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Window on Washington – October 11, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 41

October 11, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital 

Congress. The Senate is in recess this week, while the House has committee work and will vote on the Senate-passed debt limit measure tomorrow. Both chambers are also continuing their efforts to finalize the Democratic-only priorities reconciliation package. Hearings for this week include growing the small business supplier base in government contracting, the future of forecasting and building a weather-ready nation, and investing in American jobs to strengthen manufacturing and competitiveness.

Debt Limit. The Senate in a 50-48 vote passed a measure that would raise the government’s debt limit by $480 billion through December 3. The House plans to vote on the measure tomorrow, where it is expected to pass. While this provides a short-term fix, following Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) remarks criticizing Republicans’ approach to the debt limit crisis, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that Republicans will not offer any more assistance to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. However, the exact deadline for the next debt limit measure is unknown given recent indications that incoming tax revenue and other accounting tools may buy additional time at the end of the year, potentially postponing the need for another measure into early 2022.

FY22 Appropriations. The Senate Appropriations Committee may release all their remaining draft bills at the end of this week, though there is also some speculation it could happen toward the end of the month instead.  The Committee still does not have any further markups planned, and it is unclear if they will hold any more (even with the release of the bills).

Reconciliation and Infrastructure Packages. Congressional Democratic leadership has indicated they want to pass the reconciliation package and Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure deal by October 31. Divisions remain over the price of the reconciliation package as well as which provisions will be reduced or cut entirely. While there are discussions to trim everything across the board in the package, some provisions are already being dropped entirely from the bill, such as the Administration’s proposal for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). A reduced price for the package has not yet been agreed to, but the proposed range is $1.9 to $2.3 trillion.

Biden Administration. Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Montclair and Newark, New Jersey on Friday to promote the reconciliation package, particularly the child care programs in the bill. The trip will be Harris’ first to New Jersey as vice president.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital


Budget & Appropriations

Slow Progress on Budget Package with Deadline Weeks Away: As Democratic leaders eye an end-of-month deadline for passing the sweeping package through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process, the party has yet to agree on a framework for a scaled-down version of the bill that both moderate and progressive Democrats can support. Democrats are expecting to cut their original plan for $3.5 trillion in new spending and tax cuts to around $2 trillion to accommodate centrist lawmakers’ concerns, but they have yet to settle on a new topline. (Roll Call)

Short-Term Debt Limit Increase Passes Senate, Heads to House: The Senate passed a temporary debt limit increase along party lines last Thursday evening, a move that would give the Treasury Department at least a couple of months before it once again bumps up against its legal borrowing cap. (Roll Call) 


Biden’s Biomedical Research Agency Dropped from Social Spending Bill: President Joe Biden’s plan for a new health agency that would work with the private sector to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments is being dropped from Democrats’ sweeping social spending package, jeopardizing whether the initiative can be launched this year, according to three people familiar with the negotiations. The multibillion-dollar Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, modeled after an existing research agency in the Pentagon, has support on both sides of the aisle. The House this summer designated $3 billion for ARPA-H, less than half of what Biden and advocates requested. Yet sources on and off Capitol Hill say it will be cut from the Senate’s version of the reconciliation bill because it requires regulatory authorities outside the scope of the chamber’s strict rules for passing bills with a simple majority through the process known as reconciliation. (Politico) 


Rep. Ilhan Omar Leads Letter Calling on Biden Administration to Release Student Debt Cancellation Memo: On Friday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) led a letter to President Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona urging him to release the memo to determine the extent of the administration’s authority to broadly cancel student debt through administrative action. (Clark Hill Insight) 


Lawmakers Ask How They Can Help Agencies Fight Crypto-enabled Ransomware Hacks: A group of House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Departments of Justice, Treasury, State and Homeland Security praising them for recent actions administration officials have taken to crack down on perpetrators of ransomware attacks who use cryptocurrency exchanges to cover their tracks and want to know how they can help. (Nextgov 


Cathy McMorris Rodgers says Congress Not Ready to Regulate Autonomous Vehicles: Congress “missed an opportunity” to include autonomous vehicle (AV) regulations in the infrastructure bill, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the top Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said Wednesday. (Axios)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Limit Data Collection at Border Crossings: Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation Thursday that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before searching Americans’ phones and laptops at the border. The Protect Data at the Border Act would apply Supreme Court precedent requiring probable cause to search electronic devices after arrests to border crossings. (The Hill)


Senate Report Calls for More Oversight after Trump’s Post-election Actions: A Senate Judiciary Committee report released last Thursday recommended that Congress strengthen oversight of White House contacts with the Justice Department, as it aired new details about former President Donald Trump’s actions in the wake of his 2020 election defeat. That includes legislation to require the Justice Department keep a log of contacts with White House officials and give the department’s watchdog regular access to that log and a path to notify lawmakers about any “urgent concern.” (Roll Call) 

Manchin’s ‘Red Line’ on Abortion Splits Democrats: Democrats are clashing over whether to include in their sweeping spending plan a decades-old amendment that blocks Medicaid and other federal health programs from being used to cover abortions. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), already a key stumbling block to Democratic unity on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, has drawn a line in the sand around the issue, but others in the party are split over whether to include the Hyde amendment in a portion of the spending bill that would create a new federal program to provide health care coverage to low-income individuals in GOP-led states that haven’t adopted Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act. (The Hill) 


Senators Advance Cyber Incident/Ransomware Reporting Bill, Eye NDAA Inclusion: The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted last Wednesday to approve the Cyber Incident Reporting Act, which would require critical infrastructure operators to report cyberattacks to the Federal government, and require most government and business entities to report to the government if they make a ransomware payment. (MeriTalk)

Democrats Urge Federal Agencies to Address Use of Cryptocurrencies for Ransomware Payments:  A group of Democrats is urging the Biden administration to do more to confront the growing use of cryptocurrency markets in ransomware attacks, which have become an increasing national security threat over the past year, sending a letter to the leaders of the Homeland Security, Justice, State and Treasury departments on Friday asking them to pursue “stronger coordination” between the agencies on the issue of cryptocurrency. (The Hill)

Senate Panel Advances FISMA Reform Bill:  The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously last week to advance for full Senate consideration of a bill that would extensively overhaul the 2014 version of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) that sets cybersecurity requirements for Federal civilian agencies. (Meritalk)


Former Congresswoman Confirmed as USDA Rural Development Under Secretary: Former New Mexico congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small was confirmed by the Senate last Thursday to be the next undersecretary for rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA Rural Development offers loans, grants, loan guarantees, and technical assistance to support essential aspects of rural American communities including business, economic development, infrastructure, housing, first responder services and equipment, and health care. (Las Cruces Sun News) 

Environment & Interior

Climate Hawks Reject Compromise in Reconciliation: The debate over climate-related provisions in the Democrats’ budget reconciliation package sharpened Thursday as several left-leaning senators, joined by environmental activist groups, urged more moderate lawmakers to include aggressive steps to avert catastrophic climate change in the legislation. (Roll Call)


With GOP Sidelined, Manchin Steps Up to Defend Fossil Fuels: Climate hawks on and around Capitol Hill accustomed to seeing Republicans thwart their agenda have found a new roadblock in Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Environmentalists knew they would face challenges winning Manchin’s support for the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that Democrats can pass only if all 50 of their senators vote yes. (Roll Call)


Budget & Appropriations

2021 Deficit Totaled $2.8 Trillion, CBO Estimates: The federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2021 totaled $2.8 trillion, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report released last Friday. The gap is the second-largest on record, trailing only the pandemic-fueled $3.1 trillion in 2020. (Yahoo Finance)


Biden Closes in On Pick to Lead Food And Drug Administration: The Biden administration is closing in on a nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, four people familiar with the process told POLITICO. The White House was nearing a final pick anyway, but National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins’ Tuesday announcement that he would step down accelerated the timeline, according to one person with knowledge of the matter. (Politico)

Department of Education

Student Loan Forgiveness Changes Could Spell Relief for More Public Sector Workers: Congressional staff and members of Congress are optimistic that an overhaul announced by the Department of Education will make positive changes in a troubled student-loan forgiveness program for public sector employees and members of the military. (Roll Call)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Postal Service Launches Banking Pilot with Hopes to Expand in Early 2022: The U.S. Postal Service has launched a pilot program to offer customers financial services, an unexpected first step toward realizing a longstanding progressive goal of postal banking. USPS is testing the program at just four post offices on the East Coast. It will enable individuals to deposit payroll or business checks of up to $500 onto a single-use debit card for a flat fee of $5.95. The offering is far short of the much more comprehensive suite of financial services many advocates and left-leaning lawmakers have sought for years but still takes USPS in a surprising direction under the leadership of embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. (GovExec)

The Fed’s Emerging Climate Oversight: Fed Governor Lael Brainard is filling in more blanks about how the central bank could weigh and limit financial institutions’ exposure to climate risk. “I anticipate it will be helpful to provide supervisory guidance for large banking institutions in their efforts to appropriately measure, monitor, and manage material climate-related risks,” she said in a speech Thursday. (Axios)

New HUD Rule Aimed at Preventing Public Housing Evictions: The Biden administration is trying to prevent evictions from public housing for nonpayment of rent, seeking to shore up protections following the end of the nationwide eviction moratorium. Under a new rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, tenants in HUD-subsidized public housing cannot be evicted for nonpayment without providing them 30 days’ notice and information about available federal emergency rental assistance. (AP)

Fed Watchdog to Investigate Officials’ Financial Trades: An independent investigator will look into whether Federal Reserve officials broke the law with financial trades last year that have come under congressional scrutiny and sharp criticism from outside the central bank. (AP)

Treasury Puts Pressure on States, Localities to Speed Up Rental Aid: The Treasury Department said last Monday that state and local governments that have yet to disburse most of their federal rental assistance funds will need to document how they plan to combat bottlenecks and will have until Nov. 15 to avoid losing the aid. (Politico)


Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Announces National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team: Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced today the creation of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), to tackle complex investigations and prosecutions of criminal misuses of cryptocurrency, particularly crimes committed by virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, and money laundering infrastructure actors. Under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., the NCET will combine the expertise of the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), and other sections in the division, with experts detailed from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. (Clark Hill Insight)

SEC Chief Says U.S. Won’t Follow China in Banning Crypto: In response to Congressional questioning, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler said that his agency would not move to implement a ban on cryptocurrencies similar to what China instituted. Gensler continued on to say that any such ban would be up to Congress. (Newsweek)


U.S. DOT Releases Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan: The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released its climate adaptation and resilience plan. The plan is focused on ensuring that federally supported transportation infrastructure—as well as U.S. DOT programs, policies, and operations—both consider climate change impacts and incorporate adaptation and resilience solutions whenever possible, the department says. (Roads and Bridges)


NASA Expresses Confidence in Boeing Starliner Even As it Begins to Reassign Crews to SpaceX:  NASA is reassigning two astronauts scheduled to fly on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission instead. Starliner’s debut is delayed indefinitely as the company troubleshoots a valve issue that arose just hours before an uncrewed test flight in August. (Space Policy Online)

NRO Begins Journey Toward Commercial Data Program of Record:  The National Reconnaissance Office is preparing to survey commercial capabilities to provide various geospatial datasets as part of a long-term campaign to establish a new program of record, via a planned new Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) to learn about commercial synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) datasets, and the development of future plans for hyperspectral, lidar and RF data. (Space News)

NOAA Sailed a Drone into the Heart of Powerful Hurricane Sam:  It was the first time NOAA had successfully piloted a seagoing drone inside a hurricane. The agency hopes to use scientific data, collected by special sensors on the vehicle, to improve future hurricane models and forecasts. (Scientific American)


Pentagon Climate Plan Prepares Military for Extreme Conditions: The Pentagon on Thursday began its biggest effort ever to prepare the military for the effects of climate change with the release of a 32-page strategy. “Climate change is an existential threat to our nation’s security, and the Department of Defense must act swiftly and boldly to take on this challenge and prepare for damage that cannot be avoided,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement released alongside the strategy, known as the Climate Adaptation Plan. (The Hill)

Pentagon Civilian Vaccine Mandate is a Massive Logistical Lift:  The Pentagon has begun the monumental task of fully vaccinating hundreds of thousands of civilian employees against the coronavirus with just weeks to meet its self-imposed deadline of Nov. 22. But as of yet, it has no system to verify who’s gotten the jab.  There are 763,000 civil servants at the DOD, and just 42 percent of them, or just under 319,000, are fully vaccinated, according to the Pentagon’s public data. (Roll Call)

Q&A with Gen. Murray, Leader of Army Futures Command:  Gen. John “Mike” Murray is the commanding general of Army Futures Command, which was established three years ago to spearhead the service’s effort to modernize the force. On Sept. 10, in the run-up to the annual AUSA show in Washington, D.C., Murray spoke with National Defense Managing Editor Jon Harper about how the command’s work is progressing, and the way ahead. (National Defense Magazine)

The 9/11 Commission Said National Security Vacancies Were A Problem. Biden’s Pentagon Is ‘Far Worse’:  Senate committees this week are considering more than a dozen national security and foreign policy officials in what experts hope is an effort to pick up the pace – many national-security positions remain vacant nearly nine months into the Biden administration due to a historically slow-moving confirmation process. (Defense One)

DHS & Immigration

DHS Issues Guidance on Mitigating Risks with Quantum Computing: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), partnering with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has released new guidance on mitigating security risks to advance quantum computing technology. The guidance is meant to be a “roadmap” for organizations to protect their data and systems, and to reduce risks related to quantum advancement, DHS said. (MeriTalk)


Biden DOJ Shields ex-Trump Officials from Testifying about Election Fraud Cases: A top career official in President Joe Biden’s Justice Department blocked efforts by Senate investigators to probe the handling of voter fraud complaints in the aftermath of the 2020 election, according to transcripts released Thursday. (Politico)

Biden White House Waives Executive Privilege for Initial Set of Trump-era Documents Sought by Jan. 6 Panel: President Joe Biden will not invoke executive privilege to shield an initial set of records from Donald Trump’s White House that’s being sought by congressional investigators probing the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. (Politico) 

Appeals Court Temporarily Reinstates Texas Abortion Law: A U.S. court of appeals temporarily reinstated Texas’s six-week abortion law, issuing an administrative stay of a preliminary injunction granted to the Biden administration earlier this week by a federal judge that blocked the controversial law’s implementation. (The Hill)

Biden Administration Rolls Back Trump-era Rule Restricting Federal Funds to Clinics over Abortion Services: The Biden administration last Monday formally reversed a Trump-era rule that barred reproductive health care clinics that provide abortion referrals and services from receiving federal funds. The new rule, which will go into effect Nov. 8, paves the way for major providers like Planned Parenthood to rejoin Title X, the federal family planning program created nearly 50 years ago to fill in gaps in health care access and affordability, particularly for those living in rural or otherwise underserved areas. (NBC News)


Mayorkas Outlines Whole-of-DHS Response Behind Latest Cyber Sprint: The Department of Homeland Security is putting the collective force of its component agencies behind its latest 60-day cyber sprint focused on transportation security. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, speaking Wednesday at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit, said the Transportation Security Administration, as part of its fourth sprint, will require critical infrastructure partners to elevate their cybersecurity practices. (Federal News Network)

 U.S. Poised to Sue Contractors Who Don’t Report Cyber Breaches: The Justice Department is poised to sue government contractors and other companies who receive U.S. government grants if they fail to report breaches of their computer systems or misrepresent their cybersecurity practices, the department’s No. 2 official said Wednesday. (AP)

White House Science Advisers Call for an “AI Bill of Rights”: The Biden administration is exploring a “bill of rights” to govern facial recognition and other potentially harmful uses of artificial intelligence, but the problems AI poses are much bigger than figuring out how to regulate a new technology. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy launched a fact-finding mission yesterday that will ultimately result in a “‘bill of rights’ to guard against the powerful technologies we have created,” OSTP director Eric Lander and his deputy Alondra Nelson wrote in an op-ed published by Wired yesterday. (Axios)

DoD Official Credits Private Sector With Helping More Quickly Mitigate SolarWinds Intrusion:  Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, said Tuesday threat intelligence firm FireEye was key to exposing the threat, in a story not previously told. (C4ISR Net)


How Biden’s NEPA Plan Could Change the Energy Sector: New White House guidance on a landmark environmental law may ease uncertainty about the federal review process for energy projects, even as it leaves unanswered questions about legal cases and how agencies analyze climate and environmental justice, observers say. The Council on Environmental Quality announced a proposed rule to revise regulations for how federal agencies should implement reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. The plan will affect the assessment of projects ranging from pipelines and compressor stations to oil and gas leases on public lands. (E&E News)

Biden Officially Restores National Monuments Rolled Back by Trump: Biden officially restores national monuments rolled back by Trump. President Biden last Friday officially restored environmental protections that were rolled back by former President Trump — signing proclamations to restore the boundaries of two Utah monuments and ban commercial fishing in a Northeast marine monument. Biden, in explaining his decision, invoked native rights, calling one of the Utah monuments, Bears Ears, “a place of healing … a place of reverence, a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples.” (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Top Biden Aide says U.S. will Work with EU to Prevent Energy Supply Crisis: Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said Thursday that the White House wants to work with Europe to ensure that energy supply keeps up with rising demand and to prevent a crisis that could stall the global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. (Politico)

DOE Announces Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator Program to Modernize the Grid: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) announced the launch of the Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator, a technology partnership of federal experts, industry partners in the energy sector, and innovators to accelerate the development of new cybersecurity solutions for the nation’s evolving grid. The program will support efforts to modernize the grid, address cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and create a grid that will withstand the transition to a clean energy economy in the effort to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. (Clark Hill Insight)

Biden Administration Announces Goal of 5 Million Homes Powered by Community Solar: The Department of Energy on Friday announced a target of the equivalent of five million homes powered by community solar energy by 2025. The target would save $1 billion and contribute to administration goals of fully renewable electricity by 2035, according to the department. (The Hill)

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