Window on Washington – February 28, 2022, Vol. 6, Issue 8
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The House and Senate are back in session this week. While both chambers have a number of items scheduled for action, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the US and West’s response to it, will be a constant backdrop for lawmakers and the Administration. The House will vote on bills related to Financial Services, Agriculture, Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, and Veterans Affairs. The Senate plans to address the cost of insulin as well as to resume its work on the postal service reform legislation in the coming weeks. Both chambers are also gearing up to finalize the FY22 appropriations process. Hearings for the week include examining nominations, the impact of the American Rescue Plan’s state and local fiscal recovery funds, access to mental health benefits, FY23 Strategic Forces posture, NASA’s Artemis initiative, the Farm Bill, substance use, and implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by the Department of Transportation.
Appropriations. Appropriators and their staffs are moving quickly to try to finalize the FY22 omnibus package by the March 11 continuing resolution (CR) deadline. While Congress works on finalizing the 12 appropriations bills, the White House and some members of Congress are also calling for billions in emergency funding to aid Ukraine. The omnibus is the preferred vehicle for such a measure, but it remains to be seen whether it, as well as other supplemental measures such as COVID-19 funds and disaster relief, will ultimately be included.
Supreme Court. President Joe Biden announced D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) has pledged to immediately begin moving forward with Judge Jackson’s confirmation process. His goal is to put her nomination on the Senate floor by April 9, the start of a two-week congressional Easter recess.
Biden Administration. Amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a historic SCOTUS nomination, President Biden will give his first State of the Union address tomorrow night. It comes as polls released over the weekend show the President’s popularity at an all-time low of his Presidency and Republicans holding a seven-point advantage over Democrats in the generic mid-term ballot preference. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is set to give the Republican Party’s response. On Wednesday, Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will head to Superior, Wisconsin to discuss the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh will travel to Durham, North Carolina on Wednesday to discuss the Biden-Harris Administration’s investments in workers. Separately, President Biden plans to accelerate the return of the federal workforce back to their offices over the coming weeks and may start to detail his plans during the State of the Union address or hold a separate COVID-19 speech later in March. As with the Congress this week, the Biden Administration will be continuing to work with its allies to increase pressure on Russian to withdraw from Ukraine, with sanctions imposed late last week already leading to a dramatic contraction of the Russian economy.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Lawmakers Face Pressure to Pass Mental Health Legislation: Lawmakers hope to produce legislation to address growing mental health and substance use needs this year as deadlines approach, but the issue is competing for attention with other national priorities in a compressed election-year schedule. Congress has until March 11 to extend a restriction on fentanyl-related substances, a large group of synthetic opioids that are responsible for most drug-related deaths. And a dozen Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration programs also must be reauthorized by the end of the fiscal year in September. The programs include the community mental health services block grant, mental and behavioral health education and training grants, and evidence-based programs within the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory. (Roll Call)
Banking & Housing
Joint Economic Committee and Congressional Black Caucus Release New Analysis Highlighting Economic Progress and Socioeconomic Barriers Facing Black Americans: In recognition of Black History Month and in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) and the CBC released a new analysis of the impact of economic trends and barriers on Black Americans. (Clark Hill Insight)
Waters Calls on Regulators and Industry to Hold Appraisers Accountable and Announces Plans for Legislation: Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to Marcia Fudge, Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as the Appraisal Subcommittee, the Appraisal Foundation, and the Appraisal Institute regarding ongoing appraisal bias and discrimination, calling on the federal regulators and the Appraisal Institute to investigate appraiser misconduct and potential illegal discrimination. (Clark Hill Insight)
Russia Could Use Cryptocurrency to Blunt the Force of U.S. Sanctions: Last week, the Biden administration enacted fresh sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, aiming to thwart its access to foreign capital. But Russian entities are preparing to blunt some of the worst effects by making deals with anyone around the world willing to work with them, experts said. And, they say, those entities can then use digital currencies to bypass the control points that governments rely on — mainly transfers of money by banks — to block deal execution. (The New York Times)
Cannabis Advocates Push Senators to Ease Draft Bill’s Tax Burden: As top Senate Democrats finalize their plan for making marijuana legal across the country, industry and advocacy groups are urging a lower tax rate. They’re arguing that setting levies too high could allow an illegal market to keep flourishing and hit hard in some states that already legalized marijuana. The details of senators’ vision for a federal cannabis tax regime will be a key factor in the coming weeks as Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) work toward unveiling their bill in April. (Roll Call)
Homeland Security & Immigration
Peters & Colleagues Call for Robust Funding to Support DHS Border Security and Drug Detection: U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led a group of his colleagues to call for sufficient resources in forthcoming government funding legislation to support the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to strengthen security at U.S. ports of entry and bolster our nation’s ability to detect and seize illegal drugs before they cross our borders. (Clark Hill Insight)
Environment & Interior
Congress is Eyeing a Bipartisan Climate Trade Policy: Republicans and Democrats are working together on plans to penalize imports of high-polluting goods, a rare bipartisan effort in Congress that could insert climate change policy into U.S. trade rules. The inspiration for the policy: former President Donald Trump. (Politico)
Feinstein, Toomey Call on Senate EPW Committee to Take Up Bill to End Ethanol Mandate: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called on the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works to consider legislation that would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate as the Senate considers changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard. (Clark Hill Insight)
Budget & Appropriations
White House Asks Congress for $6.4 Billion to Aid Ukraine: The Biden administration asked Congress to provide $6.4 billion in funding to assist Ukraine as it fights off Russia’s advances. (Axios)
CDC Says Most Americans Can Now Take Off Masks as Covid Cases Plummet: The majority of Americans can now choose to take off their masks in indoor public settings, including in schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last Friday. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said data supports state and local officials, schools and businesses in 70 percent of the country updating their guidelines to allow people the option to wear a mask. The move marks a milestone in America’s two-year fight against Covid-19 — one that relied heavily on masks to help control the spread of the virus. (Politico)
Department of Education
Education Dept Releases How-To on Using COVID-19 Relief for Technical Education: The Department of Education last Friday released a fact sheet to help high schools across the country use coronavirus relief funds to expand their career and technical education (CTE) offerings. The new fact sheet is part of a push by the department to assist schools in using federal funds for everything from improving curriculum to retaining and hiring qualified staff. (The Hill)
Banking & Housing/HUD
U.S., Allies to Kick Certain Russian Banks Out of SWIFT Banking System: The White House on Saturday announced that the United States and allies will kick certain Russian banks out of a major international banking system, a significant step in a bid to cripple the Russian economy in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. (The Hill)
Treasury says Most COVID Rental Aid Went to Low-Income Residents: More than 80% of the billions of dollars in federal rental assistance aimed at keeping families in their homes during the pandemic went to low-income tenants, the Treasury Department said. (PBS)
U.S. Postal Service Flouts Biden’s Electric Vehicle Plan: President Biden’s plan to electrify the federal vehicle fleet by 2035 is off to an inauspicious start, with a deal last week by the U.S. Postal Service to buy nearly 150,000 gasoline-powered mail trucks. The $11.3 billion contract commits the Postal Service to at least another decade without electrifying their fleet, undercutting the nation’s climate goals, say Biden administration officials and environmental groups, which tried to block it. (Axios)
DOT Lays Out Actions to Strengthen Supply Chains and Revitalize the Economy: On the one-year anniversary of President’s Executive Order on Supply Chains, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published a report that lays out vulnerabilities in our freight and logistics supply chain and clear-cut actions needed to speed up the movement of goods from ships to shelves. Building a resilient and efficient supply chain that can withstand the shocks of future large-scale weather, health or other events that will spur economic growth, lower costs for Americans, and create good-paying jobs in the process. (Clark Hill Insight)
FAA, Industry Partner on Eagle Unleaded Avgas Initiative: FAA Administrator Steve Dickson unveiled a new government-industry initiative called Eagle last week at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) annual industry media briefing. Eagle stands for “eliminate aviation gasoline lead emissions” and, Dickson said, “the intent of the program is to safely eliminate leaded aviation fuel by the end of 2030 without impacting the safe and efficient operation of the piston-engine fleet.” (Aviation International News)
U.S. Sanctions Russia After Ukraine Invasion: The United States and its allies moved to block certain Russian banks’ access to the SWIFT international payment system, and they have also targeted kay banks in Russia’s financial system, which effectively kicks the banks out of the U.S. financial system, bans their trade with Americans, and freezes their U.S. assets. (Al-Jazeera)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Russia Suspends Some Space Cooperation with the U.S. & Europe: U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine were expected to impact Russia’s space program, and Russia quickly pushed back by suspending launches of its Soyuz rocket from Europe’s launch base in French Guiana and stopping cooperation with NASA on a planetary science mission. But the two major cooperative programs, the International Space Station and ExoMars, appear to still be on track. Whether that will remain true in the days and weeks ahead is difficult to forecast. (Space Policy Online)
ISS Transition to Commercial Stations Poses Challenges for Partners: Once NASA shifts to commercial stations, though, “ESA will probably not be in a position to buy commercial services from U.S. providers for its research activities in LEO or to fly its astronauts.” “This will probably not be acceptable for our member states.” Buying services from U.S. companies, Sylvie Espinass explained, would contradict an ESA mandate to support Europe’s space industry. (Space News)
An Unexpected Item is Blocking Cities’ Climate Change Prep: Many cities are still building (and rebuilding) their infrastructure for the climate of the past, using rainfall records that haven’t been updated in decades. Those federal precipitation reports, which analyze historical rainfall data to tell cities what kinds of storms to plan for, are only sporadically updated by NOAA. Now, as NOAA determines how to spend its own infrastructure bill funding, many cities are hoping the agency commits to doing regular, nationwide updates of its precipitation reports, known as Atlas 14, to provide a systematic snapshot of how storms have already intensified and to issue predictions of future increases. (National Public Radio)
Defense Firms Brace for Billions of Dollars in New Taxes and Hope for Congressional Relief: Defense companies are warning investors they could owe billions of dollars in additional taxes this April unless Congress repeals or defers a 2017 law that would tax research and development expenses. Some say it will discourage American companies from making research-and-development investments at a time when the U.S. is increasingly competing with China both militarily and commercially. (Defense One)
Hundreds of AI Projects Underway as Defense Department Eyes Future Combat: The DoD is juggling more than 685 artificial intelligence projects, including some associated with major weapon systems, like the MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Artificial intelligence ventures are underway across several services and combatant commands, with the U.S. Army leading the pack, according to a list published last week by the Government Accountability Office. (Defense News)
Russian Threat is Forcing a Rewrite of U.S. Defense Plans and Budgets: Even if NATO stays out of the combat in Ukraine, if Putin has his eyes set on taking back any or all of the other former Soviet states, then the world changed even more dramatically this week than most people realize. To hedge against the possibility of wider conflicts U.S. defense budgets and America’s military posture will change, with Pentagon spending probably growing more than it otherwise would, an uptick that could become apparent in the next couple of weeks as the Administration scrambles to also finalize a new National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy now complicated by recent events. (Roll Call)
DHS & Immigration
Joint Statement by Secretaries Raimondo and Mayorkas on Assessment of Critical Supply Chains Supporting the Information and Communications Technology Industry: Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas released the following statement on the completion of a one-year assessment of the critical supply chains supporting the information and communications technology (ICT) industry. (Clark Hill Insight)
Ketanji Brown Jackson is the First Black Woman Selected for the Nation’s Top Court: President Joe Biden has selected D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, making history by picking a Black woman for the nation’s highest court. (Politico)
The Justice Department is Ending its Controversial China Initiative: The Justice Department said last Wednesday that it is scrapping its China Initiative, a program that it launched under the Trump administration to counter Beijing’s theft of American intellectual property but increasingly came under criticism from civil rights groups that say it created a climate of fear among Asian Americans. (NPR)
National Cyber Director Chris Inglis Calls for “New Social Contract” to Redistribute Risk: The private sector must prioritize long-term investments in a digital ecosystem that equitably distributes the burden of cyberdefense,” believes Inglis, who is calling for greater collaboration with government, which in turn must also provide more timely and comprehensive threat information while simultaneously treating industry as a vital partner. (Cyber Scoop)
Zero Trust Will Be “Incomplete Experiment’ Without Prompt Federal and Commercial Follow-Up, Report Says: The Biden administration has done well in building momentum behind its zero trust initiatives, but a focus on short-term goals — to the exclusion of long-term planning — runs the risk of undershooting a sustained impact. That’s the warning contained in a new report from the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Council on the state of zero trust adoption in the federal government, which also calls on CISA to stand up a civilian zero trust program office to compliment the recently established DOD program office. (Federal News Network)
Cyber Officials Urge Agencies to Armor Up for Potential Russian Attacks: The federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) updated its “Shields Up” guidance for large organizations and government agencies after Russia’s incursion into eastern Ukraine and increased U.S. sanctions have heightened tensions, urging officials to remain “laser-focused on resilience.” (The Hill)
EPA & DOI
The U.S. Looks to Replace a Derogatory Name Used Hundreds of Times on Federal Lands: The Department of the Interior is moving forward with plans to remove a name the department declared to be derogatory from federal lands. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland formed a task force and declared the word “squaw” derogatory in November 2021. Now, the department is seeking public comment on name replacements for the more than 660 geographic features that contain the word. (NPR)
Department of Energy
Biden Suggests U.S. Will Release Oil from Reserves ‘As Conditions Warrant’: President Biden suggested last Thursday that the U.S. may release oil from its strategic reserve after prices soared amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Biden said that he was coordinating with both oil producing and oil consuming nations, and that the U.S. could release oil of its own. (The Hill)
Securing America’s Clean Energy Supply Chain: In February 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published “America’s Strategy to Secure the Supply Chain for a Robust Clean Energy Transition”—the first comprehensive U.S. government plan to build an Energy Sector Industrial Base. The strategy examines technologies and crosscutting topics for analysis in response to Executive Order 14017 on America’s Supply Chains and is part of a whole of government approach to chart a course for revitalizing the U.S. economy and domestic manufacturing by securing the country’s most critical supply chains. (Clark Hill Insight)
U.S. EPA Commits to Increasing Biofuel Use, Targets Not Yet Finalized: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is committed to increasing the use of biofuels, an agency official said last Tuesday, but the industry is still anxiously awaiting the Biden administration to finalize specific blending goals. (Reuters)
Biden Pauses New Oil and Gas Leases Amid Legal Battle over Cost of Climate Change: The Biden administration is delaying decisions on new oil and gas leases and permits after a Louisiana federal judge blocked officials from using higher cost estimates of climate change when making rules for polluting industries. (CNBC)
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