Window On Washington - June 24, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 26
Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital
Congress. The House and Senate have one week of legislative work remaining before they break for the Fourth of July recess period, and it looks to be quite busy. In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (Chairman Alexander, R-TN) will markup S. 1895, the "Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019," and the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up four different bills concerning prescription drug pricing and innovation. In the House, work will continue on the second FY20 “appropriations minibus,” as many more amendments are awaiting debate and votes, with potential action on the remaining three appropriations bills later in the week. Foreign policy issues also remain on Congress’ radar, after Democrats in the House and Senate urged restraint from the Trump administration after reports late last week indicated that President Trump had approved a military strike on Iranian forces before calling it off at the last moment.
White House. As the House continued to debate a large appropriations package, they also succeeded in passing a number of amendments that would block or overturn various Trump administration policies and agency actions relating to Obamacare, immigration and labor laws. Because of these issues, the White House has already threatened to veto the package, which it says spends too much money and contains troublesome policy riders. The measure would spend 8.7 percent more than Trump's request, amounting to an increase of $25.7 billion, according to a Statement of Administration Policy. It also objected to provisions that would block military funding from being used for a border wall and preclude a citizenship question on the census.
Budget & Appropriations. Last week saw the final House passage of the first 4 bill appropriations “minibus” and several days of debate and votes on hundreds of amendments to the second minibus package, which will resume on Tuesday. House Democrats also last Friday introduced a $4.5 billion emergency appropriations bill to provide humanitarian assistance for migrants at the southern border, with significant funding for priorities including legal assistance, food, water, and medical services, support services for unaccompanied children, alternatives to detention, and refugee services, but not funding for additional ICE detention facilities, physical barriers or related technologies, setting up a showdown with the Senate which has already passed a significantly different version. The House and Senate majority leaders are also now on a collision course over whether to give members of Congress a pay raise, as House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-MD., (who supports a cost-of-living increase), said he intends to bring the fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch spending bill to the floor this week without any language that would block a pay boost, while Senator McConnell states that he would block such an increase in the Senate.
Last Week in the Nation's Capital
Odd Bedfellows Share Concerns Over Pelosi Drug Plan: Progressive Democrats are amplifying their criticism of an evolving leadership-driven plan to bring government negotiation to Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, raising some issues that echo conservative opposition. The liberal wing says a plan being developed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California doesn’t goes far enough in ensuring that the government would be able to negotiate lower prices than the private insurance plans that currently operate Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, Part D. (Roll Call)
Payroll Insight Is Needed in Identity Theft Fight, Report Says: Payroll professionals need to become more involved in the prevention of identity theft and tax fraud as part of a collaborative and wide-ranging effort led by the IRS, a report to Congress said June 19.
House Panel Approves Bills on Tax Extenders, Expanding Tax Credits: The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced Democratic legislation to extend expired and expiring tax breaks and to expand tax credits that benefit workers and families. (The Hill)
Homeland Committees Cyber it Up: The Senate Homeland Security Committee took up legislation last Wednesday (S. 734) that would set cybersecurity standards for internet of things devices the federal government purchases. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), has previously encountered skepticism from Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI). The House Oversight Committee last week approved a companion measure (H.R. 1668). The panel also will consider a draft bill to strengthen cybersecurity coordination between DHS and state and local governments. (Politico)
Schiff: House in the Dark about DOJ’s 2016 Campaign Spying Probe: The House Intelligence Committee has “very little visibility” into the three Justice Department investigations into the intelligence officials who launched the Russia probe, the panel’s chairman Adam Schiff said. (Politico)
Interior & Environment
House Votes to Block Offshore Drilling Across US for One Year: A spending bill passed by the House late Thursday would block offshore drilling along most U.S. shores, taking development of all of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts off the table. Passed as part of a bill funding the Department of the Interior, the measure would bar new offshore development through fiscal 2020. (The Hill)
PFAS: Congress Continues March Toward Addressing PFAS: Congressional interest in addressing Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continues to build in 2019, as do the odds of a PFAS legislation package eventually passing both houses. Among other things, these bills share a common goal of documenting the scope and impacts of PFAS contamination in the environment. (Clark Hill Insight)
Panel Considers FAST Act Reauthorization: Now that Congress may not pass a broad infrastructure package this year, lawmakers are turning their attention to a surface transportation bill. (E&E News)
NIH Prepares to Toughen Harassment Rules: Last year, on the heels of several high-profile cases of sexual harassment in science, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, came under fire for standing by while another major U.S. research funding agency, the National Science Foundation (NSF), quickly tightened its policies. But now, NIH officials appear ready to act—and even to go beyond NSF's rules. (Science)
Labor & Workforce
U.S. Labor Chief Acosta Visits Little Rock to Push USMCA Trade Deal: Acosta made his comments before a standing-room only audience at the downtown headquarters of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce during a discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing the Arkansas and U.S. workforce. He spoke of the efforts to replace the former NAFTA agreement with a deal that improved labor protections for workers among other topics. (Talk Business)
Space, NASA & NOAA
GAO Recommends NASA Develop Contingency Plan for ISS Access Amid Commercial Crew Delays: The June 20 report by the GAO noted that both Boeing and SpaceX are making progress on the development of their commercial crew vehicles, including an uncrewed test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in March. But a number of technical issues, coupled with a history of delays, didn’t give the organization confidence the companies would be able to maintain their current schedules. (Space News)
Apollo Astronauts Divided on NASA’s Moon Plans, Space Force Concept: Much like the American public, three former astronauts who traveled to the moon on Apollo missions have different opinions on whether the space agency should return, and they also are concerned that new layers of bureaucracy at the Pentagon associated with the Space Force will be detrimental to space exploration. (Politico)
Defense Bill Hits Rand Paul Speed Bump: Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) says Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is slow-walking the National Defense Authorization Act, including forcing lawmakers to wait until next week to formally proceed to the defense bill. (The Hill)
House Passes Defense Appropriations Bill: The House’s defense legislation supports a $733 billion topline for national security, matching the level the administration was originally projecting for FY20 before the White House bolstered its request to $750 billion. A separate defense authorization bill from the House Armed Services Committee also supports a $733 national security topline. (Defense & Security Monitor)
Mexico Ratifies USMCA Trade Deal with US, Canada: The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) – which was designed as a substitute for the North American Free Trade Agreement – sailed through the country’s upper chamber with a vote of 114 to four, with three abstentions, The Associated Press reported. So far, Mexico’s government is the only one of the three countries to sign off on the treaty. (Fox Business)
L3, Harris Merger Proceeding After Justice Department Ruling: Harris Corp. and L3 Technologies said June 21 that their merger has the regulatory approvals needed to close following a Justice Department decision. (Space News)
CE Set to Begin Immigration Raids in 10 Cities on Sunday: Immigration and Customs Enforcement is pressing forward to arrest and deport families with court-ordered removals in 10 cities beginning Sunday, according to a senior immigration official, after President Donald Trump's tweet revealing an operation was imminent. (CNN)
Trump Deporting Immigrants at Slower Pace than Obama: Report: Despite a larger number of deportations in fiscal 2018 than 2017, the Trump administration’s deportation levels still fall below those under the early years of the Obama administration, according to an Axios report. (The Hill)
Secretary DeVos Rethinks Department’s Recognition of Accreditors: As part of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ efforts to rethink higher education, the U.S. Department of Education today released a revised Accreditation Handbook for use by accrediting agencies seeking recognition by the Department. (DOE Press Release)
Senate Confirms Baranwal to DOE Nuclear Energy Role: The Senate confirmed Rita Baranwal to be assistant secretary of nuclear energy at DOE by a vote of 86-5. Baranwal, nominated by the White House in October 2018, directs the department’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear program and previously served as director of technology development and application at Westinghouse. (Clark Hill Insight)
LaFleur to Leave FERC in August: FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur says she will leave the agency at the end of the summer. LaFleur had wanted a third term on the commission, but she gave up that pursuit in January after it became clear she would not be renominated. LaFleur's departure will leave the commission with two vacancies. The administration has not nominated anyone to replace former Chairman Kevin McIntyre, though several people have been rumored to be candidates for the seat. (Clark Hill Insight)
Trump to Officially Nominate Esper as Next Defense Secretary: President Trump plans to nominate Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army and former West Point classmate of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to be the next defense secretary, administration officials said on Friday. (New York Times)
Trump Rolls Back Obama’s Biggest Climate Rule: The Trump administration issued its long-awaited replacement for former President Barack Obama's most ambitious climate change regulation, rolling back rules in an effort to salvage the declining role of coal in the nation's power supply. Critics charge that the new rule would cripple the fight against climate change — which has emerged as a major issue for Democrats in the 2020 presidential race — and undermine any future White House efforts to use the Environmental Protection Agency to address the problem. (Politico)
FAA Issues Emergency Order Barring Commercial Operators from some Iranian Airspace: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday issued an emergency order prohibiting U.S. operators from flying in an overwater area of Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman due to heightened tensions. (Reuters)
FERC Advancing New Reliability Requirements for Renewables
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently issued two orders designed to address electric grid reliability implications raised by the dramatic growth in solar and wind projects. Renewable project owners and operators should follow these developments closely, as FERC’s orders propose to substantially increase registration and compliance requirements.