Window on Washington – November 1, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 44
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to continue holding votes to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees. The House plans to vote on numerous Natural Resources, Small Business, and Transportation and Infrastructure bills and may also consider the bipartisan infrastructure package and the reconciliation bill. Hearings for the week include examining nominees, the General Services Administration’s Priorities for 2021 and beyond, the challenges to the nation’s food supply chain, how to modernize the Community Services Block Grant, and the potential non-electric applications of civilian nuclear energy.
Reconciliation and Infrastructure Packages. House Democrats were unable to bring the reconciliation and the bipartisan infrastructure bills to the floor for a vote last week as they had hoped. While the White House and Congressional Democratic leadership released the $1.75 trillion framework and initial bill language for the updated Build Back Better Act, there are still some changes being made to the final legislative text. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus indicated they support the new framework, and House Democratic leaders expect to finish making revisions to the bill as they head into the week. The House Rules Committee delayed their planned meeting today, hoping to give negotiations more time. House Democratic leadership is now planning on holding votes on both the reconciliation package and the bipartisan infrastructure bill early this week. This is subject to change, however, based on how the remaining negotiations go. In the meantime, given that the surface transportation reauthorization is part of the infrastructure bill and the current short-term extension was set to expire yesterday, both the House and Senate last Thursday moved to extend it again through Dec. 3.
FY22 Appropriations. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Shalanda Young has asked House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to formally start bipartisan, bicameral discussions on an FY22 omnibus bill. House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders have indicated they are looking to meet potentially as soon as this week to begin their discussions on a conferenced bill, but it does not appear that a meeting is set in stone yet. Senate Republicans have not wanted to enter bipartisan appropriations talks thus far given their stance that there be parity in the increases in defense and non-defense spending and that lawmakers agree to top-line spending levels for each of the 12 appropriations bills before the process can move forward. With just about one month left until the current continuing resolution (CR) expires, it remains to be seen if the Committees will be able to resolve these differences by then or if they will need another CR.
Elections. There are a handful of races tomorrow that Democrats and Republicans are keeping their eyes out on ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, including gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and mayoral races in Boston, MA and Buffalo, NY. The governor’s race in Virginia is particularly in the spotlight, as Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat and former governor Terry McAuliffe remain neck-and-neck in the polls. The outcome of this election in particular will be a temperature check as to where the future of each party is headed going into next year’s midterm elections, as a win for Youngkin could indicate the difficulties Democrats may face across the nation next Fall.
Biden Administration. President Joe Biden will be in Glasgow, Scotland today and tomorrow for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
Biden Makes $1.75T Sales Pitch to House Democrats: President Joe Biden presented House Democrats with a $1.75 trillion reconciliation framework last Thursday, which he is asking House Democrats to support when it’s written and ready for a vote, along with a separate Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. (Roll Call)
Manchin Signals Opposition to EV Charging Station Spending: Electric vehicle infrastructure spending in the Democratic reconciliation package may be the next policy targeted by Sen. Joe Manchin for a potential rollback, according to comments this morning during an appearance at the Economic Club of Washington. Manchin’s remarks happened as leaders look to finalize a framework with the West Virginia Democrat in the coming days on a massive reconciliation package focused on climate and social infrastructure provisions. (E&E News)
House Extends Highway Funding to Dec. 3 Amid Delayed Infrastructure Vote: The House on Thursday passed yet another short-term extension of highway and transit construction programs that are set to expire on Sunday in order to avert thousands of worker furloughs and halted projects. Lawmakers similarly passed a short-term patch a month ago when House Democrats were unable to clear the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill that would renew the highway programs for five years. (The Hill)
House Panel Advances Bill Protecting FAA Operations During Shutdowns: A House panel on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to advance to the floor for consideration legislation that would protect the Federal Aviation Administration and its employees from the impacts of a government shutdown. The Aviation Funding Stability Act (H.R. 4042), sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, and 42 other lawmakers, would allow the FAA to continue operating at full capacity for the first 30 days of a lapse in appropriations by withdrawing money from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, rather than from general appropriations. (GovExec)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Revised Reconciliation Bill Pares NASA Funding, But More Than $1 Billion Remains: Congress continues to debate the two infrastructure bills that form the basis of President Biden’s domestic agenda. The bigger of the two, for “human infrastructure,” included $4.4 billion for NASA in the original House version, but push-back by moderate and progressive Democrats is forcing the total $3.5 trillion package to be cut in half. The latest verison, which still faces headwinds in the House, reduces NASA’s share to $1.1 billion. (Space Policy Online)
NASA Sets an Ambitious New Date for Artemis I Moon Mission Launch: The Orion spacecraft and powerful Space Launch System rocket are almost ready for their first big test. With stacking complete, a series of integrated tests now sit between the moon rocket and the targeted liftoff for an unmanned flight to lunar orbit and back in February 2022. (C/Net)
GOP Blasts Vaccine Mandate, and Defense Contractors are Fretting: Republican lawmakers on the Armed Services committees are ramping up their attacks on President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for government contractors, warning that it could prompt the firing of critical workers and threaten military readiness. Defense contractors are buttressing those claims, saying they fear losing thousands of staff who help protect the nation. (Roll Call)
Reports this morning suggest that GOP Senators will make a push this week to have the US Senate take up the National Defense Authorization Act in the near future, but pressure to complete the Build Back Better legislation may make that challenging. (Punchbowl News)
Homeland Security & Immigration
Castro Bill Aims to Stop Price Gouging in Emergencies: Eight months after February’s winter storms left millions of Texans without power, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) introduced a measure Wednesday to stop price gouging in future disasters. The measure, known as the Gas Consumer Emergency Market Protection Act, would impose natural gas trading limits during national emergencies. (Axios)
Dems Trying to Include Help for Immigrants in Biden Plan: Senate Democrats were preparing to try letting millions of immigrants stay temporarily in the U.S. as part of the party’s massive economic plan, people involved in the effort said Thursday, as the White House released an outline of President Joe Biden’s trophy domestic legislation. (AP)
Senate Panel Advances Biden’s Pick to Lead DOJ Antitrust Unit: Jonathan Kanter, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust division, advanced with broad bipartisan support at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday. The panel advanced Kanter through a voice vote, though Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) asked to be recorded as a vote against Kanter’s nomination. If approved by a final Senate vote, Kanter will lead the DOJ division at a time when the federal government is cracking down on the market power of tech giants, including suing Google over allegations of illegally maintaining a monopoly over online searches. (The Hill)
House Passes Bill to Strengthen Domestic Violence Prevention Programs and Support Survivors: The House passed landmark legislation that will strengthen domestic violence prevention programs and improve services for survivors. The Family Violence and Prevention Services Improvement Act (FVPSA) of 2021 – a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) – increases funding for crisis hotlines, emergency shelters, and other vital programs that have experienced a surge in demand during the pandemic. (Clark Hill Insight)
Lawmakers Split on Next Steps to Secure Transportation Sectors Against Hackers: While most officials agree on the need to prioritize cybersecurity after a year that has seen a concerning rise in ransomware and other cyberattacks against critical infrastructure, the speed and process around the directives being put out is worrying to some. A group of Senate Republicans led by Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) last week sent a letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske noting their concerns around “prescriptive security requirements” being imposed on various sectors to include rail, pipelines and maritime shipping. (The Hill)
Warren Says CFPB Should Crack Down on Cryptocurrency Abuses: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a key role in policing cryptocurrency payments and doesn’t need to wait for other agencies to act before taking steps to crack down on abuses in the market, according to Senator Warren (D-MA). Lawmakers in both parties have raised concerns about the burgeoning industry following its rapid growth and regulators have signaled a crackdown is coming. (Yahoo Finance)
Climate-Smart Ag, Biofuels Become Key Elements in Build Back Better Act: The Build Back Better Act would inject more than $27 billion into conservation programs and expand investment into biofuels – all tied to climate provisions in the bill – while the bill also avoids changes to stepped-up basis in inheritance as well. (DTN)
Environment & Interior
House Panel Presses Oil Executives on Climate Disinformation: Chief executives of Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other so-called oil supermajors intentionally misled the public over the links between their products and climate change, Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee said at a hearing Thursday. “Big oil has known the truth about climate change for decades,” Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said in her opening remarks. “In the 1970s and ’80s, Exxon’s own scientists privately told top executives that burning fossil fuel was changing the global climate.” (Roll Call)
Budget & Appropriations
Debt Default Would Happen Between Mid-December and Mid-February: The U.S. most likely would default on its debt sometime between mid-December and mid-February absent additional congressional action on the debt limit, according to a projection released last Friday by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). (The Hill)
FDA Authorizes First Covid Vaccine for Kids Ages 5-11: The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 -11. The hotly anticipated decision will allow roughly 28 million American children to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, with shots rolling out just as flu season starts and with major holidays looming. (Politico)
Banking & Housing/HUD
Biden Framework Includes $150B for Affordable Housing: President Biden’s proposed climate change and social services bill is expected to include $150 billion for affordable housing creation and financial assistance, elating supporters who feared it would be cut from Democrats’ package. (The Hill)
U.S. Consumer Watchdog to Review Big Tech Data, Promote Lending Competition: Chief consumer finance watchdog Rohit Chopra told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday his agency will review Big Tech’s impact on the flow of money in the economy as leading technology firms use real-time consumer payments systems that collect huge amounts of personal data. (Reuters)
FTC to Restrict Future Deals that Pursue ‘Anticompetitive Mergers’: The Federal Trade Commission on Monday said it is restoring its long-established practice of routinely restricting future acquisitions for companies that pursue “anticompetitive mergers.” A policy statement “puts industry on notice that the FTC’s merger enforcement orders will once again require acquisitive firms to obtain prior approval from the agency before closing any future transaction affecting each relevant market for which a violation was alleged,” the FTC said. (MarketWatch)
California, U.S. Department of Transportation Announce Partnership on Supply Chain Infrastructure Program to Create Long-Term Stability: On the heels of Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA) executive order to help tackle supply chain issues, and as part of the ongoing efforts of the Biden-Harris Task Force on Supply Chain Disruptions, Governor Newsom and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced a strategic partnership to help facilitate innovative projects and financing opportunities for multi-billion infrastructure improvements in California. (Clark Hill Insight)
U.S. Reaches Deal with European Union Over Steel and Aluminum Tariffs: The United States will keep steel and aluminum tariffs on European nations, but will allow a certain amount of steel and aluminum produced in the EU to enter U.S. markets tariff-free. Administration officials say that in return, the EU will drop retail tariffs it had put in place against high-profile American industries as a retaliatory move. Those rates had been set to increase in December. (NPR)
Inspector General for Afghanistan War Pressured by State, DOD to Redact Reports: The inspector general charged with reviewing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan said Friday that he has faced recent pressure from the State Department to redact some of their reports while noting the Pentagon classified much of its work detailing the poor performance and failings of the country’s own military forces, information that would have been valuable for policymakers to have from 2015 onward. (The Hill)
DHS & Immigration
U.S. will Allow Private Sponsors to Help Afghan Refugee Resettlement: The Biden administration on Monday announced a new program that would allow groups of private citizens to sponsor Afghan refugees, a move that could bolster a weakened U.S. resettlement system tested by thousands of recent arrivals. Under the program, groups of individuals may form “sponsor circles” to help Afghan refugees during their initial resettlement in the United States. (Roll Call)
U.S. in Talks to Compensate Families Separated at Border: The U.S. Justice Department is in talks to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to each child and parent who was separated under a Trump-era practice of splitting families at the border, a person familiar with discussions to settle lawsuits said Thursday. (ABC News)
Biden Administration Makes Second Attempt to End “Remain in Mexico” Border Program: The Biden administration on Friday announced its second attempt to end a Trump-era border program that forced migrants to wait in Mexico for their U.S. asylum hearings, issuing a new termination memo it hopes will pass legal muster. (CBS News)
Justice Department Announces Tougher Enforcement for White-Collar Crime: The Justice Department announced a series of policy changes Thursday aimed at toughening the federal response to white-collar crime, particularly offenses involving corporate misconduct. Speaking to lawyers who often defend individuals and companies against such charges, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the new approach would do more to deter crime in the nation’s boardrooms and executive suites. (Politico)
Federal Push to Identify, Protect Critical Groups from Hackers Gains Momentum: Efforts in the federal government and Congress to identify and further protect groups critical to national security from cyber threats are gaining ground amid recent destructive ransomware attacks, officials say. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly said Friday that her agency has kicked off an effort to identify “primary systemically important entities” to be protected from threats, often those critical to national continuity. (The Hill)
State Department will Form New Cyber Bureau: The Biden administration is launching a new bureau for cyberspace and digital policy at the State Department as part of an effort to strengthen diplomats’ cyber expertise, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced in an email to the department’s workforce last Monday. (CNN)
CFTC Chief Said His Agency Should Oversee Crypto: In testimony before the Senate, Rostin Behnam, acting chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), said the CFTC should be the main agency to oversee cryptocurrencies, rather than the Securities and Exchange Commission. Behnam, a Democratic commissioner at the CFTC since 2017, said regulating digital currencies would be a deviation from the agency’s usual mandate, but emphasized that the rapidly evolving space might be enough to warrant a change in the agency’s vision. (Business Insider)
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