Window on Washington – January 31, 2022, Vol. 6, Issue 4
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. Their to-do list includes continuing their work on FY22 appropriations, the reconciliation bill, election reform, and the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) conference negotiations. The House also plans to vote on numerous bills from the Oversight and Reform Committee and to start floor proceedings on their version of USICA. Hearings for the week include examining nominations, the mental health and substance use disorders crises, the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s broadband programs, domestic recycling and composting programs, automated vehicles, clean energy, and 5G deployment and aviation safety.
Budget and Appropriations. House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders have reportedly made progress in their omnibus negotiations and are said to be nearing an agreement on top-line spending numbers. However, with only a couple of weeks to go before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on February 18, Congress may end up needing to pass another short-term CR since they have not yet reached an agreement and are still discussing policy riders. If this continues to be the case, the next CR will likely only be for around a week or so. Separately, the Senate Budget Committee plans to hold a hearing this week to examine Acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young’s nomination to be the OMB director.
USICA. House Democrats released their version of the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). The House proposal, which is titled the America COMPETES Act of 2022, focuses on the United States’ competitiveness with China, the semiconductor industry, and federal research. The bill text can be found here, the section-by-section here, and the fact sheet here. This bill did not account for input from House Republicans and has numerous differences compared to USICA, so it remains to be seen how the negotiations will ultimately play out. More than 500 amendments had been filed with the House Rules Committee for possible consideration when the bill reaches the House floor. The Rules Committee will sort out which of these will be made in order prior to this week’s House floor action.
Reconciliation. Democrats are still trying to figure out how to move forward with the Build Back Better (BBB) Act. As of now it remains to be seen what approach they will take to revive the legislation. House Progressives are calling on the Senate to pass the revised bill by March 1, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said that she does not want Congress to “subscribe to any particular date” to pass the bill. In the meantime, the White House is resuming its work to showcase the BBB, and just last week they held an in-person meeting with the CEOs of 10 major corporations to discuss the potential benefits of the BBB to businesses.
Election Reform. The bipartisan Senate group that is working on proposing changes to the Electoral Count Act is expected to meet in person as soon as this week.
Supreme Court Vacancy. Following Justice Stephen Breyer’s announcement of his retirement at the end of the court’s term later this year, President Joe Biden last week reaffirmed his campaign promise that he would nominate a Black woman to fill the next Supreme Court (SCOTUS) vacancy. The White House indicated it is considering a wider list of candidates than what has largely been reported on so far, and it includes judges on lower courts, professors, and prominent civil rights attorneys. Biden noted he will nominate someone by the end of February, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has promised swift confirmation hearings with a goal of confirming the next justice before the start of SCOTUS’ next term in October.
Biden Administration. President Joe Biden plans to visit New York City on Thursday to meet with Mayor Eric Adams for the first time. The two will discuss gun violence.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
Democrats Mull How Much to Build Back, and When, in Budget Bill: Democrats eager to enact some form of their climate and safety net package before the November midterm elections are floating disparate strategies for resurrecting negotiations that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) squashed last month. (Roll Call)
House Panel Says Company Probed For COVID-19 Misinformation Is Withholding Info: An online company under investigation by a House panel for profiting off COVID-19 misinformation is not cooperating with the probe, according to the panel’s chairman. According to a letter sent by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, SpeakWithAnMD.com has failed to provide any documents or information requested and has not responded to any communication from the committee in more than a week. (The Hill)
Dozens of Democrats Demand Biden Release Legal Memo on Student Debt Cancellation: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and dozens of other Democrats on Wednesday called on President Joe Biden to show his cards on student loan forgiveness and release a legal memo his administration prepared about his powers to cancel student debt. The new request for the documents by 85 House and Senate Democrats comes as progressives are once again ramping up their pressure campaign to convince Biden to cancel large amounts of student debt ahead of the midterm elections. (Politico)
Banking & Housing
House Lawmakers Urge Pelosi to Bring Stock Trading Ban to the Floor: A group of 27 House members on Monday called on Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to swiftly bring a bill to bar lawmakers from trading stocks to the House floor. “There is no reason that members of Congress need to be allowed to trade stocks when we should be focused on doing our jobs and serving our constituents,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), wrote in a letter to House leaders. (The Hill)
Crypto Advocates Blast House China Bill for Ransomware Proposal: Cryptocurrency proponents are blistering a House bill designed to bolster the United States’ economic competitiveness with China, saying it could subject financial institutions to unchecked monitoring and oversight from the Treasury Department. The cryptocurrency think tank Coin Center claimed the bill would eliminate legal safeguards protecting financial institutions and consumers from federal overreach — including caps on how long accounts can be monitored or frozen. The bill also grants the Treasury secretary more latitude to identify “transmittals of funds” — including digital assets — as a money laundering concern. (Politico)
Bipartisan Congressional Group Asks Yellen to Clarify Digital Assets: A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has asked the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for “clarity to the digital asset ecosystem” after new related reporting requirements were included in last year’s $1 trillion infrastructure law. In the letter, the group told Yellen that part of the bill was “ambiguous” because Treasury could interpret who within the digital asset ecosystem qualifies as a “broker” beyond what Congress intended, and urged against “a potentially expansive reading of the ‘broker’ definition.” (Reuters)
SALT Change Likely to be Cut from Bill, say Senate Democrats: Senate Democrats say a proposal to raise the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, a top priority of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), is likely to be cut from the revised Build Back Better Act. Senate Democrats who were involved in negotiations over the bill before Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) blew it up last month say there’s simply not enough room for the expensive tax change, which Republicans argue would benefit wealthy suburban households in blue states. (The Hill)
Top House Democrat Open to Lower Income Caps for Child Tax Credit to Win Over Manchin: House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) expressed openness to lowering the income limits for families to access the expanded child tax credit if it helps win Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) support for the party’s sweeping climate and social spending bill. Clyburn said in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday that he thinks Democrats still have wiggle room with getting Manchin on board with a party-backed expansion to the child tax credit after its recent lapse. (The Hill)
Norton, Larsen Line up to Replace DeFazio on House Transportation Panel: The impending retirement of House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) at the end of this year has spurred what promises to be a heated race between two veteran Democrats to replace him. Regardless of which party takes the House in November, House Democrats will choose between Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) for the top Democratic position on the 69-member panel, which has jurisdiction over transportation, the Coast Guard, federal management of emergencies, flood control, federal buildings and pipelines. (Roll Call)
T&I Republican Leader Graves Requests IIJA Implementation Briefing from Head of Infrastructure Task Force: Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) asked White House Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu for a full Committee briefing on the Biden administration’s plans to implement the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This briefing will help provide informed congressional oversight; ensure that IIJA is being implemented according to Congress’ intent; and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. (Clark Hill Insight)
House China Bill Includes Aggressive Trade Provisions: U.S. House legislation to confront China economically includes trade provisions that differ from the Senate’s, setting the stage for a high-stakes negotiation over how to handle commerce between the world’s two largest economies. (Politico)
House Competition Bill Includes More Trade Aid for Workers: Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee offered ambitious plans in a sweeping competition bill released last Tuesday night to expand the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, advance tougher requirements that countries must meet to receive trade breaks, and make it difficult for China and other nonmarket countries to ship goods to the U.S. through the mail duty-free. (Roll Call)
Space/NASA & NOAA
House China Competitiveness Bill Has Little to Say About Space: The House bill to parallel the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to ensure U.S. competitiveness with China has finally been introduced. The Senate version passed last summer incorporating other measures including a NASA authorization act and legislation related to space traffic management. They are not included in this House bill. (Space Policy Online)
Homeland Security & Immigration
Congress to Investigate CBP’s ‘Rogue Units’: Ten House and Senate committee chairs have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation of so-called Critical Incident Teams within U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Furthermore, the chairs of two congressional committees are requesting information by early next month about “potential misconduct” within these units, also referred to as “shadow units.” (Border Report)
Hoyer says Voting Rights Bill, BBB ‘Very Much Alive’: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) remains optimistic that Democrats will pass the voting rights legislation and the Build Back Better bill despite roadblocks but offered few details about how that could happen. (Politico)
Schumer Gives Senate’s Newest Bipartisan Gang Breathing Room on Post-Jan. 6 Reform: Chuck Schumer is quietly stoking bipartisan talks about updating the Electoral Count Act, according to multiple people familiar with the matter, marking a shift from his party’s single-minded focus on broader election reform legislation. The Senate majority leader hasn’t committed to backing the work of a growing bipartisan coalition of senators that’s interested in modernizing the very law that directly influenced the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. He’s waiting to see what deal, if anything, the group comes up with before gaming out whether a bill could win 60 votes on the Senate floor. (Politico)
Native Americans Feel Overlooked in Voting Rights Push: Native American voters face heightened discrimination at the ballot box like Black Americans and Latino voters, but they’re often left out of the conversation about election reform despite their ability to swing crucial races. Voting rights is quickly becoming a litmus test for Democratic candidates to succeed nationwide, and a top priority for the Biden administration. Some Democrats are looking to carve out specific legislation helping to preserve Indigenous voters’ access. (Axios)
Representatives Malinowski and Porter Introduce Bill to Ban Fraudulent Political Fundraising: Representatives Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Katie Porter (D-CA) introduced the Stopping Corrupt Actors from Making Political Action Committees (SCAM PAC) Act to stop con artists from using abusive campaign fundraising practices against the American people. The bill targets scam political action committees (PACs) that raise money, often millions of dollars, on behalf of a candidate or cause, only to keep all or most of the funds raised. (Clark Hill Insight)
Environment & Interior
Unlike Senate, House Democrats make climate push in China bill: The House version of a sprawling technology draft bill unveiled Tuesday incorporates a host of climate-related provisions not included in the legislation that passed the Senate last year in a bipartisan vote. Leaders from both sides of the aisle have cast the legislation as an effort to step up America’s technological game in response to a rising China. (Roll Call)
Walensky says “The CDC Alone Can’t Fix This” and Calls for Overhaul of U.S. Public Health System: The U.S. needs to rethink its approach to tackling Covid-19 by rebuilding the nation’s public health system, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said. It’s been a year since Walensky took over the public health agency and the country has gone through a vaccine rollout, seen variants emerge and witnessed three massive surges. To Walensky, the pandemic shows no signs of vanishing. This week, an average of 740,000 infections were reported each day. On Thursday, the day she spoke with POLITICO, more than 2,400 people were reported as having died from Covid-19. (Politico)
Government Watchdog Says HHS at ‘High Risk’ Of Bungling Public Health Crises: The Health and Human Services Department has failed to fix long-standing problems in its pandemic response, putting its ability to respond to future emergencies in jeopardy, the Government Accountability Office said in a report last Thursday. The watchdog agency included HHS on its “High Risk List” of federal departments and programs susceptible to mismanagement and abuse without significant changes, such as drug and medical product oversight. Three dozen agencies and federal programs are currently on the list. (Politico)
Labor & Workforce
White House Mulling Scaled-Down, Covid-Related Paid Leave Plan: The White House is exploring a push for a coronavirus-related paid leave program akin to that enacted in an earlier round of pandemic relief, three people familiar with the conversations said last Thursday. It would be much more narrowly tailored than the 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers Biden proposed in his original social spending package, Build Back Better. When opposition from moderates crumbled efforts to pass the legislation, hopes for that program — or even a dramatically scaled-down version — collapsed. (Politico)
Banking & Housing/HUD
Fannie Mae Urges New Flood Disclosures for Homebuyers: Mortgage giant Fannie Mae is urging FEMA to set federal standards for how home sellers disclose flood risks to potential buyers. The recommendation Fannie Mae made to FEMA would shine a light on potential damages homeowners would face from climate change, which has contributed to rising sea levels, stronger storm surges and heavier rainfalls that increase flooding. The government-controlled Fannie Mae buys mortgages from lenders and sells them as securities to investors. FEMA operates the National Flood Insurance Program. (Politico)
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Launches Initiative to Save Americans Billions in Junk Fees: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) launched an initiative to save households billions of dollars a year by reducing exploitative junk fees charged by banks and financial companies. The request is a chance for the public to share input that will help shape the agency’s rulemaking and guidance agenda, as well as its enforcement priorities in the coming months and years. (Clark Hill Insight)
U.S. SEC to Ramp up Hedge Fund, Private Equity Fund Scrutiny: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Wednesday proposed new rules to boost hedge fund and private equity fund disclosures as it looks to increase oversight of the private funds industry and better monitor systemic risks. (Reuters)
White House Preparing Executive Order on Cryptocurrencies: The White House is putting together an executive order for cryptocurrencies that could be released as early as February. As part of the plan, Joe Biden’s administration will task multiple federal agencies with evaluating risks and opportunities that digital assets pose with their reports due in the second half of the year. Senior administration officials have already had multiple talks on the plan. (Markets Insider)
IRS Backlog Delayed Emergency Relief for Businesses: Emergency tax refunds meant to help businesses weather pandemic woes were significantly delayed because their applications got ensnared in the IRS paperwork backlog, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. The holdup required the IRS to shell out tens of millions of dollars in interest on top of the refunds. (Politico)
DOT Vows ‘Paradigm Shift’ in New Roadway Safety Standards: Facing a surge in traffic fatalities, the Department of Transportation Thursday released a 42-page plan aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities in hopes of reversing an increasingly deadly trend. Noting that it’s a “sad and universal truth” that nearly everyone knows someone who has died in a traffic accident, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg vowed to work to eliminate traffic deaths to create “a country where one day nobody has to say goodbye to a loved one because of a traffic crash.” (Roll Call)
FAA, Wireless Companies Agree on Steps to Deploy 5G Towers Near Airports: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Friday announced that it worked out a solution with Verizon and AT&T to deploy additional 5G C-Band towers near airports without disrupting flights. The agency said that the telecoms provided more precise data about the exact location of their wireless transmitters and “supported more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments.” (The Hill)
White House Mulls Extension of Trump-era Solar Tariffs, with Tweaks: The White House is considering extending Trump-era tariffs on solar power imports, but with a handful of tweaks to make it easier for domestic installers to access supplies. (Reuters)
Space/NASA & NOAA
China Presents Space Plans and Priorities in New White Paper: China has released a new white paper outlining the centrality of space to the country’s “overall national strategy” as well as major plans for the years ahead. Over the next five years China will seek to develop its space transportation capabilities, test new technologies, embark on exploration missions, modernize space governance, enhance innovation and boost international cooperation. (Space News)
NASA Mapping Methane Emissions from Fossil Fuel Exploitation: Funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, scientists recently built a new series of maps detailing the geography of methane emissions from fossil fuel production. Using publicly available data reported in 2016, the research team plotted fuel exploitation emissions—or “fugitive emissions” as the UNFCCC calls them—that arise before the fuels are ever consumed. (NASA Earth Observatory)
Pentagon Pauses Civilian Vaccine Mandate After Federal Court Ruling: The Department of Defense is pausing its vaccine mandate for civilian employees following a ruling from a federal judge in Texas blocking President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal workers. The Department of Justice has said it will appeal the order, and the ruling doesn’t apply to service members or impact any other health protection measures the Pentagon has in place. (The Hill)
Defense Innovation Unit Highlights 2021 Technology Transition Efforts: The U.S. Department of Defense’s innovation hub transitioned eight new technologies last year, including an artificial intelligence tool the Missile Defense Agency can use to develop more accurate models of hypersonic missile trajectories. Since fiscal 2016, DIU has helped transition 35 prototypes into production or service contracts with DoD and has a transition rate of about 41%. DIU Director Michael Brown said that figure is up from about 30% a few years ago and he thinks a 50% to 60% transition rate is within reach. (Defense News)
SecDef Austin Summons Hypersonics CEOs: Amid several high-profile test failures that have slowed hypersonic weapon development, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has summoned the CEOs of nearly a dozen of America’s largest defense companies for a high-profile meeting next week, Defense One has learned. The purpose of the Feb. 3 meeting is to stress the urgency in fielding the fast-flying weapons as the U.S. plays catch-up to recent Chinese and Russian advances, according to five people with knowledge of the meeting. (Defense One)
DHS & Immigration
White House Plans Expedited Resettlement for Afghan Refugees: President Biden’s advisers are crafting a plan to accelerate bringing potentially thousands of Afghans to the U.S. from Qatar, according to a source with direct knowledge of the administration’s internal deliberations on the subject. As U.S. military leaders plan for a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, the administration is still struggling to handle the aftereffects of its chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal. One challenge: how to care for tens of thousands of displaced Afghans — many of whom helped the U.S. fight its longest war. (Axios)
U.S. Justice Antitrust Chief Says He’ll Seek to Stop Deals Not Settle: The new head of the Justice Department Antitrust Division, Jonathan Kanter, said last Monday the government should seek to stop proposed mergers which pose anticompetitive concerns rather than striking deals for asset sales or other concessions that would allow the transaction to close. (Reuters)
White House Ramping up Quick Selection Process for Breyer Replacement: With his presidential candidacy hanging in the balance, Joe Biden announced on a South Carolina debate stage in February 2020 that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if elected. It turned out to be a critical turning point in the campaign. Now, the opportunity to follow through on that pledge may serve as a similar inflection point for his presidency. (NBC News)
Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Redefine Cyber Warfare: The potential Russian invasion of Ukraine could give the world its first experience of a true cyber war. Ukraine was beset by attacks earlier this month when hackers defaced and disabled more than 70 government websites, and Microsoft discovered malware planted in Ukrainian government systems that could be triggered at any moment. While these instances raised concerns, they were only a hint of Russian cyber capabilities. (Politico)
Cyber Measures Gain Momentum at Federal Agencies: Last year’s White House Executive Order on Cybersecurity has had a catalytic effect in focusing increased attention on holistic cybersecurity practices, according to a new survey of federal IT officials. Half of agency IT and security officials polled in the survey described the executive order as “greatly needed” — and another 30% called it “game-changing” — in getting agency leaders to commit resources toward critical cybersecurity projects. (Cyber Scoop)
EPA Leading White House Effort to Secure the Water Sector Against Cyberattacks: The Biden administration is extending an initiative to improve the cybersecurity of industrial control systems to the water sector. It will be executed by the Environmental Protection Agency in collaboration with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and private-sector leaders. Industrial control systems that manage physical processes at heavy-duty facilities have become increasingly digitized and vulnerable to malicious hackers as demonstrated by an attack last February on a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida. (NextGov)
Biden’s FDA Pick Left in Limbo: President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration does not yet have the votes in the Senate needed to give the agency its first political leader in more than a year. More than two months after picking Robert Califf to be FDA commissioner, the confirmation is stymied by Democratic skepticism of the longtime cardiologist’s regulatory track record and a new GOP push to kill his nomination. (Politico)
EPA & DOI
Court Nixes Offshore Drilling Leases Auctioned by Biden Administration: A federal judge in Washington, D.C., just nixed offshore drilling leases issued by the Biden administration last year. Obama appointee Rudolph Contreras vacated both the decision to hold the lease sale, which was issued by the Trump administration, and “the action taken based on that Record of Decision,” including the sale itself, which was held in November. The judge returned the sale, known as Lease Sale 257, back to the Interior Department for further proceedings. (The Hill)
WEBINAR-Our Working Theory: Creating a Respectful Workplace is the Antidote to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual Harassment remains a persistent problem in the workplace despite regulation, mandatory training, and national attention, such as the #MeToo Movement.
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