Window On Washington - February 22, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 8
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. While the current focus is on passing the next COVID-19 relief package, House Democrats are also getting ready to reintroduce and pass two measures from last Congress – the For the People Act (H.R. 1) and the Justice in Policing Act – in early March. Meanwhile, the Senate is beginning to work on President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure package. As part of these efforts, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 24 on surface transportation and other transportation investments. Other hearings this week include House Energy and Commerce’s hearing tomorrow on expanding the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. Postal Service reform, and the House Appropriations Labor, HHS Subcommittee will hold a hearing on U.S. public health infrastructure. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee will hold a hearing on energy and climate innovation, and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on building back the U.S. research enterprise after COVID-19.
Next COVID Package Negotiations. The House Budget Committee will meet today to begin marking up the COVID-19 reconciliation package. The Committee’s members are unable to offer regular amendments during this markup process, so substantial changes to the text are not expected. The House expects to vote on the legislation towards the end of the week.
Biden Administration. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will hold the Biden Administration’s first bilateral meeting between the U.S. and Canada tomorrow, virtually. Separately, many of President Biden’s nominees will have hearings this week in Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings today and tomorrow on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination for Attorney General. Tomorrow, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) nomination to be Interior Secretary, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow on Xavier Becerra’s nomination for Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary while Senate Finance will hold his hearing on Wednesday. Other Wednesday hearings include the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee’s hearing on Isabel Guzman’s nomination to be administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s vote on Neera Tanden’s nomination for OMB director, and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s hearing on Ambassador William Burns’ nomination for CIA director. On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on Katherine Tai’s nomination to be U.S. Trade Representative, and Senate HELP will hold a hearing on the nominations of Dr. Vivek Murthy for surgeon general and Dr. Rachel Levine for assistant secretary of HHS.
However, Neera Tanden’s confirmation for OMB director may be in trouble, as Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) recently said he will not vote for her. This means Tanden would need at least one Republican senator to vote in her favor given the Senate’s 50-50 split, but it is unclear if she will garner that support. Following these developments, the White House reiterated that they will not pull her nomination and will continue to work with both parties throughout the remainder of her confirmation process.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
Next Phase of Coronavirus Relief Bill Sprint to Start Today: House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) has scheduled a 1 p.m. markup for today to staple together the reconciliation submissions from nine House authorizing committees before sending the measure onto its last stop before the House floor, the Rules Committee. (Roll Call)
Senate Democrats Unveil Health Care Proposal with Public Option: Two Democratic senators released their version of a public option health care plan last Wednesday, setting the stage for this year’s debate over how best to expand coverage to the millions of people who are uninsured. (The Hill)
Labor & Workforce
Small-Business Tax Cuts Eyed as Sweetener for Minimum Wage Boost: Democratic leaders are considering adding small-business tax breaks to their coronavirus aid bill to make raising the federal minimum wage more palatable for wavering senators. The possible move is part of the overall strategizing underway to try to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan through the expedited budget reconciliation process, according to several sources with knowledge of the conversations. (Roll Call)
Banking & Housing
Robinhood's Role in GameStop Stock Spike Scrutinized by Congress: The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing last week about volatility in GameStop and other meme stocks and to get answers about the machinations of the trading world. (CNET)
Congress Makes Renewed Push on Self-Driving Cars Bill: Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are making a renewed effort this year to pass legislation that would create federal safety and security standards for autonomous vehicles. Congressional efforts to regulate autonomous vehicles have largely been bipartisan, but bills in both the House and Senate have struggled to advance over concerns about safety provisions. (The Hill)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Rep. Brooks’ Says Efforts to Understand Space Weather Must be Funded to be Effective: Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL) last Tuesday said that efforts to predict and mitigate potentially dangerous space weather events need to be properly funded in order to be effective. Brooks was influential in the passage of the PROSWIFT Act last year tasking government agencies with addressing space weather. (Alabama Political Reporter)
Sens. Mark Kelly, Tammy Duckworth, and Angus King Claim Armed Services Gavels: New power-sharing rules for Senate Democrats are shaking up the Senate Armed Services Committee, with some junior authorizers taking prized subcommittee chairmanships. (Defense News)
Homeland Security & Immigration
Biden Immigration Bill Reveals Hardened Battle Lines in Post-Trump Era: Congressional Democrats rolled out President Biden’s legislation with force, emphasizing there would be little room for compromise on a measure that would create a pathway for citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. (The Hill)
Murphy Takes Over Senate Homeland Security Money Panel: After spending weeks denouncing the mob attack on the Capitol and the past president's role in the assault, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) will now play a role in handling domestic threats as the new leader of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. (Roll Call)
Senate to Vote on Vilsack's Secretary of Agriculture Confirmation This Week: After weeks of waiting, the Senate has scheduled a vote on Tom Vilsack’s nomination for Secretary of Agriculture on Feb. 23, 2021. (AgWeb)
Budget & Appropriations
The Jockeying to Replace Neera Tanden Has Begun: The Biden White House is signaling publicly and privately that it is not prepared to abandon Neera Tanden’s nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget. But almost immediately after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced last Friday that he would vote against her confirmation — deeply imperiling her bid — behind-the-scenes jockeying began for those seeking to be the fallback option. (Politico)
Biden Admin Will Spend $1.6B to Expand COVID-19 Testing and Sequencing: The White House announced last Wednesday a multipronged effort to bolster the United States’ ability to test for COVID-19 in schools and homeless shelters, increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies such as pipette tips, and boost genomic sequencing efforts needed to understand the spread of virus variants. (Politico)
White House Says It Will Send 13.5 Million Vaccine Doses A Week to U.S. States: The White House said last Tuesday it is increasing the supply of coronavirus vaccines sent each week to states to 13.5 million doses and is also doubling the amount shipped to pharmacies to 2 million doses this week. (Reuters)
Biden Chooses Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to Lead Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: President Joe Biden has selected Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She most recently served as a managing director at Manatt Health, where she provided policy analysis and strategic advice to healthcare stakeholders across the private and public sectors. (Healthcare Finance)
First Two FEMA Mass Vaccination Sites Open in California: The first two mass vaccination sites run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) opened last Tuesday in California, part of the Biden administration's effort to ramp up the federal government's role getting vaccines in arms. (The Hill)
Labor & Workforce
Biden Nominates Jennifer Abruzzo to Serve as NLRB General Counsel: President Biden last Wednesday announced plans to nominate Jennifer Abruzzo, a lawyer for Communication Workers of America, to serve as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). (The Hill)
Department of Education
17 State Attorneys General Call for Canceling $50K in Student Loan Debt: The Democratic attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, sent a letter to congressional leaders last Friday supporting resolutions that call on President Biden to use executive action to forgive outstanding student loans. (The Hill)
Banking & Housing/HUD
Biden Extends Foreclosure Moratorium and Mortgage Forbearance Through June: The Biden administration announced last Tuesday that it would extend the foreclosure moratorium and mortgage forbearance through the end of June. (Politico)
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Makes Push for Major Stimulus, Sees Bigger Risk in Not Doing Enough: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last Thursday said a large stimulus package is still necessary to get the economy back to full strength, despite momentum suggesting that growth is off to a faster start than anticipated in 2021. (CNBC)
Biden Discusses Infrastructure Package Push With Buttigieg: In comments following his first meeting with the President, the new DOT Secretary signaled he’s on board with deficit funding for an infrastructure bill, citing current rock bottom interest rates, and he also sounded a skeptical note about implementing a vehicle miles traveled fee to replace the federal gas tax, as he looks to help the Administration navigate a package through Capitol Hill in the coming months. (Politico)
Trump's Gift to Biden – Record Ag Exports to China: U.S. farm exports to China are expected to hit a record $31.5 billion during President Joe Biden's first year in office, the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) said in its latest quarterly forecast. (Politico)
Space/NASA & NOAA
NASA Doing 'Preparatory Work' for Climate Push, Acting Chief Says: NASA is getting ready for the Biden administration’s expected boost in climate science research, said acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. He believes he will have a better idea of the Biden administration’s space priorities at the end of this month, when the White House gives NASA feedback on its fiscal 2022 budget request that was drafted under the prior administration. (Politico)
Report Calls for Revamped Cost-Conscious Vision for Mars Exploration: NASA’s planetary science division chartered the Mars Architecture Strategy Working Group (MASWG) in 2019 to find ways to initiate a diverse set of Mars investigations alongside the flagship sample-return campaign without breaking the bank. (Space News)
Biden Again Praises NASA, U.S. & Europe Cooperation on Mars Mission: For the third day in a row, President Biden praised NASA’s success in landing the Perseverance rover on Mars, tweeting out a video that includes his phone call last Thursday to Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk congratulating the Perseverance team on its success. (Space Policy Online)
Pentagon Acting CIO Pushes on with Cybersecurity, Software Development: Leading the DOD efforts to address 4 major IT challenges in an acting capacity until President Joe Biden settles on the next Chief Information Officer (CIO) is John Sherman, the principal deputy under former DoD CIO Dana Deasy. (C4ISR Net)
ACLU Pushes Garland on Criminal Justice Reform Policies Ahead of Hearing: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pressing President Biden’s attorney general pick, Merrick Garland, to commit to certain criminal justice reform policies during his confirmation hearing the week of Feb. 22. (Politico)
Agencies ‘Building Back Better’ After SolarWinds Breach, Top Biden Cyber Official Says: Anne Neuberger, the administration’s deputy national security advisor for cybersecurity and emerging technology, said in a White House press briefing that the breach compromised the networks of nine agencies and about 100 private-sector companies but that the breach would see the agencies networks emerge improved and less vulnerable. (Federal News Network)
EPA & DOI
U.S. Officially Rejoins Paris Climate Agreement: On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order that set the country on track to rejoin the global accord, but it took 30 days for the country to formally reenter. (The Hill)
Department of Energy
What the Blackout Crisis Reveals About Renewables, Grid: The energy blackouts caused by unusually cold temperatures revealed shortcomings with grid management and the possible need to weatherize both turbines and natural gas generation facilities, after they all contributed to the serious energy shortage problems Texas residents faced last week. (E&E News)
Biden Energy Dept Orders Sweeping Review of Trump Energy Efficiency Rules: The Biden administration will review several of the Trump administration’s most controversial energy rules, teeing up a possible reversal of policies that eased or erased efficiency regulations for lightbulbs, showerheads, appliances, and more. (The Hill)
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