Window on Washington – February 14, 2022, Vol. 6, Issue 6
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The Senate is in session this week, and the House has a committee work period. The Senate plans to vote on nominee confirmations, on U.S. Postal Service reform legislation, and on the House-passed continuing resolution (CR) in order to avoid a government shutdown. Hearings for the week include examining nominations, workforce development opportunities, youth mental health, the nation’s mental health crisis, the economic benefits of federal infrastructure investments, the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s benefits for small businesses, strategies for grid resilience and reliability, the rise in violence against minority institutions, oversight of the NTIA, and biosecurity preparedness. While the House has yet to formally send its version of USICA, also known as the America Competes Act of 2022, to the Senate, Punchbowl News reports this morning that House and Senate Committees may start to pre-conference the bill as early as this week.
Budget and Appropriations. The House last week passed a CR in a bipartisan 272-162 vote to fund the government through March 11. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the Senate will take up the stopgap measure soon, which means sometime this week given that the current CR expires on Friday. Importantly, House and Senate Appropriations leaders last week agreed to a spending framework for FY22 appropriations, though the details of the framework were not made available. The appropriations leaders indicated they are now heading into conference negotiations for the omnibus package, which they plan to send to President Joe Biden’s desk by March 11.
Supreme Court. President Biden plans to this week begin interviewing potential nominees to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reportedly begun the background check process for U.S. Circuit Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and South Carolina federal judge J. Michelle Childs. New Mexico Senator Ben Ray Lujan, who recently suffered a stroke that has kept him in New Mexico, signaled last week that he will return to Washington in a few weeks, potentially affecting the schedule for full Senate consideration of the President’s nominee.
Biden Administration. President Biden will visit Cleveland and Lorain, OH on Thursday to discuss the impact of the bipartisan infrastructure law on Northeast Ohio and the state overall. Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the Munich Security Conference later this week and hold a series of in-person meetings with U.S. allies and partners seeking to deter Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
House Passes Stopgap Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown, Sends to Senate: The House last Tuesday passed a temporary government funding bill that would prevent a shutdown later this month. The Senate plans to approve the plan by a Feb. 18 deadline to avoid a lapse in federal funding. The bill would extend funding through March 11 and should give lawmakers enough time to craft the omnibus package. (CNBC)
Shalanda Young Receives Committee Support: Two U.S. Senate Committees voted last Wednesday to send the nomination of Shalanda Young for Office of Management and Budget director to the floor, setting up a final confirmation vote for the Cabinet-level position. The Senate Budget Committee voted 15-6 and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 8-6 to advance her nomination to the floor. The Committees also advanced Nani Coloretti’s nomination to serve as deputy director. (Clark Hill Insight)
Mental Health Push in Congress Sparks Lobbying Frenzy: Democrats, fearing their health care agenda is trapped in limbo, are pivoting to an issue they think will resonate with millions of Americans: cracking down on insurers who routinely deny mental health and addiction claims. Congress has attempted to solve the problem at least three times, with laws dating to the mid-90s, but a new federal report shows health insurers regularly violate laws, refusing to pay for mental health and substance abuse services or making patients jump through hoops to get care. (Politico)
Banking & Housing
Tester says He’s Reviewing Fed Nominee Raskin as Senate Banking Approaches Vote: Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), a key Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said he’s taking a closer look at Sarah Bloom Raskin’s involvement in a financial technology company that gained direct access to the Federal Reserve’s payment system as he weighs whether to support her nomination for the Fed board. (Roll Call)
U.S. Senator Warren ‘Urges’ SEC Chief to Issue New Climate Rule after Delays: Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Thursday for delays to its landmark climate change risk disclosure rules and called for “quick action” on the issue. (Reuters)
Pelosi Open to Banning Congressional Stock Trading after Months of Resistance: Democrats trying to ban members of Congress from owning or trading individual stocks say they now have a path forward after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week said she would be open to the idea after months of resistance. (ABC News)
Lawmakers Clash Over How to Regulate Stablecoins: House Financial Services Committee members debated last week whether the federal government should force stablecoin issuers to adhere to strict federal bank regulations and insurance to limit the risks of a quickly growing segment of the cryptocurrency market. Both Democrats and Republicans expressed concerns about a stablecoin issuer going bankrupt in times of crisis if they lacked enough cash or other easily sellable assets to cover redemptions en masse. Policymakers also fear a run on a stablecoin could trigger broader chaos in financial markets if the issuer struggles to cover their losses. (The Hill)
Spouses, Taxes and Crypto: The Unanswered Questions for Congress’ Stock Trading Ban: A push to ban lawmakers from trading stocks is running into a thicket of technical questions that threaten to derail the effort, compounding the looming political pitfalls. Bipartisan proposals that would require lawmakers to put assets into blind trusts are facing resistance from watchdogs who say they wouldn’t go far enough and that members should be forced into broad-based mutual funds. Key taxation questions are unresolved. And the scope of a ban — including whether it would apply to spouses and aides — is up in the air. (Politico)
Democratic Lawmakers Criticize USPS Plan to Purchase Gas-Powered Trucks: Democratic leaders in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) criticized the United States Postal Service for its plans to purchase a predominantly fossil fuel-powered fleet rather than investing in electric vehicles. In a letter to the Postal Service sent Wednesday, Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Donald McEachin (D-VA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and Mike Quigley (D-IL) expressed “strong opposition” to the plan, saying that it “failed to abide properly by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.” (The Hill)
Republicans say Biden Forcing ‘Woke’ Agenda in Infrastructure Law: Republicans are ramping up complaints that the Biden administration is injecting its agenda into its implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law despite agreements reached by Republicans and Democrats to pass it last year. (Roll Call)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Senators Cantwell and Wicker Press Need for NASA Authorization Bill This Year: The main focus of a Senate hearing last week on NASA was the insistence by the committee’s bipartisan leadership for Congress to pass a new NASA authorization act to enable effective congressional oversight of the agency’s activities. The Senate passed a new bill last summer, but there has been no action in the House so the rhetoric seemed aimed at House and Senate leadership rather than the expert witnesses at the table. While a NASA authorization proposal was attached to the Senate’s USICA bill, the House companion did not and is almost silent on space issues. (Space Policy Online)
Homeland Security & Immigration
Cardin, Warren Lead Call for COVID-19 Booster Shots for Individuals in DHS/ICE Custody: A dozen U.S. Senators, led by Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take immediate actions to protect individuals in ICE custody from COVID-19. Specifically, the senators are calling out DHS and ICE for failing “to provide COVID-19 booster shots for people in ICE detention.” (Clark Hill Insight)
A Freshman Republican is Rolling out a Middle-of-the-Road Proposal She Claims Would Help Fix the Immigration System: Freshman Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), who describes herself as a “brown girl from the hood,” is rolling out an immigration plan that she claims will fix the immigration system once and for all. (Politico)
Senators Strike Bipartisan Deal on Domestic Violence Bill: A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a proposal Wednesday to reauthorize the 1990s-era law that extends protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence after it lapsed in 2019 because of Republican opposition. (NBC News)
Senate Clears #MeToo Bill Banning Mandatory Arbitration: The Senate cleared a bill Thursday that would forbid clauses in employment contracts requiring workers to litigate sexual harassment and abuse cases in private, rather than a court, several years after the #MeToo movement drew attention to the issue. (Politico)
EARN IT Act Gets No Changes to Encryption Language in Senate Committee: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday that is designed to crack down on child sexual abuse materials online, despite warnings from privacy advocates that the bill could pose a major threat to encrypted technologies. (CyberScoop)
Sens. Ossoff & Cassidy Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Give Americans Control of Their Online Data: Sen. Ossoff and Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) introduced the bipartisan Data Elimination and Limiting Extensive Tracking and Exchange (DELETE) Act, legislation that would enable and empower Americans to request that data brokers delete their personal data. (Clark Hill Insight)
Senators Relaunch Cybersecurity Bills Following Concerns: Leaders of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee introduced the Strengthening American Cybersecurity Act last Wednesday, which bundles provisions from three bills that couldn’t get over the finish line in previous attempts. Together it would require private-sector critical infrastructure owners to report cybersecurity incidents to CISA, make the first changes to the Federal Information Security Modernization Act in seven years, and codify the General Services Administration’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program–FEdRAMP—which aims to certify the security of federal cloud vendors. (NextGov)
Schumer Moves to Limit Debate on Califf Nomination: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) filed cloture last Thursday on Robert Califf’s nomination to lead the Food and Drug Administration, signaling Democrats expect to have the votes to confirm him. The Senate is expected to officially vote on his confirmation as early as Tuesday. (Politico)
Environment & Interior
Congresswoman Bush and Senator Markey Urge Biden to Release Draft Environmental Justice Mapping Tool: Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) urged the Biden administration to swiftly release a first iteration of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, which would provide government agencies with information and data on the effects that environmental harms have on disadvantaged communities. (Clark Hill Insight)
Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Introduce Coastal Resilience Legislation: A group of bipartisan lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that aims to protect against coastal and river flooding as climate change makes sea levels rise. The bill, from Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), as well as Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), comes as resilience and adaptation is emerging as an area of bipartisan cooperation on climate change, an otherwise highly partisan issue. (The Hill)
Two House Democrats Question PR-award Firms on Work with Fossil Fuel Companies: Reps. Katie Porter (D-CA) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) sent a letter Wednesday to six public relations-award firms, asking for details on their work with energy companies and whether they had aided them in campaigns to obscure the link between fossil fuels and climate change. (The Hill)
Republican U.S. Senator Presses Energy Department on Seabed Mining: A top Republican U.S. senator urged the U.S. energy secretary this week to provide information on the Biden administration’s strategy for domestic mining of minerals for electric vehicle batteries on the seabed floor. Seabed mining is a new industry that backers say can supply many of the metals including nickel, copper, cobalt, and manganese for advanced batteries and other components in electric vehicles. (Reuters)
U.S. Senate Committee to Hold Hearing on Biofuel Mandates: A U.S. Senate committee is expected to hold a hearing around the nation’s biofuel blending laws this week, as the Biden administration works to finalize controversial proposals around blending requirements and exemptions for oil refiners. (Reuters)
Sens. Kelly, Hassan Lead Colleagues in Introducing Bill to Lower High Gas Prices at the Pump: U.S. Senators Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) are introducing the Gas Prices Relief Act, legislation to lower high gas prices by temporarily suspending the federal gas tax through the end of the year, bringing much-needed economic relief to families across Arizona and the country. Kelly and Hassan’s bill is also co-sponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Jackie Rosen (D-NV). (Clark Hill Insight)
Banking & Housing/HUD
FHFA Seeks Input on FY2022-26 Strategic Plan: The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has requested input on its Draft Strategic Plan, which outlines the agency’s priorities for the coming years as regulator of the Federal Home Loan Bank System and as regulator and conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises). (National Mortgage Professional)
Fed to Stress Test Banks Against Commercial Real Estate, Corporate Debt Troubles in 2022: The U.S. Federal Reserve announced on Thursday that its 2022 round of large bank stress tests will include a severe decline in commercial real estate prices and turmoil in corporate bond markets. (Reuters)
Treasury Releases Competition Report for Alcohol Market, Recommends Boosting Opportunity for Small Businesses: The U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, released a new report on competition in the markets for beer, wine, and spirits. (Clark Hill Insight)
FAA Moves to Protect Safety Employees from Manufacturer Interference: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was issuing draft guidance seeking to protect aviation employees who perform government certification duties from interference by airplane manufacturers and others. (Reuters)
Police Arrest Protesters Blocking a Key Border Crossing Between the U.S. and Canada, Nearing an End to ‘Economic Crisis’: A crackdown to remove protesters decrying Covid-19 mandates could soon restore normalcy to American and Canadian businesses impacted by the standoff. Canadian Police have started arresting protesters blocking the Ambassador Bridge linking the U.S. and Canada — an impasse that has snarled traffic and crippled a key trade route for both countries. (CNN)
The Army’s New Decades-Long Climate Strategy Has No Budget: The Army’s new climate strategy includes plans for an all-electric vehicle fleet and calls for microgrids on all of its 130 installations, but no estimates for what everything will cost. “We’re working through the funding,” Paul Farnan, the acting assistant secretary for Army installations, energy, and environment told reporters on Wednesday. And as technologies “mature and develop,” the funding will continue to be a “moving target.” (Defense One)
DHS & Immigration
U.S. Testing Robot Dogs to Help Patrol the Border: Robot dogs could soon help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Both political parties have long said U.S. Customs and Border Protection needs more technology to monitor the 2,000-mile terrain, but some Democrats and advocates say the border is already overly militarized. (Axios)
FEMA Rolls Out Text Feature to Help Americans Find Open Shelters During Disasters: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has updated its texting feature to help Americans find open shelters during disasters. The agency announced last Tuesday that a person will be able to text “shelter” and their ZIP code to 43362, and a list of shelters within 200 miles of their location will be sent to them. (The Hill)
SEC’s Breach Notification Proposal One Step Closer to a Final Vote: The Securities and Exchange Commission voted Wednesday 3-1 to approve a recommendation for tighter mandatory cybersecurity requirements for financial institutions. The proposed rule will now open to public comment before a final vote. Most critically, the new rule would require confidential reports of any “significant” cybersecurity incidents to the SEC within 48 hours, and also would require advisers and funds to adopt a common set of cybersecurity protections. (Cyberscoop)
US Cyber Defense Agency Warns of Possible Russian Cyberattacks Amid Tensions: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has issued a “Shields Up” alert for American organizations saying that U.S. systems could face Russian cyberattacks amid warnings from Biden administration officials that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent. CISA said organizations should test backup procedures to quickly restore compromised data, designate a crisis response team, ensure that software is up to date and validate that administrative access to systems requires multi-factor authentication, among other recommendations. (The Hill)
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