Window On Washington - June 10, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 24
Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital
Congress. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced last week that the full House of Representatives will vote this week on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House Counsel Don McGahn in contempt of Congress. A potential pay raise for Congress is also stirring up debate on Capitol Hill, and with funding for the Legislative Branch on deck for House floor action this week, at least four proposals to keep lawmaker pay frozen are on the table. Also, the House Democrats' recently passed DREAM Act will "probably not" get a vote in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last Wednesday, because it fails to address issues other than the status of illegal immigrants brought here as children. House Freshmen continued to rail against what they are referring to as McConnell’s “legislative graveyard” as he is refusing any conversations about possibly taking up a Senate version of HR 1, which is a primarily campaign finance related bill passed by the House Democrats much earlier this year.
White House. Last week, President Donald Trump completed a multi-day visit to the United Kingdom and France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and finally signed the $19.1 billion disaster aid bill that took Congress months to negotiate and pass. Last week also saw a flurry of meetings between officials from the U.S. and Mexico to try to avoid a damaging trade war prompted by the President’s fury over Central American migrants trying to enter the U.S., while a senior House Democrat promised to introduce legislation aimed at stopping duties from going into effect.
Budget & Appropriations. This week will see House floor action on the first “minibus” appropriations bill which will combine five separate FY20 appropriations bills (DoD, Energy & Water, Labor/HHS/Ed, Leg Branch, State/FOPs) into a package totaling almost $1 trillion. A number of amendments and several days of debate and votes are expected. House Majority Leader Hoyer says this week's floor vote won't be the only minibus coming to the House floor, but “the first of several minibuses.” The House Appropriations Committee has passed 10 of the 12 annual bills so far, and is expected to complete work on all 12 bills by June 11. It is not yet clear how the remaining seven bills will be bundled in coming weeks for floor consideration. Meanwhile, rumors continue to persist (with no hard verification) that the Senate Appropriations Committee will soon start marking up FY20 bills.
Last Week in the Nation's Capital
GOP Senators Ask PhRMA for Solutions to Lower Drug Prices: A group of eight Republican senators is writing to pharmaceutical companies asking them what solutions they have for lowering drug prices. The letter to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America released Thursday, led by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), says the lawmakers are looking for “cooperation” from drug companies as they seek to lower drug prices. (The Hill)
FY2020 THUD Bill Approved by House Appropriations Committee: The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2020 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) bill with a vote of 29 to 21 on June 4. The legislation was approved in subcommittee on May 23 and now moves to the floor of the House of Representatives. (Mass Transit)
Senators say Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Proposal Puts Industry Ahead of Consumers: More than 20 U.S. senators are calling on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to reconsider a proposal that would allow debt collectors to send unlimited texts and emails to consumers, as well as call them seven times a week per debt. Led by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, 19 Democratic and two Independent senators have signed a letter expressing their concerns that the proposed update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act would allow debt collectors to contact consumers more than they already do. (USA Today)
Cummings to Move Forward with Contempt Votes for Barr, Ross over Census Question: House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Friday indicated that he would formally move forward with contempt votes for Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross after they missed a Thursday deadline to hand over documents related to his committee's investigation on the census citizenship question. (The Hill)
House Votes to Protect 'Dreamer' Immigrants Amid White House Opposition: The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation to end the threat of deportation that has long hung over undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” who entered the United States when they were children. (Reuters)
Partisan Divide Marks Defense Budget Battle in House Armed Services Committee: The House Armed Services Committee continues the work of nailing down just what will be funded in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, amid increased grumbling from Republicans that Democrats are running roughshod over the bipartisan tradition of defense funding. The full committee mark-up is set for next week, but already the battlelines are being drawn over nuclear weapons policy. (Washington Examiner)
Democrats Want to Require Pentagon to Study Climate Change Risks on Military Bases: House Democrats will seek to include in the proposed National Defense Authorization Act language that would require the Pentagon to more aggressively study the risks posed to its bases by climate change, their latest effort to scrutinize and quantify the challenges a warming planet poses to the military. (Roll Call)
House Issues Study on DIA: The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday issued the long-awaited executive summary and recommendations resulting from its lengthy study of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency). While the report itself is classified, the public summary ticks off areas where the Pentagon’s spy arm excels, as well as where it’s “struggling” and what the committee considers “root causes” why.
Trump Administration Halts Fetal-Tissue Research by Government Scientists: President Trump’s administration is ending fetal-tissue research by government scientists and placing restrictions on academic researchers seeking grants from the NIH for studies involving fetal tissue. The administration said on 5 June that it will set up an ethics-review board to evaluate each NIH grant application that would support research with fetal tissue, which is collected from elective abortions. But the government has already decided against renewing its contract with a laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, that uses fetal tissue to study HIV. (Nature)
Labor & Workforce
Labor Department’s Top Lawyer Wants Political Review of Lawsuits: The Labor Department’s Trump-appointed political officials will be assured a larger role in DOL litigation involving certain divisive topics. Solicitor of Labor Kate O’Scannlain earlier this year ordered her office’s civil service leadership to consult with political agency heads before filing lawsuits and related pleadings against employers. The directive applies to “key dispositive motions,” such as complaints and motions for summary judgment, that touch on controversial legal theories, religious freedom, or other significant matters in which the current administration might differ from positions the DOL took during the Obama administration. (Bloomberg Law)
Space, NASA & NOAA
China Gains New Flexible Launch Capabilities With First Sea Launch: China successfully launched a Long March 11 solid rocket from a sea launch platform Wednesday, bringing its burgeoning space program new, flexible launch capabilities. The mission was the first sea-based launch globally since multinational spacecraft launch service provider Sea Launch in May 2014. (Space News)
Why Meteorologists Worry 5G Networks Could Degrade Weather Forecasts: Many of the frequencies now being auctioned off by the FCC for 5G networks and other telecommunications are very close to the frequencies used by certain weather-observing satellites, leading an increasing number of scientists and policymakers wary of potential negative interference issues that would harm advanced weather observing radars and systems. (Forbes)
NASA Opens Space Station for Business, Including Private Astronaut Missions with SpaceX and Boeing: NASA is opening the International Space Station (ISS) for more business, laying out its plan to do so at the Nasdaq stock exchange last Friday. Companies will be allowed to bid for new activities on the ISS, as NASA unveiled a new directive to “enable commercial manufacturing and production and allow both NASA and private astronauts to conduct new commercial activities aboard the orbiting laboratory,” the agency said in a press release. NASA is also opening up the ISS for “private astronaut missions of up to 30 days,” it said, “with the first mission as early as 2020.” (CNBC)
IRS Sets New Deadlines For Ending Faxing and Mailing of Transcripts: The IRS announced it would stop faxing tax transcripts starting June 28 and end the mailing of some transcripts to third parties on July 1 as part of its efforts to combat identity theft. The IRS had planned to implement the changes last year but delayed them because of the partial government shutdown. (Clark Hill Insight)
Battle Over Science Roils EPA: Environmental Protection Agency is battling its own board of science advisers over its controversial plan to dismiss certain types of scientific research from consideration when issuing rules. A meeting between the agency and some of the nation’s top scientists highlighted the growing rift between the EPA and the scientific community, with members of the Science Advisory Board (SAB) pushing back on the administration's efforts to bar consideration of studies that don't make their underlying data public. (The Hill)
US Trade Deficit Shrinks to $50.8 Billion in April: The U.S. trade deficit shrank in April, but the politically sensitive deficit with China moved higher. The Commerce Department says the gap between the goods and services the U.S. buys and what it sells abroad fell 2.1% to $50.8 billion in April from March. Exports fell 2.2% to $206.8 billion. Imports dropped 2.2% to $257.6 billion. The deficit in the trade of goods with China rose 29.7% to $26.9 billion. (Fox News)
Trump Says U.S. and Mexico Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avoid Tariffs: Mexico and the United States have agreed on a deal to stop the flow of illegal Central American immigrants from coming into the U.S., President Trump tweeted late Friday. The president said the deal suspended steep tariffs on imported Mexican goods that would have gone into effect on Monday. (CBS News)
Department of Justice prepares Google Antitrust Investigation, Report Says: The Justice Department is gearing up for an antitrust investigation of Google set to examine the search giant's internal practices and search rankings. (USA Today)
FEMA's Internal Watchdog Produced 'Feel Good' Reports About Agency's Emergency Response: The Federal Emergency Management Agency's internal watchdog produced 13 now-retracted "feel good" reports about how FEMA's emergency management oversight team responded to natural disasters in an effort to "downplay all the negatives," according to an internal report from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General office. (CNN)
US Can Label Nuke Waste As Less Dangerous to Quicken Cleanup: On Wednesday, the Department of Energy (DOE) reclassified some of the nation’s most dangerous radioactive waste to lower its threat level, outraging critics who say the move would make it cheaper and easier to walk away from cleaning up nuclear weapons production sites in Washington state, Idaho and South Carolina. (Washington Post)
FEC: Cyber Threats Don't Automatically Override Campaign Contribution Laws: The Federal Election Commission issued two draft advisory opinions in response to a request from Area 1 Security, a cybersecurity company proposing to offer free or reduced-cost phishing solutions to federal candidates and political committees. (Law.com)
Trump's Latest Interior Pick Wins Unexpected Support from Environmentalists: Robert Wallace, nominated to help oversee the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, is bucking the trend of opposition from green groups, even though he ticks several boxes that would otherwise draw a strong rebuke from environmentalists: He’s a Trump appointee, earns thousands of dollars from stock in the oil industry and spent nearly two decades as a lobbyist for General Electric Energy. (The Hill)
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