Window on Washington – March 21, 2022, Vol. 6, Issue 11
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The Senate is in session and the House is in recess this week, and the House Republican retreat will begin on Wednesday in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. The House last week voted to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus until 2024, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicated the chamber would move quickly to send it to President Joe Biden’s desk. However, it remains to be seen when exactly the Senate will take it up for a vote due to uncertainty as to whether or not it will be paired with legislation barring Russian energy imports. The Senate has also teed up the process to begin formal negotiations with the House on USICA/America COMPETES this week. The conference process will likely take a few weeks from then, and Congress is aiming to pass the bill by Memorial Day Weekend. Hearings for the week include examining nominations, building a resilient economy, strengthening Federal mental health and substance use disorder programs, and developing next-generation technology for innovation. Senate Commerce will also hold a meeting to discuss the Strengthening Support for American Manufacturing Act (S. 3434), the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (S. 3580), and the TORNADO Act (S. 3817).
Appropriations. The President’s FY23 Budget Request is expected to be released a week from today on March 28. The FY23 appropriations process in Congress is also picking up steam, with the House Appropriations Committee releasing its initial FY23 guidance last week. Separately, Congress is still working on the White House’s COVID aid request, and it is unclear when the House will bring a revised package up for a vote given the various unknowns such as size, offsets, and Senate support.
Supreme Court. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s multi-day confirmation hearings will begin today. Today’s hearing will focus on introductions and opening statements and questioning will start later in the week. Democratic leaders hope to vote on her confirmation by April 8.
Biden Administration. President Biden plans to attend a NATO Summit and a European Union Summit this week in Europe to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While there were calls for Biden to go to Kyiv, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden will not travel to Ukraine during his trip. Separately, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Sunset, Louisiana today to highlight the Administration’s broadband investments.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
Dems Search for Next Steps on Covid Aid as Headaches Pile Up: Amid intensifying White House pleas for a new strategy to pay for the Covid aid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her leadership team are ditching the controversial state offsets and trying to find a Plan B. But that brings up a bigger problem for the party: Now that the cash has been detached from the giant bipartisan spending deal that leaders had assumed would guarantee its passage, how do they get it through the 50-50 Senate? (Politico)
Senate Revving Up to Finish COMPETES/USICA Reconciliation: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) filed cloture on the House-passed America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act on March 17. On the Senate floor, Schumer then laid out his plan of action that involves the Senate taking up the America COMPETES to amend it with the text of the Senate-passed United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), passing it, then sending the resulting legislation back to the House for conferencing. The bill includes $52 billion to fully fund the CHIPS Act as well as millions in funding authorizations for domestic research and development programs. (MeriTalk)
Banking & Housing
Senate Banking Advances Powell, Two Other Fed Nominees After Raskin Withdrawal: The Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday advanced three Federal Reserve nominees, including Jerome Powell for a second term as chairman, ending a weekslong boycott by committee Republicans. (Roll Call)
U.S. Senate Democrats Seek Probe of Wells Fargo’s Refinancing Practices: U.S. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and other Senate Democrats have asked government regulators to examine Wells Fargo’s mortgage refinancing policies to ensure they do not discriminate against minority borrowers. (Reuters)
Democrats Split on Crypto Regulations: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — who has long led the left’s charge to crack down on banks and Wall Street — has emerged as one of the party’s most vocal cryptocurrency critics, warning that it exposes consumers to danger, is ripe for financial crimes and is an environmental threat because of its electricity usage. But a new generation of progressives — and a number of other senior Democrats — are embracing the startup industry. They’re arguing against regulations that could stifle what proponents say is a new avenue for financial inclusion and a breakthrough alternative to traditional banks. The lack of consensus among Democrats means it’s unlikely Congress will act anytime soon to pass major legislation laying out the direction of regulation of the new market. Some Democrats and lobbyists had expected initial votes early this year, but that timeline has slipped. (Politico)
T&I Members Request Regular Briefings with FAA on 5G Deployment: Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Sam Graves (R-MO), Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation Garret Graves (R-LA), and 25 of their colleagues on the Aviation Subcommittee requested the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provide bi-monthly updates on the agency’s ongoing 5G efforts and progress. (Clark Hill Insight)
House Dems Seek Probe of USPS Plan for New Mail Truck Fleet: Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are seeking an investigation into a U.S. Postal Service plan to replace its aging mail trucks with mostly gasoline-powered vehicles. (AP)
House Approves Bill to Suspend Trade Relations with Russia, Senate Timing Remains Uncertain: The House of Representatives voted last Thursday to revoke normal trade relations with Russia and its ally Belarus until 2024, but Senate action could be delayed by a lingering issue over banning Russian oil imports. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that his chamber would move quickly to take up the trade legislation and send it to Biden’s desk. But one outstanding issue could delay that process: whether or not it will be paired with legislation barring Russian energy imports, something for which Senate Republicans are pushing for. (Politico)
Congress Gives DoD More Money for Space, With Caveats: Military space programs got a big boost in the Omnibus spending deal, with appropriators adding nearly $1.3 billion for U.S. Space Force and Space Development Agency projects above what the Biden administration requested. Congress added these funds for military space funds technology development projects run by the Space Force. It also pays for an extra Global Positioning System satellite, as well as increasing spending on small launch services and Space Development Agency (SDA) missile-detecting satellites. (Space News)
GOP Indicates Plans to Question KBJ on Handling of Sex-Related Offenses: Senate Republicans are offering clear indicators that they plan to make Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s handling of sex-related offenses a key line of questioning in her confirmation hearings this week. (Politico)
Democrats Introduce Bill to Give FTC, DOJ Power to Block, Break Up Mergers: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), introduced a bill Wednesday that would give federal antitrust enforcers greater power to block and break up mergers. The Prohibiting Anticompetitive Mergers Act would allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice to reject large merger deals without a court order. It would also give the government power to retroactively break up deals that resulted in a market share above 50 percent or “materially harmed” competition, workers, consumers, or small or minority-owned businesses. (The Hill)
Bipartisan Group of Senators Press Mayorkas on US Readiness for Russian Cyberthreat: Last week a group of 22 senators, led by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), penned a letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas asking for a briefing on “efforts to protect the United States homeland from Russian government cyber and disinformation threats” as concerns increase about retaliation due to US sanctions and weapons transfers to the Ukraine. (The Hill)
Oil Company Executives Called to Hearing on Gas Price Increases: The top executives of six oil companies have been called to appear at an April hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in connection with elevated gasoline prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Roll Call)
U.S. Senators Introduce Bill to Ban U.S. Imports of Russian Uranium: U.S. Republican Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) on Thursday introduced a bill to ban U.S. imports of Russian uranium to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The bill comes as the Biden administration has been weighing sanctions on Russian nuclear power company Rosatom, a major supplier of fuel and technology to power plants around the world. (Reuters)
House Dems to Keep Pointing Finger at Oil Companies in Gas Price Blame Game: House Democrats are keeping a spotlight on the oil industry as gasoline prices hover near record levels, with Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) demanding that industry executives testify on why they haven’t jumped to drill new wells that would ease the crunch. The move escalates the political messaging war between Democrats and Republicans over who’s to blame for the high prices at the gas pump that have hit voters. Republican senators have pointed the finger at President Joe Biden for the skyrocketing oil prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But as oil prices have pulled back from their recent peak, Biden and other Democrats are hammering the oil companies they contend are keeping retail prices artificially high. (Politico)
Lawmakers Converging on Vision for DOE Office of Science. As the House and Senate prepare to convene a conference committee to reconcile their disparate proposals for sweeping national competitiveness legislation, a common vision has emerged for expanding the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. (FYI-American Institute of Physics)
Budget & Appropriations
Shalanda Young Sworn in as White House Budget Chief: Vice President Kamala Harris swore in senior adviser and longtime congressional aide Shalanda Young as the head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last Thursday, making her the first Black woman in history to assume the Cabinet position. (The Hill)
Surgeon General: No Need to Panic Over Latest Covid Spike in Europe: “Our focus should be on preparation, not on panic,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday in discussing the latest rising wave of Covid-19 cases in Europe. The emergence of a new subvariant has led to a steep rise of cases in Britain, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and other European nations in recent weeks. While the United States has not yet seen a noticeable increase, experts warn that a spike in cases is pretty much inevitable. (Politico)
U.S. Health Officials Seek Covid-19 Hospital Safety Complaints Following POLITICO Report: U.S. health officials are discussing how to ensure Americans file Covid-19 safety complaints after POLITICO reported that some hospitals ask patients to remove their N95 masks, among the best respiratory protection available, according to three people familiar with the conversations. Federal officials are concerned that many patients aren’t aware of how to report hospital safety issues to regulators, a process that takes place through state agencies, said two of the people familiar, including one inside the Biden administration. (Politico)
Department of Education
Dems fret Biden’s inaction on student debt will burn in midterms: President Joe Biden’s indecision on student loan debt could dampen turnout with a key constituency ahead of the midterms: younger voters. While White House officials have indicated he may extend the freeze on student loan payments for the fourth time, Biden’s lack of certainty ahead of another looming deadline is causing heartburn across the president’s party. (Politico)
Banking & Housing/HUD
Raskin Withdraws as Biden’s Fed Nominee: Sarah Bloom Raskin has withdrawn as President Joe Biden’s pick to be the Federal Reserve’s top Wall Street watchdog amid a clash over her climate views, ending a monthlong standoff that held up a slate of Fed nominees. (Politico)
Fed Begins Inflation Fight with Key Rate Hike, More to Come: The Federal Reserve launched a high-risk effort Wednesday to tame the worst inflation since the early 1980s, raising its benchmark short-term interest rate and signaling up to six additional rate hikes this year. (AP)
U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Proposed Rule to Improve Accessibility of Lavatories on Single-Aisle Aircraft: The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday announced that it is publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would improve the accessibility of lavatories for people with disabilities traveling on new single-aisle aircraft. (Clark Hill Insight)
Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Initiative to Improve Supply Chain Data Flow: To take the first step toward addressing supply chain challenges, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing the launch of Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW), an information-sharing initiative to pilot key freight information exchange between parts of the goods movement supply chain. (Clark Hill Insight)
Buttigieg says U.S. Will See ‘Meaningful’ Autonomous Vehicle Policy in 2020s: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday said federal policy on autonomous vehicles will undergo “meaningful” developments in the coming years, saying policy frameworks had not fully caught up with technological developments. (Reuters)
Surface Transportation Board Gets Earful on Reciprocal Switching: The two-day hearing on reciprocal switching this week may have held more questions than answers, with the Surface Transportation Board posing questions about where to allow reciprocal switching and how long it would take, among many other issues. The board has been taking public comments on how to move forward with reciprocal switching, which is when a shipper has access to one freight railroad but seeks access to a nearby competing freight railroad to cultivate a competitive pricing environment. President Joe Biden’s July 2021 executive order recommended that the board look further into the issue. (FreightWaves)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Russian Launch to ISS Underscores Some Space Cooperation Unchanged: As scheduled long before Russia invaded Ukraine, three Russian cosmonauts launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome today and arrived at the International Space Station to begin a normal tour of duty. With the exception of the individual who heads Russia’s space program, NASA and its ISS partners, including the Russians who work with their NASA counterparts on a daily basis, have maintained a sense of calm professionalism as the international crew aboard the ISS circles Earth every 90 minutes despite the geopolitical turmoil below. (Space Policy Online)
NIST Releases Guidance for Assessing Compliance with Core Cybersecurity Publication: As the government looks to tighten procurement regulations for critical software, the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a special publication detailing appropriate ways to assess an organization’s adherence to the agency’s go-to list of enhanced security requirements for protecting controlled but unclassified information. The document is targeted at auditors—internal and external to an organization—who are set to play a central role in cybersecurity policy under a May executive order and initiatives like the Pentagon’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program. (Next Gov)
Teleworking DOD Civilians May Be Recalled to In-Person Work: Defense Department civilians who have been teleworking amid the pandemic may be recalled to in-person work, according to a Thursday memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. But Hicks also praised telework, which expanded to unprecedented levels in the past two years and appeared to endorse its continued broad use. (Defense One)
DHS & Immigration
White House Tries to Avoid a Raskin Repeat as ICE Pick Teeters in Senate: At least three Senate Democrats are undecided on President Joe Biden’s pick to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as the White House seeks to save the nomination and avoid another high-profile defeat. (Politico)
Watchdog Urges Removal of ICE detainees Amid ‘Safety Risks’: A Department of Homeland Security watchdog office recommended the immediate relocation of all immigrant detainees at the Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico after uncovering “safety risks and unsanitary living conditions” there. (Roll Call)
Homeland Security Gives Afghans in U.S. Temporary Protected Status: The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday it will designate Afghanistan for temporary protected status, providing 18 months of deportation relief to Afghans who fled the country following its fall to the Taliban last year. (Roll Call)
DHS Withdraws Trump-Era Rule that Expanded Quick Deportations: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday said it is rescinding a Trump administration rule that significantly expanded a sped-up process for deporting people who enter the U.S. illegally without a hearing in immigration court. (Reuters)
Federal Courts Streamline Path for Judicial Financial Reports: The policymaking body for the federal courts announced last Tuesday the development of a new electronic system for more access to the financial disclosure reports of federal judges, as Congress has passed bills with broad bipartisan support on the issue in the past few months. (Roll Call)
FTC and Justice Department Launch Listening Forums on Firsthand Effects of Mergers and Acquisitions: The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice will host a series of listening forums to hear from those who have experienced firsthand the effects of mergers and acquisitions beyond antitrust experts, including consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, start-ups, farmers, investors, and independent businesses. (Clark Hill Insight)
“TSA Has Screwed This Up”: Pipeline Cyber Rules Hitting Major Hurdles: The government’s first attempt to require pipeline companies to meet basic cybersecurity standards is floundering, and oil and gas pipeline operators say the TSA’s cyber regulations are full of unwieldy or baffling requirements that could actually jeopardize pipeline safety and fuel supplies. Others in the energy sector, and cyber experts who help defend these systems, agree with these objections and say the TSA’s small cyber team has been overwhelmed by a flood of industry requests for workarounds. (Politico)
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