Window on Washington – November 28, 2022, Vol. 6, Issue 45
Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. The Senate will vote later today on a procedural motion to advance a bill codifying the right to same-sex marriage, with final passage expected by Thursday. The Senate will then return to consideration of the defense authorization bill and reform of the Electoral College. The House reconvenes tomorrow, and will consider a number of bills under suspension of rules, including a reauthorization on maternal health and a bill to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals known as PFAS. The House will also hold votes on a criminal justice reentry bill and a bill to address the health needs of women in custody. While action on the debt limit remains on Democratic leaders’ wish list, partisan tensions make that measure unlikely to pass. Hearings for the week include the private sector’s perspective on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, children’s mental health care, trade policy in the digital era, U.S. satellite-based earth observation, and an oversight hearing on the crypto exchange FTX.
118th Congress. Two House races remain uncalled from this month’s elections, both lean Republican. The balance of power is expected to be 222 – 213. House Democrats will be holding their leadership and rules elections this week with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries expected to be voted as the new House Democratic Leader, a generational change. Among the Caucus rules changes to be considered by Democrats is a proposal to make committee leadership positions subject to six-year term limits, something which Republicans already require of their members. House Republicans are also expected to consider further rules changes for the upcoming congress, which may include banning earmarks. Much attention will continue to focus on whether House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy can assemble the necessary 218 votes from his members to be elected Speaker of the House when the new Congress convenes in January. Related to this issue, McCarthy has pushed to delay action on the Defense Authorization bill until next year to address policies in the measure he considers too liberal to be imposed on the military, an effort to accommodate members of the House Republican Caucus who have yet to pledge to support his Speakership.
FY23 Appropriations. Democrats have begun drafting legislation to fund the government for the remainder of FY23 despite the lack of an agreement on topline spending numbers. Current funding expires on December 16. A topline spending agreement, which would apportion funding between defense and non-defense spending levels, is usually the first step to negotiating a full funding bill. The fact that Democrats have begun deliberations without such an agreement reflects the fragile state of negotiations. Their hope is that by including some key GOP priorities, including earmarks, Senate Republican Leader McConnell will ensure there are 10 GOP votes to support final passage later in December to overcome a potential filibuster by conservatives in his caucus. One sign of progress in the last week was an announcement that negotiators have agreed to maintain Congressional earmarks, but it remains far from certain whether such a bill will pass. At this point, a short-term continuing resolution to extend government operations for another week or more is highly likely. If negotiators continue to struggle to make progress it is possible a spending bill won’t pass until next year. A government shutdown still seems unlikely, but the situation remains sufficiently volatile that this bears watching closely. House GOP Leaders want to delay any spending deal until they are in the majority next year.
Biden Administration. President Biden returned to Washington from Nantucket yesterday, where he spent Thanksgiving with his family. While on holiday, Biden addressed the recent shootings in Colorado and Virginia, saying semi-automatic weapons should be banned. On Tuesday, he will travel to Bay City, MI to visit a manufacturing facility. Wednesday he will speak at the White House Tribal Nations Summit before hosting French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday. The White House will host a state dinner for Macron Thursday night. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador last week said Biden will be traveling to Mexico City in early January for the North American Leaders’ Summit.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
Lawmakers Fret Over Another Holiday Punt on Government Funding: Congress is in a familiar mode this holiday season: increasing worry about missing a government funding deadline. With the Dec. 16 deadline rapidly approaching, leading lawmakers haven’t even made the critical first step to agree on overall spending levels — raising the chances of a stopgap patch needed to avoid a shutdown just before the holidays. (Politico)
Negotiations at Standstill on Omnibus Spending Package: Bipartisan talks on an overdue fiscal 2023 spending package have stalled, with Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of resisting an agreement. If negotiators cannot get the talks back on track, the result could be another stopgap spending bill into next year or potentially a partial government shutdown that neither party said it wants. (Roll Call)
House Republican says Congress Doesn’t Need to Pass ‘Democrat Bills’ That Help Ukraine: Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) on Sunday said Congress does not need to pass “Democrat bills” with big price tags to help Ukraine, saying the incoming Republican majority in the House will spend less money to fund Kyiv’s war against Russia. (The Hill)
GOP says White House Shifts Provider Funds for COVID-19 Campaign: The $475 million being spent for a campaign to encourage Americans to be vaccinated is being paid for by pandemic money meant for doctors and hospitals, Republicans charged last week. (Roll Call)
Labor & Workforce
GOP Rep says Congress Won’t Allow Potential Rail Strike: ‘Failure is Not an Option Here’: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) on Sunday said Congress will not let a national railroad workers strike hurt the U.S. economy. Fitzpatrick said negotiations are ongoing between railroad unions and companies, so “congressional intervention is a last resort.” (The Hill)
Banking & Housing
McHenry’s Big Plans for House Financial Services Committee: Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the expected chair of the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress, has spent years preparing for the job. And now McHenry will be in a critical spot as the U.S. economy grapples with rapid technological change and global instability. (Punchbowl News)
Cannabis Banking Supporters Scramble to Reach Lame-Duck Deal: Urgency is building in the Senate to get cannabis legislation passed before the year is over. The specter of a Republican-led House has lit a fire under proponents of cannabis banking legislation, according to three House and Senate staffers involved in discussions on both sides of the aisle. (Politico)
U.S. Senators Urge Fidelity to Reconsider Its Bitcoin Offerings After FTX Blow-Up: United States senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Richard Durbin (D-IL) have renewed their calls for Fidelity Investments to reconsider offering a Bitcoin-linked 401(k) retirement product. In a letter addressed to Fidelity Investments CEO Abigail Johnson on Nov. 21, the three senators said the recent fall of FTX is more reason than any for the $4.5 trillion asset management firm to reconsider its Bitcoin offering to retirement savers. (Coin Telegraph)
Capitol Hill Finally Wants to Regulate Crypto. But Some Critics Say Just ‘Let It Burn’: As the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX balloons into arguably the worst financial scandal since Enron’s bankruptcy two decades ago, Capitol Hill is still grappling with a straightforward decision about the volatile industry: To regulate or not to regulate? (Semafor)
Republicans Preview Their Efforts to Block Forthcoming IRS Funding: Republicans have threatened to upend the infusion of cash allocated to the Internal Revenue Service by the Inflation Reduction Act since virtually the moment President Biden signed it into law. (GovExec)
Autonomous Vehicles Join the List of U.S. National Security Threats: In a letter to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Representative August Pfluger (R-TX) asks some tough questions as to whether Washington is really prepared for the security threat posed by the coming influx of Chinese-made smart and autonomous vehicles (AVs) to the United States. (Wired)
Senators Alarmed Over Potential Chinese Spy Threat: Hundreds of Chinese-manufactured drones have been detected in restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., in recent months, a trend that national security agencies fear could become a new means for foreign espionage. (Politico)
Airlines Face Their First Big Holiday Test — and Congress is Watching: Airlines are facing big pressure to keep the Thanksgiving travel weekend from turning into a repeat of their summer meltdowns. And Congress is ready to bring down the hammer if they fail. (Politico)
Senators Press Buttigieg to Increase Airline Passenger Compensation for Canceled and Delayed Flights: Three Democratic senators urged the Department of Transportation last week to increase airline passengers’ compensation for canceled and delayed flights when the airline is at fault. (CNN)
Senators Urge Biden Administration to Give Ukraine Advanced Drones: A bipartisan group of senators is pressing the Biden administration to rethink its stance of not giving Ukraine advanced drones to aid in pushing Russian forces out of the country. In a Nov. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 16 senators led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) ask the administration to give “careful reconsideration” to Ukraine’s request for MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems (UAS). (The Hill)
Pentagon warns of ominous impact of a year long Continuing Resolution. In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned of the serious adverse consequences if Congress fails to pass a full year appropriations bill for DOD. (Punchbowl News)
Homeland Security & Immigration
Democrats Confront Bleak Odds for Immigration Deal Before 2023: Democrats eager to find a legislative solution before 2023 for young undocumented immigrants are getting a wake-up call: They need votes from Republicans who don’t want to do it. (Politico)
Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly says Democrats Don’t Understand Border: Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) said that Democrats “absolutely” do not understand problems on the border and added that Republicans just want to talk about the issue without doing “anything about it.” (The Hill)
McCarthy Calls on DHS Secretary Mayorkas to Resign, Threatens Impeachment Inquiry: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign over his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that GOP lawmakers will consider impeachment next year if he does not step down. (The Hill)
Environment & Interior
Permitting Legislation Finds Roadblocks in Path to NDAA: Prospects that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will be able to attach an energy permitting proposal of his to the annual defense policy bill dimmed after two key Republicans said they opposed the idea. (Roll Call)
Sustainability Democrats Propose Narrow Permitting Reform Effort on Electric Grid, Community Involvement: A group of House Democrats that are part of a sustainability coalition last week put forward a narrow proposal on permitting reform amid broader talks on how to reshape the country’s energy approval process. (The Hill)
White House Kicking Off Six-Week Covid-19 Booster Push: The Biden administration is launching a critical, six-week push aimed at stepping up Americans’ Covid-19 booster vaccinations heading into the holiday season. (CNN)
Labor & Workforce
DOL Finalizes Rule Permitting ESG Considerations in Retirement Plans: The Department of Labor finalized a rule Tuesday to explicitly permit retirement plan fiduciaries to consider climate change and other environmental, social and governance factors when selecting investments and exercising shareholder rights. (Pensions&Investments)
First Responder Retirement Bill Gets a Unanimous Senate Vote: The First Responder Fair RETIRE Act has passed the Senate unanimously, and its next stop is President Biden’s desk.
H.R. 521 allows first responders who are disabled due to a workplace injury and forced to seek other employment in the federal government to continue to pay into the accelerated retirement system and retire after they have served 20 years and reached age 50. (GovExec)
Department of Education
Biden Administration Will Extend Student Loan Debt Repayment Holiday to June: The Biden administration last week announced that it will extend the payment pause on federal student loans while its forgiveness plan remains blocked in the courts. Federal student loan bills were scheduled to resume in January. (CNBC)
U.S. Proposes Rules to Advance Flying Taxi Operations: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday proposed new rules that would help pave the way for commercial air taxi operations by around the middle of the decade. (Reuters)
Union Pacific CEO Called to Hearing in Washington as Risk of Rail Strike Rises: The Surface and Transportation Board is calling Union Pacific management including CEO Lance Fritz to appear at hearings December 13-14 about the freight railroad’s use of embargoes. (CNBC)
Space/NASA & NOAA
The White House’s Plan to Colonize the Moon, Briefly Explained: The White House’s national science and technology council last week released its new “National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy,” a wide-ranging document that explains the Biden administration’s objectives and four primary goals for cislunar space, which include investing in research and development, cooperating with other countries, building communications networks in space, and boosting humanity’s overall situational awareness near and on the moon. The plan also hints at a range of open legal, political, and environmental questions about how life on the lunar surface should work. (Vox)
China to Use Space Station to Test Space-Based Solar Power: China intends to use its newly-completed Tiangong space station to test key technologies required for space-based polar power, according to a senior space official. Robotic arms already operating on the outside of Tiangong will be used to test on-orbit assembly of modules for a space-based solar power test system, the test system will then orbit independently and deploy its solar arrays and other systems. It is likely to test and verify capabilities such as power generation, conversion and transmission. (Space News)
ESA Gets Big Budget Increase, Recommits to ISS and ExoMars Rover: Last week the European Space Agency’s governing Ministerial Council approved a 17 percent increase in funding, committed to support the International Space Station through 2030, and vowed to ensure that the Rosalind Franklin rover makes it to Mars after the European-Russian ExoMars project was derailed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Space Policy Online)
With Thousands of Hungry Troops, DOD Urges Limited Income Hikes: Top Pentagon officials, in a document sent to lawmakers recently, backed higher pay increases for low-income servicemembers than the department’s leaders have publicly endorsed — but far from enough, critics say, to combat widespread hunger in the ranks. (Roll Call)
Austin says U.S. Will Support Ukraine ‘For as Long as It Takes’: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last week said the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” underscoring the Biden administration’s commitment to keep funding the nation in its war against Ukraine despite concerns a new Republican majority in the House may plug up spending. (The Hill)
Ukraine, Irregular-War Changes Are Reshaping Pentagon’s Info-Ops Strategy: Lessons from Ukraine and changes in irregular warfare will be reflected in the upcoming revision of the Pentagon’s information-operations strategy, defense policy leaders said – with the wide availability of cell phones, you get footage of battle from soldiers as well as civilians reporting the movement of Russian forces. Among other things this means special operators need to be thinking about public narratives—how they might change and how U.S. forces can shape them—long before fighting erupts. And that means ensuring that troops have the right digital skills, including data analysis and messaging. (Defense One)
DHS & Immigration
GOP-Led States Ask to Defend Border Policy in Washington Case: More than a dozen Republican-led states asked a federal judge Monday night for permission to defend a pandemic-related border directive in court, after the judge struck down the policy and the Biden administration signaled it wouldn’t appeal. (Roll Call)
Biden Administration Preps for a Rocky End to Trump-era Immigration Rule: The Biden administration has publicly stated it wants to see an end to Title 42, the much-maligned Trump-era health policy used to turn away more than a million migrants at the southern border. (Politico)
A Trump Judge Seized Control of ICE, and the Supreme Court Will Decide Whether to Stop Him: In July, a Trump appointee to a federal court in Texas effectively seized control of parts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that enforces immigration laws within US borders. Nearly five months later, the Supreme Court will give the Texas case a full hearing on Tuesday. (Vox)
Biden Says He Will Try to Move on Gun Control During Lame-Duck Session: President Biden on Thursday said he would try to pass a bill banning assault rifles during the lame-duck session before the next Congress forms, despite long odds due to Republican opposition. (The Hill)
DOJ Takes Steps to Bolster Language Access Across Federal Agencies: The Department of Justice issued a memorandum to improve and expand access to federal services and agencies for people with limited English proficiency (LEP). (Axios)
Department of Justice Opens Investigation Into Real Estate Tech Company Accused of Collusion with Landlords: The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division has opened an investigation into whether rent-setting software made by a Texas-based real estate tech company is facilitating collusion among landlords, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. (ProPublica)
The Federal Government Just Took Another Big Swipe at Illegal Robocalls: The federal government took another big swipe at illegal robocalls last week, as it moved to block a voice provider from the entire US phone network for the very first time. (CNN)
Feds Likely to Challenge Microsoft’s $69 Billion Activision Takeover: The Federal Trade Commission is likely to file an antitrust lawsuit to block Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of video game giant Activision Blizzard, maker of the hit games Call of Duty and Candy Crush. (Politico)
Agency Recommends Firmer Data, Algorithm Regulations to Protect Online Privacy: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration recommended new limitations on companies harvesting and selling online user data, as the federal government continues to explore potential consumer privacy protections. (NextGov)
How the Cyber Incident Reporting Law Could Finally Fix the Information Sharing Problem: Government and industry have long struggled with cybersecurity information sharing, but the cyber incident reporting measure passed earlier this year by Congress could be the best chance yet to improve the flow of data between companies and government — if the Department of Homeland Security can get the details right. The public comment period for industry to give their input on CIRCIA ended last week. And ensuring that CISA quickly shares valuable information was a recurring theme, according to responses and experts. (Cyberscoop)
Pentagon Publishes Zero-Trust Cyber Strategy, Eyes 2027 Implementation: The U.S. Department of Defense last Tuesday unveiled its zero-trust strategy and road map, highlighting how the department plans to shield sensitive information from prying eyes. The documents detail the more than 100 activities, capabilities and pillars needed to achieve zero trust, a new paradigm for cybersecurity. The strategy fits into a larger constellation of security planning that includes the recently released National Defense Strategy, officials said. (Defense News)
CISA Seeks Information for Potential Cyber Threat Intelligence Platform: The General Services Administration filed a request for information on behalf of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on the availability of Threat Intelligence Enterprise Services—or TIES—to help the agency in its development of cyber threat intelligence—or CTI—capabilities. According to CISA, there are existing barriers to the federal cyber ecosystem throughout the CTI lifecycle, such as fragmented threat information—which impacts analysts’ abilities to efficiently make informed decisions about these risks—as well as CTI currently existing across various feeds in different data formats. (Next Gov)
EPA & DOI
Interior Department Announces New Proposed Oil and Gas Lease Sales in Nevada, Utah: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week announced two proposed oil and gas lease sales for nearly 100,000 acres of land in Nevada and Utah. The land in question includes 63,603.89 acres on 35 parcels in Nevada and 31,808 acres across 18 parcels in Utah, according to a release from BLM. (The Hill)
EPA Floats Sharply Increased Social Cost of Carbon: EPA has proposed a new estimate for the social cost of carbon emissions, nearly quadrupling an interim figure that has already drawn legal challenges from a host of Republican-led states. (E&E News)
Department of Energy
Biden Administration Approves Gulf Oil Terminal Opposed by Texas City: Federal regulators last week approved a new oil terminal in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas over the objections of local activists, who argued the move contravenes the Biden administration’s stated climate goals. (The Hill)
Biden Says Russian oil price cap negotiations “[Is] in play”: President Biden said Thursday that negotiations between the U.S. and its allies over imposing a price cap on Russian oil are ongoing and confirmed that he had spoken to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the issue. (Axios)
Clark Hill Mexico City Grand Opening Reception
Celebrate our new Mexico City Office with a reception and educational event.
We will toast our new office space and location with a cocktails and small bites with Mexico and US-based colleagues and friends.
SECURE Act 2.0 Has Arrived
On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022.
Join us as we discuss these changes and what they may mean for employers.