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Window On Washington - December 14, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 50

December 13, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is in session this week, but the House is adjourned until at least tomorrow pending negotiations on the FY21 bills and the next coronavirus relief package. Tomorrow, the Senate Armed Services will hold a hearing on the Department of Defense’s Cyber Operations, and on Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on pending nominations. The Senate will also continue to vote on judicial nominations this week.

FY21 Appropriations. With the second continuing resolution signed into law through December 18, Congressional aides involved in negotiations say appropriators are continuing to make progress on the twelve government funding bills. However, the prospect of attaching a large coronavirus relief spending bill to the spending package seems less certain given the on-going disagreements between the two parties. Leadership and appropriators are considering inserting smaller coronavirus provisions into the omnibus, but it remains unclear what that would include.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. Lawmakers have been in talks for weeks about the next package but have struggled to come to an agreement due to two main issues — providing state and local aid and including liability protections for coronavirus-related lawsuits. However, a bipartisan group of senators continued to work on their $908 billion proposal this past weekend, and they plan to release two pieces of bill text today: a $748 billion bill that includes everything from their proposal apart from state and local aid and liability protections and a separate $160 billion bill that only includes state and local funding and liability protections.  Meanwhile, Congressional leaders are also continuing their negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Biden Transition. While all states have already certified their election results, each state’s electors will meet today to cast their votes that will formalize the results through a certification process. Separately, President-elect Joe Biden continues to roll out his nominees, though he has yet to announce his picks for a handful of positions, including Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Energy, and Secretary of Education. The National Journal also updated their deck with an overview of President-elect Biden’s nominees announced so far and his potential “shortlist” for the remaining cabinet positions.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital


Budget & Appropriations

Bipartisan Group Strikes Deal on Coronavirus Relief Package: The group of Senate and House lawmakers negotiating a $908 billion COVID-19 relief package has reached agreement on business liability waivers and state and local government aid provisions, but those will be broken into a separate bill. (Roll Call)

House Democratic Leader Suggests Path Forward on Coronavirus Relief Package: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) suggested yesterday that the party may be willing to support a coronavirus relief package without aid to state and local governments, potentially ceding a Democratic priority in pursuit of a bipartisan deal. (Politico)

Democrats’ Rule Change Could Spark Senate Appropriations Shakeup: A sweeping caucus rule change adopted by Senate Democrats last week would upend the traditional seniority structure on some of the most powerful committees. In practice, the new rule, sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) may not lead to a big subcommittee shuffle on Appropriations next year. But the broader push to spread responsibilities around the caucus has already resulted in the vacancy of Ranking Member on Defense appropriations, since Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) is stepping down to focus on his role as top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Roll Call)


Lawmakers Strike Deal to End 'Surprise' Medical Bills: Key congressional committees have clinched a last-minute deal to protect patients from receiving “surprise” medical bills, potentially putting an end to nearly two years of infighting over an issue that’s pitted powerful health care giants against each other and frustrated Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last Friday said the measure should be included in a year-end funding package, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he hoped it would be "passed into law as soon as possible." (Politico)

Hill Leaders Press Forward on COVID Relief Talks: Committee leaders in both chambers have begun negotiating legislative text for noncontroversial aspects of the relief package. Democrats insist this effort is in concert with the bipartisan Senate push to reach a broader deal and not in lieu of their proposal. Top Republicans, though, are much more pessimistic on the bipartisan group reaching consensus on the major remaining sticking points. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Sanders, Hawley Vow Fight This Week Over Stimulus Checks: Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are warning they will use this Friday's government funding deadline to try to force a vote on a second round of stimulus checks amid lawmakers' failure to secure a deal on another coronavirus relief package. (The Hill)


Senate Sends Massive Defense Bill to Trump: The Senate last Friday voted overwhelmingly and on a bipartisan basis to send President Donald Trump a final defense authorization bill for fiscal 2021, mirroring a wide margin of approval of the conference report in the House earlier last week — effectively daring him to follow through on his threat to veto it. A veto would require Members to return in the New Year for votes in both chambers to override. (Roll Call)

Homeland Security & Immigration

John Katko Tapped to be Next Ranking Member of House Committee on Homeland Security: Rep. John Katko (R-NY) is slated to be the next ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. (The Hill)


Defense Authorization Bill Re-Establishes Federal Cyber Czar Position: The Senate last Friday approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with clauses that would establish a federal cyber czar and that would give the nation’s top federal cybersecurity agency subpoena power. The position would reestablish and elevate the previous White House cybersecurity coordinator position that was eliminated by former national security advisor John Bolton in 2018. (The Hill)

Environment & Interior

House Passes Bipartisan Water Infrastructure Legislation: The negotiated Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020) passed the House by voice vote last week and now awaits a vote from the Senate on the legislation. (Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works)


Budget & Appropriations

Trump Signs One-Week Funding Bill to Avoid Shutdown: President Trump last Friday signed a short-term funding bill to keep the government open for another week while lawmakers negotiate a longer-term package. (The Hill)


CDC Director Accepts Advisory Panel's Recommendation, Clearing the Way for Vaccinations to Begin: Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has signed off on the advisory panel's recommendation to use Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine in people 16 and older, clearing the way for inoculations to begin. (The Hill)

Trump’s Drug-Card Plan Hits Another Roadblock: With under six weeks left in President Trump’s term, the administration’s Medicare team has put together a revised plan that was circulated inside the administration last Tuesday with instructions to expedite approval. However, the White House is still contending with an unforeseen obstacle: resistance from an industry consortium known as the Special Interest Group for Inventory Information Approval System Standards (SIGIS) that sets the standards for health benefit cards at the direction of the Internal Revenue Service. (Politico)

Biden Lays Out Plan to Combat COVID in First 100 Days: President-elect Joe Biden last Tuesday laid out a three-point plan to begin defeating the coronavirus pandemic during his first 100 days in office, saying he will sign an executive order the day he is sworn in to require Americans to wear masks on buses and trains crossing state lines, as well as in federal buildings. (The Washington Post)

Labor & Workforce

Jobless Claims Rise More than Expected After Break from Holiday: First-time claims for unemployment insurance totaled 853,000, an increase from the upwardly revised 716,000 total a week before, the Labor Department reported last Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting 730,000. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Gender Equity Groups Urge Biden to Rescind DeVos Title IX Rules: More than 100 gender equity and civil rights advocacy organizations signed a letter to the incoming Biden administration’s transition team recommending that President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stop enforcement of and move to rescind new regulations that reshaped how colleges respond to reports of sexual misconduct on campus. (Inside Higher Ed)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on FHFA Structure: The Supreme Court heard arguments last Wednesday over whether it should find the structure of the Federal Housing Finance Agency unconstitutional and void an agreement it struck with the Treasury Department over revenue from the companies it oversees, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (HousingWire)


Biden Eyes Infrastructure Package to Help Economic, Climate Goals: Rather than just reauthorizing the multi-year legislation that funds road and bridge projects, Democrats are likely to push for bigger investments in clean energy, transit, broadband, and more that were laid out in Biden’s campaign proposals. (The Hill)

Congestion, Slowdown at Ports Cause Growing Concern: Many of the nation’s ports, especially on the West Coast, are reporting long delays to unload cargo ships, and warehouses near those facilities are filled as the supply chains are overloaded with goods. This is the result of retailers seeing a surge in e-commerce purchases and significant changes to spending patterns of U.S. consumers and businesses. (Transport Topics News)


The FTC is Suing Facebook to Unwind its Acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp: A separate lawsuit is also being brought by 48 state attorneys general. (The Verge)


Updated National Space Policy Released: The Trump Administration released a new version of U.S. National Space Policy last week. It made one change to the Obama-era 2010 policy in 2017, but otherwise has dealt with space issues through Space Policy Directives and Executive Orders. This is a complete update and supersedes the 2010 version. (Space Policy Online)

Biden Narrows List of Candidates for NOAA and Climate Positions: One of the transition team's top candidates to lead either NOAA or NASA doesn't want the job, and another contender for NOAA chief is married to President-elect Joe Biden's chief of staff. But there are a lot more people out there competing for a range of climate science positions at NASA, NOAA, and elsewhere, and now there is increasing doubt as to whether a single domestic “climate czar” will also be appointed. (E&E News)

SpaceX Competes Another Starship Test, Gathering More Data: Only 15 months have passed since SpaceX was scrambling to complete an initial Starship prototype called "Mark 1." The vehicle that ended its brief career in flames during a hard landing last Wednesday was "Serial Number 8," or SN8, but SN9 is expected to roll out to the pad in the next few weeks for the next flight test experiment, keeping up the astonishingly rapid pace of development and testing for the futuristic vehicle. (Ars Technica)

Chinese Remote Sensing Satellite Firm Completes Huge Funding Round as Nation’s Space Sector Activity Accelerates: The $375 million in funding for Changguang Satellite’s planned constellation of optical Earth observation satellites caps a year of major investment in the Chinese space sector, which has also seen a range of cooperation agreements between space companies and local governments, promising an expansion of space activities. (Space News)


How the Biden Administration is Expected to Approach DOD Tech Research and Development: Experts expect President-elect Joe Biden’s administration to build on the Trump administration’s investments in emerging technologies, while adding to research and development budgets in the Defense Department and across the federal government. Biden also wrote in Foreign Affairs he would make research and development a “cornerstone” of his presidency and pointed to the United States having the “greatest research universities in the world.” (C4ISR Net)

Biden's Pentagon Pick Puts Democrats in a Bind: President-elect Joe Biden's selection of recently departed Army general Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon next year has put House Democrats in a jam, because the DOD, by intent and by law, is typically led by a civilian. Three years ago, most Democrats opposed an identical waiver for President Trump's first Defense secretary, James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general. (The Hill)

DHS & Immigration

Trump Issues Sweeping New Curbs on Asylum Eligibility: A new, 419-page rule by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice would create additional bars to asylum eligibility and limit the circumstances in which individuals can qualify for protection, changes that the administration says "are likely to result in fewer asylum grants annually." (Politico)

Biden’s Immigration Problem – How to End ‘Remain in Mexico’: The Supreme Court agreed to address the legality of the so-called Remain in Mexico program, unless the incoming administration ends it first. (Roll Call)


Hackers Backed by Foreign Government Breach Treasury, Commerce Departments: Hackers linked to a foreign government breached systems belonging to the U.S. Treasury Department and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Commerce Department last night. Reuters, which was first to report the story, said files were stolen from both agencies as a result of the incursion, though the extent of the attack was not immediately known. (The Hill)

Why the Air Force and Other Services are Embracing Zero Trust Now: The cybersecurity world is becoming more complex as threats from abroad and at home amp up the way they attack systems. That’s why many government agencies and companies are subtracting to zero when it comes to trust around their networks. (Federal News Network)


EPA Move Creates Hurdles for Future Air, Climate Rules: The Environmental Protection Agency announced final rule changes last Wednesday that would make it harder for the incoming Biden administration to make new rules to protect the environment and public health by limiting the consideration of their costs and benefits. (Bakersfield)

Kerry Faces Big Job on Climate, US Credibility: Former Secretary of State John Kerry will take a newly formed position on the National Security Council and will be America’s face abroad as the U.S. rejoins the Paris Climate Accord on Day 1 of the new administration. (The Hill)

Haaland, Eyed for Interior, Stresses Need for Native American Representation: If selected to lead the Interior Department, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) would be the first Native American to hold a Cabinet-level position. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Climate Promises Will Crash into Regulatory Bureaucracy: In addition to rejoining the Paris agreement, President-elect Biden could rescind executive orders speeding fossil fuel project infrastructure, require steep methane curbs for new and existing oil and gas sources, and make fuel economy standards for vehicles even stronger than those adopted during the Obama administration. However, these promises would require a yearlong process to repeal existing rules before imposing new ones with stronger emissions controls. (Politico)

Federal Hydrogen Regulation in the United States, Where We Are and Where We Might Be Going: Hydrogen has over the last century enjoyed repeated bouts of interest as a fuel source. Though these have repeatedly fallen flat, hydrogen-based production has recently enjoyed a renaissance, due to a trifecta of improving political, economic, and technological conditions. (JD Supra)

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