immigration
Lawmakers Propose Bipartisan Bill to Address Border Influx: A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled legislation last Thursday to address the recent influx of migration to the U.S.-Mexico border by ramping up staffing at immigration agencies and streamlining immigration court proceedings. (Roll Call)
Senators Introduce Bill to Protect Critical Infrastructure Against Cyber Attacks: Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) last Friday introduced legislation intended to protect critical infrastructure from cyberattacks and other national security threats. The National Risk Management Act would require the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to conduct a five-year national risk management cycle. (The Hill)
Senate Ag Moves Stabenow-Braun Climate Bill: The Senate Agriculture Committee has cleared the way for floor consideration of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would help farmers, ranchers, and foresters take part in voluntary carbon markets. The bill, S. 1251, passed the committee by voice vote last Thursday without opposition. Notably, it now has 42 co-sponsors, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. (Agri-Pulse)
Budget & Appropriations
White House Readies Another Massive Spending Proposal: The White House is readying another massive spending proposal that would cover child care, universal pre-K and community college tuition, even as the path forward on its $2.3 trillion infrastructure package remains unclear. The White House has not provided details on the plan, but it is expected to address so-called human infrastructure like child care and family care programs, with a price tag that could hit $1 trillion. (The Hill)
FDA, CDC Lift Pause on J&J COVID Vaccinations: The United States will resume use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced last Friday, following an 11-day pause. The joint announcement came after a CDC advisory committee voted to recommend lifting the pause but advised adding a warning about the increased risk of very rare but severe blood clots. (CNBC)
Labor & Workforce
Weekly Jobless Claims Hit New Pandemic Low of 547,000: Initial jobless claims for the week ending April 17 fell to a seasonally adjusted 547,000, a 39,000 drop from the previous week and the lowest level since pandemic lockdowns began last March. However, the weekly figure is still over double the pre-pandemic level. (The Hill)
Department of Education
How Biden’s Infrastructure Plan May Fracture the Nation’s Colleges: Education groups are hoping Biden won’t make them choose between proposals for free college and those that boost financial aid, because they’re convinced Congress can’t stomach the price tag of doing both. (Politico)
Banking & Housing/HUD
HUD Scraps Trump Proposal on Transgender Access to Single-Sex Homeless Shelters: The Department of Housing and Urban Development is withdrawing a Trump-era proposed rule giving federally funded single-sex homeless shelters the choice to house only people whose biological sex, rather than gender identity, matches the sex of the shelter. (Politico)
Secretary Pete Buttigieg Unveils New Alternative Fuel Corridor Designations: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a new round of Alternative Fuel Corridor designations as part of the Biden administration’s push to advance electric vehicle charging infrastructure. (Transport Topics News)
Switzerland, Taiwan, and Vietnam Exceed U.S. Thresholds for Currency Manipulation: On April 16, 2021, in a report to Congress, the Department of the Treasury listed Switzerland, Taiwan, and Vietnam as having exceeded the U.S. thresholds for currency manipulation; however, Treasury did not identify them as currency manipulators in the report. Treasury intends to conduct enhanced engagement with the countries in the form of urging the development of a plan with specific actions to address the underlying causes of currency undervaluation and external imbalances. (Department of Treasury)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Biden Taps Rick Spinrad to Lead NOAA: The agency has not had a permanent head since Kathy Sullivan left at the end of the Obama Administration. Last Thursday, however, Biden nominated oceanographer Rick Spinrad, a former NOAA Chief Scientist now at Oregon State University, for the role. (Space Policy Online)
NASA and the New Urgency of Climate Change: The widespread expectation in the Earth sciences field is that the proposed 12.5% funding increase for Earth Sciences will allow NASA to speed up development of missions recommended by the Earth sciences decadal survey published more than three years ago. (Space News)
NASA’s Bold Bet on Starship for the Moon May Change Spaceflight Forever: By betting on Starship, which entails a host of development risks, NASA is taking a chance on what would be a much brighter future. One in which not a handful of astronauts go to the Moon or Mars, but dozens and then hundreds. (Ars Technica)
US Army Picks 6 Companies to Tackle How to Power Electric Combat Vehicles in the Field: The effort will support the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) modernization effort and the Ground Vehicles Systems Center as the service tackles how to power a future fleet of roughly 225,000 electric vehicles while operating in a field where infrastructure for such capability would likely not exist. (Defense News)
NSCAI Recommends $40 Billion Investment in Artificial Intelligence, R&D and Innovation: The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has made new recommendations to the President and Congress “to advance the development of artificial intelligence [AI], machine learning, and associated technologies … to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States.” (JD Supra)
DHS & Immigration
Texas Wants Migrant Kids Expelled or Detained in New Suit: The new lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenges the administration’s decision to exempt unaccompanied children from a public health directive called Title 42. (Roll Call)
Justice Department Opens Broad Probe of Minneapolis Police: The move, made public one day after a jury in Minneapolis found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the murder of George Floyd last year, appears to signal a return by the Biden administration to more aggressive and frequent use of such probes aimed at rooting out systemic civil rights abuses in police departments. (Politico)
Federal Mobility Working Group’s Timely Framework for 5G Testing, Security: The Federal Mobility Working Group is trying to stop the horse from leaving the barn when it comes to 5G. It released a framework to standardize the testing of 5G devices, set a security baseline, and provide uses cases. (Federal News Network)
Biden Administration Extends Universal Free School Lunch Through 2022: The Biden administration on Tuesday issued an extension for free school lunch through 2022 as part of its effort to reopen schools safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. (The Hill)
EPA & DOI
Brenda Mallory to Take Environmental Policy in a New Direction: Brenda Mallory’s supporters say her decades of environmental law experience qualify her as the best choice to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (Roll Call)
Department of Energy
Granholm Announces Goal to Make Hydrogen Power, EV Batteries More Affordable: The Energy Secretary said that she wants to reduce the price of hydrogen energy by 80 percent before 2030 and said this would make it “competitive with natural gas.” She also aims to cut battery cell prices in half in order to make electric vehicles more affordable. (The Hill)
DOE Picks May Sway Biden on Climate, Environmental Justice: President Biden’s recent picks for two leadership roles at the Department of Energy may put top voices on environmental justice into the driver’s seat for advancing the president’s climate agenda. Biden tapped Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a professor of soil geochemistry at the University of California and nominated Shalanda Baker of Northeastern University as director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. (E&E News)
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