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Window On Washington - August 24, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 34

August 24, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are not in session this week, though the House Oversight and Reform Committee is scheduled to question Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan at a hearing today. The hearing comes after the House of Representatives passed a $25 billion bill on Saturday to aid the Postal Service. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has previously said that a stand-alone Postal Service bill is not likely to pass the Senate. The White House has also issued a veto threat.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Senate Republican leaders are preparing a scaled-back coronavirus relief package, which would turn a prior $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service into a grant. It also includes liability protections, $300 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits, $158 billion for the PPP, $105 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund, $29 billion for COVID-19 vaccine and drug development and distribution, and $16 billion for testing and contact tracing. There are reports that the Senate might attach a Continuing Resolution to the "skinny" package to fund the government past the September 30 deadline. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) haven’t had an in-person meeting with the Trump administration’s lead negotiators Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows since Aug. 7, though Speaker Pelosi continues to indicate she’s willing to meet halfway.

2020 Elections. Former Vice President Joe Biden accepted the Democratic nomination for president last Thursday, a day after Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) accepted the party’s nomination for vice president. The Republican National Convention will be held today through Thursday, with President Donald Trump expected to speak each night. Other headlining speakers include first lady Melania Trump, Trump’s children Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Tiffany, Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Joni Ernst (R-IA).

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital


Budget & Appropriations

House Passes $25B Bill to Boost Postal Service: The House in a rare Saturday vote passed legislation that would reverse the U.S. Postal Service’s operational changes made since the beginning of the year, prevent further changes from being implemented, and provide $25 billion to support the Postal Service’s operations and services. The bill passed largely along party lines, 257-150, with 26 Republicans supporting it. (The Hill)


Lawmakers Ask Pelosi, McConnell to Diversify Coronavirus Relief Oversight Panel: A bipartisan group of 20 House lawmakers are calling on congressional leaders to improve the diversity of a coronavirus relief oversight panel to address the recession’s unique toll on minorities and women. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Senate GOP ‘Skinny’ Virus Plan Funds Education, Unemployment Aid: The “skinny” plan, which has not yet been formally released by Republicans, would provide $300 a week in unemployment benefits, but it doesn’t include the $1,200 checks included in the HEALS Act. (Bloomberg Government)


Senate Democrats Push HHS to Tally College Coronavirus Outbreaks: A group of Democratic senators is urging the Trump administration to create national reporting standards for coronavirus outbreaks on college campuses. (Politico)

Banking & Housing

Former Fed Officials Call on Senate to Reject Trump Nominee Shelton: Dozens of former Federal Reserve officials are urging senators to reject President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judy Shelton to a seat on the central bank’s board, arguing that her record suggests she would take a partisan approach to policymaking. (Politico)


Highway Bill Stuck in Limbo Amid Negotiations: Less than two months before the country’s current highway policy law expires, congressional leaders and the White House are plodding through negotiations on a new highway bill. Like the Senate, the House did not adopt a fix for the Highway Trust Fund’s looming insolvency, which is currently funded only by a fuel tax. (Transport Topics News)

House Dems Call for Airlines to Adopt Uniform Coronavirus Policies: Thirty House Democrats last Thursday called on U.S.-based airlines to work together to establish an industrywide set of policies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (The Hill)


NAPA Endorses Office of Space Commerce for Space Traffic Management Role: Congress is not convinced on who should be in charge of Space Traffic Management for non-DOD assets and has been leery of creating another large bureaucracy.  Last year the Senate Appropriations Committee asked NAPA to take an independent look at the various alternatives, which were publicly released last week, endorsing an expanded Office of Space Commerce rather than other federal agencies that had been considered for the role. (Space Policy Online)


Congressman Calls for Public Hearings on Military Training Accidents: The deaths of 10 military services members last year has led Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL) to call for a public hearing on the frequency of military training accidents. (Herald-Tribune)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Tensions Flare as Senators Grill Postmaster General: DeJoy testified last Friday before the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. (The Hill)

Potential Furloughs Loom Again for 13,400 Federal Immigration Employees: The fee-funded Homeland Security agency has said it could begin the furloughs on Aug. 30 because of a projected budget shortfall. But in a letter Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) sent last Tuesday to the agency, he noted that USCIS recently projected it had enough funding to pay all of its staff through the end of the current fiscal year and still have “a sizeable” balance to start the new year. (Roll Call)


Over 50 Current, Former Law Enforcement Professionals Sign Letter Urging Congress to Decriminalize Marijuana: The letter, which went out last Wednesday and is addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), calls on House lawmakers to “swiftly bring” the bill, dubbed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, to the floor for a vote next month. (The Hill)


Top Senate Intel Democrat Worried Americans May 'Unwittingly' Promote Russian Disinformation Campaign: Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday he is worried that Americans may “unwittingly” be promoting a Russian disinformation campaign designed to interfere with the 2020 presidential election and that he wants the U.S. intelligence community to release more information about how Russia is trying to intrude in the election so the American people can be more aware. (The Hill)


Lawmakers Call on USDA to Clarify New Funding Initiative: Last Thursday dozens of lawmakers called for full transparency about the grants awarded under the USDA’s Centers of Community Prosperity (CPP) initiative given concerns that the initiative is diverting funds and attention from the 2501 program, which provides funding for socially disadvantaged farmers. (Clark Hill Insight)

Chairman Roberts Leads Letter to Urge Flexibility for School Meals: U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, last Monday sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to urge the Department to continue providing flexibilities to schools and sponsoring organizations for school meals and child nutrition. (Senate Agriculture Committee Press Release)


Barrasso, Enzi Hold Field Hearing in Wyoming Coal Country on Accelerating Carbon Capture: The hearing focused on research and efforts to develop a commercially viable method to eventually capture all carbon emissions coming from coal-fired power plants, which has become an area of significant research and investment in Wyoming. (Casper Star Tribune)


Budget and Appropriations

White House Threatens Veto of Democrats' Postal Service Bill: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement last Friday that the Trump administration “strongly opposes” the bill and that President Trump’s advisers would recommend he veto it should it reach his desk. (The Hill)

White House Shifts More Budget Authority to Political Appointees: Under a recent change made by the OMB, senior political appointees must now give their signature on any actions to disburse, limit or halt the flow of congressionally appropriated funds. High-ranking career officials have traditionally held that authority. (Politico)


Birx Stokes Hopes That Key Hospital Data Tracking Will Soon Return to CDC: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working "to build a revolutionary new data system" for COVID-19 hospital data collection that the CDC will run upon completion, according to Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. (NPR)

FDA to Authorize Plasma Treatment Over Scientists' Objections: President Trump, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn last night announced the Food and Drug Administration will issue an emergency authorization for blood plasma as a coronavirus treatment. The agency held off on the decision over concerns from government scientists that evidence for the treatment's effectiveness is thin — prompting President Donald Trump to accuse the FDA of slow-walking the therapy to harm his reelection chances. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Unemployment Claims Jump Back Over 1M: The number of workers applying for unemployment benefits jumped to 1.1 million last week, the Labor Department reported last Thursday, the first time in two weeks that new claims have gone up. (Politico)

11 States Approved to Offer Extra $300 Weekly Unemployment Benefits: The federal government has approved funding for 11 states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah — to offer the $300 supplement to jobless benefits, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is overseeing the assistance. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Secretary DeVos Fully Implements President Trump's Presidential Memorandum Extending Student Loan Relief to Borrowers Through End of Year: Acting on President Donald J. Trump's Presidential Memorandum signed August 8, 2020, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today directed Federal Student Aid (FSA) to extend the student loan relief to borrowers initiated by the President and Secretary in March 2020 through December 31, 2020. (Department of Education Press Release)

Department of Education Considering Rule Changes for CARES Act Grants: The Education Department is “actively considering” making changes to its rule that restricts emergency pandemic assistance only to college students who qualify for federal financial aid, the Trump administration disclosed in a court filing on Thursday. (Clark Hill Insight)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac CEOs Address Industry on Refinance Fee Grievances: In a combined letter last Thursday, Fannie Mae CEO Hugh Frater and Freddie Mac CEO David Brickman addressed industry criticisms following the GSEs’ announcement last week of an additional 50 basis point fee on refinances starting Sept. 1. (HousingWire)

HUD to Extend Foreclosure Ban Protecting 8.1 Million People Until 2021: The Department of Housing and Urban Development will extend a ban on evictions and foreclosures for homes backed by the Federal Housing Administration through the end of the year, administration officials told POLITICO. (Politico)

Fed Has Used Only a Fraction of Main Street Lending Facility: Eligible lenders participating in the Main Street program have issued $496.8 million in loans, of which $472 million is Federal Reserve money, or about 0.07% of the central bank’s lending capacity as of last Wednesday, according to the report issued this past Friday. (The Washington Post)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS Will Send Interest Payments on Tax Refunds to 14 Million Taxpayers: About 13.9 million individual U.S. taxpayers who filed their 2019 taxes by July 15 are set to receive interest payments on their refunds, the IRS said last Tuesday. (The Hill)


FAA to Test and Evaluate Unmanned Aircraft Detection & Mitigation Equipment at Airports: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced last Friday that it plans to evaluate technologies and systems that could detect and mitigate potential safety risks posed by unmanned aircraft. The effort will be part of the agency’s Airport Unmanned Aircraft Systems Detection and Mitigation Research Program. (FAA Press Release)


Trump Says He Postponed Trade Talks with China: Representatives from the United States and China had been scheduled to discuss implementation of their so-called Phase 1 trade deal on Saturday, but those talks were canceled. (Reuters)

US Trade Deal with EU a Boon for Lobster Industry Struggling Under China Tariffs: The White House and the European Union struck a deal last Friday that will eliminate European Union tariffs on American lobster. (The Hill)


White House Memo Adds Low Earth Orbit Research as R&D Priority: New language on development of low earth orbit capabilities in the annual White House/OSTP directive on federal R&D priorities is the latest evidence of the growing emphasis on the development of commercial facilities that can eventually succeed the International Space Station. (Space News)

Blue Origin-Led 'National Team' Delivers Mock-up Moon Lander to NASA for Tests: In late April, NASA announced that it had awarded funding to three commercial groups — SpaceX, Dynetics and the Blue Origin-led "National Team" — to develop human landing systems for the agency's Artemis lunar exploration program. The Blue Origin team has now delivered a full mock-up of their system, including the ascent and descent elements for NASA feedback. (


Pentagon’s Acquisition Chief Wants Microelectronics Production to Return to the US: Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, said on a webinar recently that her office is taking a look at how to entice companies to bring microelectronic production and testing work back to the United States, where the Defense Department can more easily verify the security and reliability of the hardware. (C4ISR Net)

Pentagon’s New Space Organizations Take Shape as Leadership Comes Onboard: The last week has been an eventful one for the Space Force and Space Command, with both swearing in a number of senior officials that will shape the direction of the organizations. (Defense News)

Esper Eyes $2.2 Billion Cut to Military Health Care System: The proposed cut to the military health system over the next five years is part of a sweeping effort the Secretary of Defense initiated last year to eliminate inefficiencies within the Pentagon’s coffers, but concerns are rising that such the cuts to the system will imperil the health care of millions of military personnel and their families as the nation grapples with COVID-19. (Politico)

DHS & Immigration

Acting DHS Chief Says He Has No Authority to Send Agents to Polling Stations After Trump Comments: Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said yesterday that DHS has no authority to send federal agents to oversee polling locations in November, despite President Trump's vow to have a federal law enforcement presence at the polls on Election Day. (The Hill)


U.S. Judge Blocks Trump Rule on LGBT Health Discrimination: New York-based U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block ruled that the proposed regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services could not go into effect last Tuesday as planned. (Reuters)

Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Obamacare on Nov. 10, A Week After Election Day: The Supreme Court announced last Wednesday that it will hear arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of the landmark health care legislation known as Obamacare on Nov. 10, one week after Election Day. (CNBC)


CISA Infrastructure Chief Brian Harrell Resigns: Brian Harrell, Assistant Director for Infrastructure Protection at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is resigning from his post. Harrell announced his departure to agency employees last Thursday, saying he was returning to the private sector. (FCW)

Biden Prepping to Ramp Up U.S. Cyber Defenses — While Keeping Some Trump Policies: Former cybersecurity officials familiar with the Democratic nominee’s planning predict a more stable, focused “evolution” of the president's approach, not the total break that other policy areas would see. (Politico)


USDA Tightens Farm Program Eligibility Rules: The Agriculture Department is making changes to eligibility rules for commodity programs that could make it more challenging for some family members involved in farm operations to qualify for government payments. (Agri-Pulse)


Trump Administration Moves Closer to Allowing Oil Drilling in Arctic Refuge: The Trump administration is pushing ahead with plans to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The first leases to drill for oil and gas in the area could be sold by the end of 2020, Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt said as his agency formally announced its leasing program last Monday. (NPR)

Trump Set to Duck No-Win Ethanol Decision Until After Election: The Trump administration appears set to postpone politically fraught decisions on ethanol until after the November election to avoid a backlash from the feuding agriculture and petroleum sectors, according to several people in both industries who have been in contact with the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency. (Politico)

Trump to Withdraw Controversial Public Lands Nominee: President Trump will withdraw William Perry Pendley’s nomination to lead the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, a White House official confirmed to The Hill. (The Hill)


Kellyanne Conway Leaving White House: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, one of President Donald Trump’s longest-serving aides, announced late last night that she would leave the administration at the end of August. Her husband, George Conway III also announced that he was withdrawing from the Lincoln Project, an organization currently focused on preventing President Trump’s reelection. (Politico)

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