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Window on Washington – February 21, 2022, Vol. 6, Issue 7

February 21, 2022

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in recess this week. When the Senate returns next week, the Chamber plans to focus on nominations, the House-passed Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755), the House-passed Postal Service reform bill (H.R. 3076), and potentially legislation that addresses insulin costs. The House and Senate will also work on passing an FY22 appropriations omnibus package by March 11 and could also begin working out their differences between the America COMPETES Act and USICA. Potential events in Ukraine could alter this schedule significantly.

Appropriations. President Joe Biden last Friday signed Congress’ short-term continuing resolution into law in order to fund the government until March 11. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are currently in conference in order to assemble the FY22 omnibus. White House officials are pushing to attach COVID-19 relief funding as a supplemental measure, and some members of Congress are pushing for a disaster relief supplemental. However, it remains to be seen whether these measures will be included in the omnibus.

Biden Administration. Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Lafayette, Louisiana on Friday. Details about the trip’s purpose remain unknown. Separately, the White House is continuing its efforts to pick and announce a Supreme Court nominee by the end of this month. The Biden Administration also continues to be engaged in addressing the Russia-Ukraine crisis and yesterday convened a rare Sunday meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the escalating situation. Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week unless Russia invades Ukraine. Late Sunday night the President agreed in principle to a summit with Russian President Putin after the Blinken-Lavrov meeting occurs and provided Russia does not invade Ukraine. The Kremlin has yet to confirm Putin would participate in such a meeting.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital



Senate Confirms Health Care Watchdog Assailed by Trump: The Senate last Thursday confirmed a federal watchdog assailed by former President Donald Trump to the top job battling fraud, waste, and abuse at the $1.6 trillion Department of Health and Human Services, which has a portfolio that spans health, social services and even the care of migrant children. No Republicans objected to confirming Christi A. Grimm, a longtime civil servant, to be HHS inspector general. Her division includes some 1,600 auditors, law enforcement agents, and management experts, and is known for its annual health care fraud takedowns. (ABC News)

Banking & Housing

GOP Boycotts Biden Fed Nominees’ Vote as Bank Fights Inflation: Republican senators blocked votes on President Biden’s five Federal Reserve nominees last Tuesday, leaving the future of the central bank in question amid surging inflation. (The Hill)

Congressional Letter About Unused Emergency Rental Assistance: Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Congressman Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) co-led a letter with 36 Members of California’s Congressional delegation to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the Department of the Treasury to reallocate unused Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA) funds to states with the highest need for such aid. (Clark Hill Insight)

Senate Democrats Plot March Legislative Push on Inflation: Senate Democrats plan to bring legislation to the floor in March designed to cut costs for Americans as rampant inflation drives up gasoline, food, and other prices. The caucus began debating ideas during their weekly lunch Tuesday. The proposals discussed included suspending the gas tax, capping the cost of insulin, and instituting antitrust regulations to break up monopolies in certain industries, among other measures. Democrats did not make any decisions yet on what they will bring to the floor next month. (Roll Call)


Democratic Lawmaker Unveils Bill that Would Define Boundaries for Stablecoin Market: Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) unveiled an early draft of legislation aimed at placing definitions around stablecoins, which critics consider susceptible to manipulation, bad actors and collapse the result of insufficient reserve capital. The discussion draft proposes to designate certain digital currencies as “qualified” stablecoins if they can be redeemed on a one-for-one basis for U.S. dollars. (CNBC)


Capito Leads GOP Letter Urging Change to Road-spending Guidance: One of the top Republicans to support the bipartisan infrastructure law has asked Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to have his department rescind or “substantially revise” Federal Highway Administration guidance on the law after GOP complaints that it defies the spirit of the bipartisan agreement. (Roll Call)

Lawmakers at Odds on How to Handle Guns at Airport Checkpoints: Republicans and Democrats demonstrated a fundamental disagreement last Tuesday on how best to address skyrocketing numbers of weapons being confiscated at airport security checkpoints, with Republicans arguing for more education and Democrats more inclined to embrace higher penalties for offenders. (Roll Call)

Dem Plan to Suspend the Gas Tax Faces Bipartisan Pushback: A plan by a group of Senate Democrats, many of whom face tough reelection bids, to suspend the gas tax amid high energy prices is facing bipartisan pushback, underscoring the uphill climb to passing the legislation. (The Hill)


Pentagon Budgeting Reform Panel Won’t Rush Fixes: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) said follow-on defense policy legislation stemming from a new, congressionally mandated Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Reform may take effect in 2024.  Because the PPBE process requires Pentagon planners to lock in acquisition program decisions more than two years in advance, critics say the PPBE process is too slow for the Pentagon to buy cutting-edge technologies and outpace China.  (Defense News)

Homeland Security & Immigration 

Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Retain Foreign STEM Talent: A team of Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislation to increase the volume of top tech talent regardless of nationality or immigration visa status. Backed by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2022 seeks to keep international students graduating with at least a master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics in the United States. (NextGov)


Senate Judiciary Chair Wants Supreme Court Pick Confirmed by Early April: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he wants the Senate to confirm President Biden’s forthcoming Supreme Court nominee by the start of a two-week April break, signaling he wants the president to move faster than his end-of-the-month deadline. (The Hill)

Senate Group to Examine Federal Prison System after Corruption, Abuse Allegations: The U.S. Senate will form a bipartisan group to examine the Federal Bureau of Prisons after a slew of allegations of corruption and abuse, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) announced last Thursday. The group will “examine conditions of incarceration in U.S. Federal prisons, protect human rights, and promote transparency,” Ossoff wrote. (The Hill)

Bipartisan Senators Introduce Kids Online Safety Bill: A new proposal backed by bipartisan senators would require social media platforms to take additional measures to keep children under 16 safe online. The Kids Online Safety Act, which was introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) last Wednesday, builds on months of momentum in Congress for social media platforms to take accountability for risks posed to children — especially after a Facebook whistleblower released internal company documents. (The Hill)

Witnesses Say Congress Should Pass Data-Privacy Legislation: The United States faces a data-privacy crisis and this crisis has created a groundswell of support for new data-protection laws, witnesses told members of the Committee on House Administration on Feb. 16. (MeriTalk)


Rep. Hagedorn, 59, Dies After Bout with Kidney Cancer: Congressman Jim Hagedorn (R-MN), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, had served in Congress since 2019 after winning a district along his state’s border with Iowa. (House Ag)


Manchin, Barrasso, Durbin, and Blackburn Introduce DOE Science for the Future Act Of 2022: U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member of the Committee, Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Department of Energy (DOE) Science for the Future Act of 2022. The bipartisan legislation strengthens the nation’s investment in world-leading scientific research by providing the first-ever comprehensive authorization for the DOE’s Office of Science, totaling $50 billion over five years. (Clark Hill Insight)

Barrasso Calls on FERC to Protect Energy Affordability and Reliability: U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, called on members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to protect the reliability and affordability of American energy and not delay natural gas infrastructure projects. (Clark Hill Insight)


Budget & Appropriations

Biden Signs Stopgap Funding Measure into Law: President Joe Biden last Friday signed the continuing resolution into law in order to avoid a government shutdown. The measure will fund the government until March 11. (Clark Hill Insight)

Biden Wants Billions More in Supplemental Covid Funding, but Lawmakers Aren’t Fully on Board: The push for a Covid supplemental bill, which would ride alongside the package to fund the government through September that Congress is trying to pass by mid-March, is encountering bipartisan resistance. GOP lawmakers argue more spending will exacerbate inflation and that the worst of the pandemic is in the past. And even Democrats who support the additional public health funds worry the effort could derail the fragile negotiations on the core bill to fund the government by injecting partisan disagreements about how to address the pandemic into discussions over funding the military and federal agencies. (Politico) 


Senate Narrowly Confirms Dr. Robert Califf to Lead FDA for Second Time: The U.S. Senate last Tuesday voted to confirm Dr. Robert Califf as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Reuters)

Biden Officials Ask Congress for $5B in Global Covid Funds: Biden administration officials told members of Congress last Friday that they need at least $5 billion in additional funds to keep battling the Covid-19 pandemic overseas — far less than agencies originally suggested would be needed to vaccinate the global population and provide funding, staff and other forms of relief to hard-hit regions. The administration is asking lawmakers to set aside $2.55 billion for vaccinating the world, $1.7 billion for therapeutics and supplies, and $750 million for humanitarian aid, according to numbers shared with POLITICO by a public health advocate briefed on the call and confirmed by a Capitol Hill aide. (Politico)

FDA Considering Second COVID-19 Booster in Coming Months:  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials are “very carefully” considering second booster doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, according to The Wall Street Journal. FDA spokesperson Alison Hunt confirmed to CNN that the FDA “is indeed continually looking at the emerging data on the pandemic and variants in the United States and overseas in order to evaluate the potential utility and composition of booster doses.” (The Hill)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Fed Approves Rules Banning its Officials from Trading Stocks, Bonds, and Cryptocurrencies: Federal Reserve officials won’t be able to trade a slew of assets including stocks and bonds — as well as cryptocurrencies — under new rules that became formal last Friday. Following up on regulations announced in October, the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee announced that most of the restrictions will take effect May 1. (CNBC)

Bank Regulator Urged to Go Slow on Requirement for Climate Risk Disclosure: Bank industry lobbyists are urging the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to proceed with caution on climate risk disclosure rules for the largest U.S. financial institutions. The OCC, an independent bureau within the Treasury Department that charters and regulates banks, in December issued a draft framework for entities with more than $100 billion in assets, outlining principles on incorporating financial institutions’ lending exposure to climate risk into their governance and strategic planning. (Roll Call)


FBI to Form Digital Currency Unit, Justice Dept Taps Crypto Czar: The U.S. Justice Department announced that Eun Young Choi, a seasoned computer crimes prosecutor, will lead its new national cryptocurrency enforcement team and also announced that the FBI is launching a unit for blockchain analysis and virtual asset seizure. The creation of the FBI’s “virtual asset exploitation” unit comes after the Justice Department’s largest-ever financial seizure earlier this month. (Reuters)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS Creates ‘Surge Team’ To Address Backlog, Scraps Plan to Close Tax Processing Center: The IRS, already dealing with a significant backlog of tax returns and taxpayer correspondence, is scrapping plans to consolidate the number of facilities that process its paper workload. The IRS is canceling plans to close its Tax Processing Center in Austin, Texas, a move that the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) says will help the agency address its backlog of returns, continue processing new ones and improve the overall level of service to taxpayers. (Federal News Network)


FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is Resigning: Steve Dickson, who took the role as FAA administrator in August 2019 after being nominated by President Donald Trump for the five-year term, says he will step down March 31. (CNN)

FAA Toughens Oversight of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner: The Federal Aviation Administration is stepping up its oversight of Boeing, telling the aircraft maker last Tuesday that federal inspectors will retain the authority to certify each new 787 Dreamliner plane as airworthy. It’s a significant departure from the usual practice of having designated Boeing employees conduct certification inspections under FAA oversight. (NPR)


NOAA Seeks Industry Input on Commercial Space Object Tracking and Services:  Last week’s release of the Request for Information is another step forward for NOAA’s Open Architecture Data Repository to provide Space Situational Awareness for civil and commercial space operators.  It seeks information from companies on existing or planned commercial space object sensors and tracking services that will be available in the 2022-2030 timeframe. Replies are due March 21, 2022.  (Space Policy Online)

A Coast-to-Coast Battle to Bring Home the Space Jobs & Federal Dollars:  With California losing its luster as the aerospace industry’s golden state, a coast-to-coast competition for space companies is heating up.  Cities, counties, and states offer grants, tax incentives, land, facilities, and workforce training to convince space companies to move.  (Space News)

The U.S. Southwest is Hitting Megadrought Status:  The term “megadrought” isn’t some sensationalist moniker from bad television; it’s a term for the handful of two- to three-decade Southwestern droughts in the past millennium or so—some with history-defining impacts on the civilizations who lived there at the time.  NASA scientists and their partners have been studying whether or not this drought is the result of strong trends in precipitation or the impacts of higher temperatures.  (Ars Technica)


Reports Claim Biden to Ask for More Than $770B for Defense in FY23:  President Biden is expected to ask Congress for more than $770 billion to fund defense programs in the next fiscal year, Reuters reported. The high figure, which would be $17 billion or more above what Biden asked of lawmakers last year, is thanks to a Pentagon push to modernize the military, three sources familiar with the negotiations told the news outlet.  (The Hill)

DHS & Immigration

Biden Weighs Temporary Protected Status for Afghans: The Biden administration is considering offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Afghans already in the United States, three sources familiar with the matter told The Hill, as the clock winds down on how to find a way for thousands to legally remain in the country. (The Hill)

Supreme Court to Review ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy Revival: The Supreme Court agreed last Friday to consider whether the Biden administration may end a Trump-era program requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for decisions in their U.S. immigration cases. (Roll Call)

Proposed Rule Nixes Trump Interpretation of ‘Public Charge’: Immigrants’ use of non-cash government benefits would not threaten their eligibility for green cards under a proposed change to the so-called public charge rule unveiled last Thursday by the Department of Homeland Security. (Roll Call)

DHS Privacy Chief Aims to Promote ‘Privacy Enhancing Technologies: The Department of Homeland Security’s chief privacy officer wants to make privacy less of an afterthought by designing systems with technologies to protect the confidentiality and integrity of information in the first place. (Federal News Network)


Biden Quietly Courts Republican Support for SCOTUS Nominee: President Joe Biden is actively looking for Republican support for his Supreme Court nominee. But he’s doing it cautiously, wary of setting expectations that end in failure. (Politico)

Justice Dept. to Take on Exploitation of Supply Chain Issues: The Justice Department is launching a new initiative aimed at identifying companies that exploit supply chain disruptions in the U.S. to make increased profits in violation of federal antitrust laws. The program, unveiled last Thursday by the Justice Department’s antitrust division and the FBI, comes amid ongoing supply chain struggles and labor shortages in the U.S. that have plagued retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began. (Federal News Network)


Russian Hackers Are Hitting Cleared Defense Contractors, Security Agencies Warn:  The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, National Security Agency, and the FBI announced cleared defense contractors for both large and small companies that support the Defense Department and intelligence community have been regularly and successfully targeted by Russian state-sponsored actors in a campaign that dates back to at least January 2020.  (Next Gov)

Navy Plans to Become ‘Cyber Ready’ by Ditching Compliance-Obsessed ATO Processes: An influx of money from the CARES Act helped the Department of the Navy (DON) make major strides in modernizing its networks. Now, leaders say, it’s time to focus on bolstering those networks’ cybersecurity, including a major pivot from compliance-driven approaches to a new philosophy called “Cyber Ready,” which focuses instead on continuous monitoring and ongoing risk assessments.  (Federal News Network)


White House Unveils Tool to Determine Eligibility for Environmental Justice Aid: The White House Council on Environmental Quality last Thursday announced a tool aimed at identifying communities that qualify as disadvantaged under the Biden administration’s environmental justice initiative. The criteria include a number of axes on which a community can be declared disadvantaged. The tool includes 21 indicators and the threshold to be considered disadvantaged in that category. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Gas Pipeline Regulators to Consider Climate Impacts for New Projects: A federal agency that considers whether to approve or reject natural gas pipelines will now weigh the projects’ contributions to climate change as part of their decisions. In determining whether a project is in the public interest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted last Thursday to examine greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the project’s construction and operations — as well as the emissions from when the gas is ultimately burned to make electricity. (The Hill)

Offshore Wind on Track to Hit, Possibly Exceed Biden’s 30 GW Target by 2030: After a slow start, U.S. offshore wind development is experiencing a sudden burst of momentum — enough to meet targets established by the Biden administration, but still far less than the rate of expansion seen in other countries, according to industry experts. (UtilityDive)

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