Window on Washington – August 30, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 35
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The House and Senate are both in recess this week. House and Senate committees will hold markups and hearings over the next several weeks before members return for floor votes. The Senate returns September 13, and the House returns September 20. Congress has a long list of items to work through once they return, including raising or suspending the debt limit, avoiding a government shutdown before the fiscal year ends on September 30, addressing the Supreme Court’s lifting of the CDC eviction moratorium, and drafting the reconciliation package. Additionally, as part of a deal among House Democrats to pass the budget resolution, the House has until September 27 to vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure package.
Reconciliation Package. Committees have a deadline of September 15 to draft their respective parts of the budget reconciliation package. While the budget resolution allows for up to $3.5 trillion in spending, some Democrats have already expressed they will not vote for a package that size. Democratic leaders aim to pass the reconciliation package before the end of September, but it remains to be seen what the final bill will look like and when it will ultimately pass.
Punchbowl News reported last week that House Committees could begin work this week and will continue through September 14. It is anticipated that Senate Democrats will bypass the standard Committee process and intentionally miss the September 15 deadline. That will enable Senate Majority Leader Schumer to assemble Democratic Caucus priorities behind closed doors and take the Senate Reconciliation bill straight to the House floor. Last week Speaker Pelosi acknowledged for the first time publicly that the two chambers are coordinating the content of the massive spending and tax bill to avoid the House passing a measure that had provisions which the 50-50 Senate would not approve. (Roll Call)
FY22 Defense Authorization. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will hold its full committee markup of the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday. The HASC version of the FY22 NDAA authorizes just under $716 billion for the Pentagon, which is $1.2 billion above President Joe Biden’s budget request but lower than the Senate Armed Services Committee’s authorization of $740.3 billion for the Pentagon. There is bipartisan support among HASC members to increase the topline by nearly $25 billion, and while HASC Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) backs the administration’s lower request, he has conceded that there are likely enough Republican and Democratic votes to increase the overall funding level. When accounting for the other defense programs authorized through the NDAA, the draft HASC chairman’s mark authorizes $744.2 billion, and the Senate mark authorizes $777.9 billion. The Senate Armed Services Committee completed its consideration of the NDAA before the August recess, and a conference committee will reconcile the two versions of the bill later this fall.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
House Democrats Clear Path Toward Passing $3.5 Trillion Budget Bill and Infrastructure Plan After Breaking Stalemate: In a 220-212 party-line vote last week, the House passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution and teed up a vote for the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. The vote allows Democrats to write and approve a massive spending package without Republicans and puts the Senate-passed infrastructure plan on a path to final passage in the House. (CNBC)
Controversial Crypto Rules Remain in Infrastructure Bill After House Vote: The cryptocurrency community rallied to fix the language, but the House voted to proceed with the bill as is last Tuesday, moving forward without any new amendments or opportunities to change it. (The Verge)
Congress May Change How Tax Preparers Are Regulated: The bill, called the Taxpayer Protection and Preparer Proficiency Act, was reintroduced in June by Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Tom Rice (R-SC). (CNBC)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Moran Says Two Shots to Increase NASA Funding This Year: A key Republican senator who serves on the Appropriations and Commerce Committees said during a speech at the annual Space Symposium he will work to fund NASA priorities like its Artemis lunar exploration program through both the conventional appropriations process as well as a multi-trillion-dollar budget reconciliation package. (Space News)
GOP Will Use Defense Bill to Highlight Afghanistan Chaos: A group of House GOP party leaders and veterans of the Afghanistan war last Tuesday hammered President Joe Biden’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal and said they’d use this week’s House Armed Services Committee markup of defense authorization legislation to keep up the pressure. (Roll Call)
House Passes John Lewis Voting Rights Bill That’s Set to Stall in Senate: It is unlikely to advance further in the Senate, where the legislative filibuster remains intact despite a progressive push for changes that would weaken the chamber’s supermajority requirement to pass most bills. (Politico)
Environment & Interior
Schumer Says Infrastructure Bills Would Curb Emissions 45 Percent: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) argued last Wednesday the dual infrastructure bills envisioned by Democrats would cumulatively curb greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030, short of President Joe Biden’s plan to slash them by 50 percent in that timeframe. However, the New York Democrat said the congressional action — taken in conjunction with administrative actions by the Biden administration and state efforts to combat climate change — would hit Biden’s target. He cautioned the numbers would change and be updated as new policies are crafted and incorporated. (Politico)
FDA Sees Growing Pressure to Authorize Vaccines for Children Under 12: Pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is shifting to vaccine authorization for children under 12, now that the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved for adults. With children going back to school and the delta variant raging, some experts and lawmakers are calling for the agency to act with more urgency and to clarify its timeline for authorizing a COVID-19 vaccine for children, given that none is currently available for those under 12. (The Hill)
Holes in Reporting of Breakthrough Covid Cases Hamper CDC Response: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using outdated and unreliable data on coronavirus breakthrough infections to help make major decisions, such as who gets booster shots, according to three officials with direct knowledge of the situation. The agency originally tried to track all infections in vaccinated people, from mild to severe. But in May it decided to focus on the most severe cases, saying that would allow it to better monitor overall conditions and make more informed, targeted policy decisions. (Politico)
Banking & Housing/HUD
Supreme Court Throws Out Biden Administration Eviction Moratorium: The Supreme Court last Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s Covid-related eviction moratorium. “Congress was on notice that a further extension would almost surely require new legislation, yet it failed to act in the several weeks leading up to the moratorium’s expiration,” the court wrote in an unsigned, eight-page opinion. (CNN)
Rental Aid Holdup Threatens Eviction Catastrophe: The Treasury Department said last Wednesday that state and local governments had disbursed just over 10 percent of federal rental assistance funds as of the end of July. (Politico)
SEC Ups Disclosure Requirements for Chinese Companies Seeking U.S. IPOs: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reportedly started releasing new disclosure requirements for Chinese companies that want to list in New York, part of an effort to increase awareness among investors of risks that exist. (The Hill)
SEC Reportedly Contracts Blockchain Analytics Firm to Monitor DeFi Industry: An AnChain.AI company spokesperson confirmed the agreement with the federal regulator, saying the SEC and blockchain firm had the option to sign up to five separate 1-year contracts for $125,000 each, or $625,000 total. (Coin Telegraph)
FAA Launches Review After Boeing Employees Report Interference on Safety Matters: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is launching a review into aircraft company Boeing after employees reported that it interfered in safety matters. In a letter to the company dated Aug. 19, the FAA said it was looking into complaints lodged from the company’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) unit. (The Hill)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Parikh Says Harris Ready to Engage on Space Issues: Chirag Parikh, the newly appointed Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council, said last week that Vice President Kamala Harris is energized about the space program, and they have had several meetings already about the issues the Space Council must tackle. He also stated that the Biden administration plans to revise both the charter and the membership of the National Space Council’s advisory group to better reflect its priorities. (Space Policy Online)
A Bad Solar Storm Could Cause an “Internet Apocalypse”: Recent new studies show the impact a large solar emission could have on internet infrastructure specifically. New research shows that the failures could be catastrophic, particularly for the undersea cables that underpin the global Internet. (Ars Technica)
U.S. Navy Tests Second-Stage Rocket Motor for Hypersonic Weapon: The event is another step toward the fielding of a Navy and Army co-designed common hypersonic missile. The Navy and Army will each take the missile’s glide body and tailor it for sea-launched and ground-launched use. (Defense News)
DHS & Immigration
Pandemic Has TSA Developing Tech that Detects Threats while Reducing Physical Contact: The Transportation Security Administration is taking advantage of reduced travel during the pandemic to accelerate deployment of technologies that increase airport security while reducing physical contact that could spread disease. Travel remains down 20% compared to pre-pandemic levels, which made it easier for TSA to upgrade its computed tomography (CT), advanced imaging technology (AIT), and credential authentication technology (CAT) systems without disrupting travelers. (FedScoop)
Federal Agencies to Expand Use of Facial Recognition: Ten federal agencies plan on expanding the use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) by 2023, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last Tuesday. The ten agencies cited in the GAO report are the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs. (Axios)
Supreme Court Orders ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy Reinstated: The Supreme Court last Tuesday said the Biden administration likely violated federal law in trying to end a Trump-era program that forces people to wait in Mexico while seeking asylum in the U.S. (AP)
White House Rallies Private Industry in Cyber Battle: A meeting between President Biden and more than two dozen key leaders from a variety of industries last week has increased momentum for plans to quickly address rising cyber threats that target critical economic sectors. (The Hill)
Another Cyber Executive Order Deadline Looming for Federal Agencies: The Office of Management and Budget is giving agencies 60 days to assess how well they log cybersecurity incident data against a new maturity model released today. As part of that review, agencies must also identify gaps, develop plans to mitigate those problems and submit cost estimates to OMB’s Resource Management Office (RMO) and Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer (OFCIO). (Federal News Network)
70% of Cyber Pros Believe Cyber Insurance is Exacerbating Ransomware: More than two-thirds of cybersecurity professionals believe that the issue of ransomware is being exacerbated by cyber-insurance payouts to victim organizations, according to a new study by cybersecurity firm Talion, which also unveiled some worrying findings about reporting ransomware attacks to law enforcement. (Info Security Magazine)
DOJ Forgoes Appeal of Order Blocking Money for Minority Farmers: The Biden administration faced a deadline last Monday to appeal the first of three preliminary injunctions that federal judges have issued against provisions in a March coronavirus aid bill that created a $4 billion program aimed at forgiving the debts of minority farmers. While the Justice Department has filed appeals within hours to defend the administration’s high-profile priorities in areas like immigration, this time federal government lawyers let the 60-day appeal period run — and then run out. (Politico)
EPA & DOI
Interior to Move Forward with Lease Sales After Pause: The Interior Department announced last Tuesday evening it will resume sales of oil and gas leases after a court-ordered preliminary hold on the Biden administration’s leasing moratorium. While the administration appeals, Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) will submit a decision by the end of this month on a specific offshore lease sale that was canceled in February, several months before a court issued a hold on the leasing freeze, the department said. (The Hill)
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Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Update
H.R. 2116, Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2022, is currently referred to the Senate after having passed the House of Representatives. Among other things, if passed, this Act would prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of the individual’s hair texture or hairstyle, if the texture or style is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.