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Window on Washington – October 18, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 42

October 18, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. Both chambers are continuing their efforts to finalize the Democratic-only priorities reconciliation package. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to continue holding votes to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees and will hold a floor vote Wednesday to advance the Freedom to Vote Act, a move that Senate Republicans will likely block. Meanwhile, the House plans to vote on numerous Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Reform, and Education and Labor bills. Hearings for this week include examining President Biden’s nominees, looking at small business trade challenges, accelerating deep space travel with space nuclear propulsion, examining the Federal response to PFAS chemicals, restoring the Voting Rights Act, growing the domestic wind energy industry, listening to private sector perspectives on climate action, enabling success at the Office of Nuclear Energy, and examining NASA’s role and programs in international collaboration and competition in space.

FY22 Appropriations. The Senate Appropriations Committee may release all of their remaining draft bills as soon as today. The Committee still does not have any further markups planned, and it is unclear if they will hold any (even with the release of the bills).

Reconciliation and Infrastructure Packages. President Biden has said there’s no deadline for negotiators to reach a deal on the Build Back Better (BBB) Act. Congressional Democratic leadership continues to stress that they want to pass the reconciliation package (BBB) and Senate-passed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) by October 31, but with two weeks until that deadline and the on-going divisions over the top-line price tag of the reconciliation package as well as which provisions will be reduced or cut entirely, it remains unclear if they will be able to wrap up their intraparty negotiations by then. Top Congressional Progressive Caucus members last Wednesday urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to keep all of the proposed programs in the package and to just cut the duration of the programs in order to reduce overall spending, which is one option Speaker Pelosi is looking at, though she has also indicated they may drop entire provisions or use a combination of both approaches to reduce the package’s costs.

Biden Administration. Vice President Harris will travel to Las Vegas today where she will speak at Lake Mead about the Build Back Better reconciliation bill and the infrastructure bill. She’ll return to DC tonight.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital


Budget & Appropriations

House Budget Chair John Yarmuth to Retire from Congress: Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), chairman of the House Budget Committee, announced last Tuesday that he will not be seeking reelection. Yarmuth, the only Democrat in the Kentucky congressional delegation, said he will be working hard to ensure his community “is represented in Congress by the best possible Democratic man or woman” after he retires. (The Hill) 


Concerns Grow Over Home Health Care as Democrats Debate Funding: Advocates are concerned that a proposed boost to Medicaid and home health care for the elderly and disabled in Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget bill will be pared back so much that it wouldn’t deliver on its promise to increase jobs and wages. The topline funding number for home- and community-based services has wavered between $150 billion over 10 years and President Joe Biden’s initial request of $400 billion over eight years. The House bill currently would set the 10-year spending level at $190 billion, lower than what advocates view as sufficient. (Roll Call) 

Labor & Workforce 

Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Strengthen U.S. Supply Chains: Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House last week to boost U.S. supply chains and foster domestic manufacturing of “critical goods” by creating a Supply Chain Resiliency and Crisis Response Office in the Department of Commerce. The Building Resilient Supply Chains Act was introduced by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), along with Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) — members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. (MeriTalk)

House, Senate Democrats at Odds Over Whether to Slash Paid Leave Plan: Senate leadership is considering slashing funding for paid leave in Democrats’ reconciliation package to $300 billion as part of a broader push to bring down the bill’s price tag to appease moderates. That’s about $200 billion, or about 40 percent, less than what the House approved. To get there, policymakers would need to make major changes to the House-drafted language, illustrating the kind of tradeoffs Democrats are being forced to consider — and the type of schisms that’s creating between moderates and progressives. (Politico)

Banking & Housing  

Best Shot at Narrowing Racial Homeownership Gap at Risk, Progressives Say: Housing advocates are warning that a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help close the widening wealth gap between Black and white families is in danger of being cut from a massive spending package as moderates look to reduce the overall price tag. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, has been lobbying Democratic colleagues to protect the proposal, which would provide down payment assistance to first-generation homebuyers, in addition to other housing measures she says are being eyed by fellow Democrats as potential cuts. (The Hill)


Transit, Rail Funding Seen as Vulnerable to Reconciliation Cuts: As Democrats work to reduce the $3.5 trillion topline of their reconciliation measure, transportation analysts worry dollars for transit and high-speed rail will be a target. The House budget reconciliation measure allocated $57.3 billion to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including $10 billion for transit and $10 billion for high-speed rail. But the rub is this: The House is also considering a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill that included $550 billion in new spending for transportation and infrastructure. (Roll Call)

Republicans Press DOT to Implement All Provisions of Pipeline Safety Law: Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) and Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR) wrote to the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Acting Administrator to ensure the agency is focusing on its mission to improve safety and not on the Majority’s radical energy agenda that penalizes domestic energy producers, drives up energy costs for Americans, and benefits adversaries such as Russia and Iran. (Clark Hill Insight)

DeFazio Urges President Biden to Reopen and Reexamine U.S. Army Corps’ Nationwide Permits: Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) urged President Biden to ensure protection of clean water by reopening and reexamining the 57 Nationwide Permits (NWPs) proposed by the Trump administration. Codified in the Clean Water Act of 1977, NWPs are intended to authorize projects with minor environmental impacts to land, wetlands, and waterways; however, the previous administration sought to broaden their application, including for large projects with far-reaching cumulative impacts. (Clark Hill Insight) 


Senator Cotton Delays Vote on Biden’s Pick for Powerful China Job at Commerce: Republican Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is holding up a vote to confirm Alan Estevez as the U.S. Commerce Department’s undersecretary for industry and security until he gets answers to difficult questions about technology exports to China. (Reuters)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Green Card Recapture Effort Faces Uncertain Senate Future: Recapturing unused green cards, a policy fix in the House reconciliation plan that could bring relief to a vast swath of immigrants, has received far less attention than larger efforts to legalize millions of undocumented people. But the provision could be Democrats’ only chance to make major changes to immigration policy as prospects for broader legislation dwindle. (Roll Call)


Schumer, McConnell Headed for Another Collision Over Voting Rights: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are headed for another clash over voting rights legislation next week and it’s expected to result in another stalemate on a top Democratic priority. (The Hill)

House Democrats Target Algorithms in Liability Shield Bill: The leader of a powerful House committee is taking aim at websites’ liability shield in a new bill that would remove protections if recommended content leads to real-world harm. The bill is the latest attempt to tweak tech’s shield after mounting frustrations from both Democrats and Republicans about Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter’s content moderation practices. (Axios)

Klobuchar, Grassley, Colleagues to Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Rein in Big Tech: U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced last week that they will introduce bipartisan legislation to restore competition online by establishing commonsense rules of the road for dominant digital platforms to prevent them from abusing their market power to harm competition, online businesses, and consumers. (Clark Hill Insight) 


Lawmakers Ask How They Can Help Agencies Fight Crypto-enabled Ransomware Hacks: Key lawmakers praised 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)

Environment & Interior

Moderates Split Over Climate Plans in Democrats’ Spending Package: Climate change provisions in a sprawling Democratic spending package are dividing moderates, creating major obstacles to getting the legislation across the finish line. Those who have raised concerns include Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and several Texas Democrats in the House who have criticized proposals designed to accelerate the country’s shift toward cleaner energy and away from fossil fuels. (The Hill)


To Woo Manchin, Dems Could OK Climate Funds for Coal and Gas Plants: Lawmakers and the White House may soften a major clean energy component of Democrats’ climate change and social spending legislation in a bid to overcome objections from Sen. Joe Manchin, two people familiar with the discussions said last Wednesday. (Politico) 


Budget & Appropriations

Biden Signs Bill to Raise Debt Ceiling: President Biden last Thursday signed a bill raising the debt ceiling, averting a default for at least another month. The House interrupted its scheduled recess last week and voted to raise the debt limit into December, when lawmakers may again have to raise the ceiling to avoid economic consequences. (The Hill)


FDA Advisers Endorse Moderna Booster Shot: The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel last Thursday unanimously endorsed use of Moderna’s Covid-19 booster shot for the elderly and younger people whose jobs, underlying health or other factors elevate their risk. The panel recommended giving the shots at least six months after initial immunization. Its vote is not binding, but the FDA normally follows the recommendations of its advisory committees. (Politico)

Confusion Clouds FDA’s Approach to E-Cigarettes: The Food and Drug Administration’s decision last week to authorize the sale of an electronic cigarette was a landmark for the vaping industry — but it may only deepen confusion about the sector’s future. More than a month after a court-ordered deadline to determine which e-cigs could stay on the market, FDA has yet to act on applications from some of the industry’s biggest players, including Juul. (Politico)

Banking & Housing/HUD

What’s Inside the Treasury’s Proposal to Track Nearly All Bank Accounts: As part of President Joe Biden’s plan to crack down on tax evasion by the wealthy, one proposal has proved incendiary: A plan to require banks to report to the Internal Revenue Service several new pieces of information from U.S. bank accounts. It has drawn condemnation from the finance industry and some lawmakers, while stoking fears among ordinary Americans that the government plans to monitor their day-to-day spending. (CBS News) 

White House Vows to Treat Climate Change as “Systemic” Financial Risk: A new White House report released Friday morning says climate change poses “systemic risks” to the U.S. financial system, and presents a “roadmap” to building a “climate-resilient” economy. (Axios) 

Fed’s Bank Cop Loses Top Role as Leadership Shakeup Looms: The Federal Reserve announced last Tuesday that Randal Quarles will no longer be in charge of regulating the country’s financial system after his vice chairmanship expired Wednesday, a move that could mark the beginning of major leadership changes at the Fed. (Politico)


SEC Poised to Allow the First Bitcoin Futures ETFs to Begin Trading: The Securities and Exchange Commission is set to allow the first U.S. bitcoin futures exchange-traded funds to start trading this week, a landmark victory for a cryptocurrency industry that has long sought permissions from Wall Street’s top regulator, according to a person familiar with the matter. Specifically, the person said the SEC isn’t likely to block the ETFs proposed by ProShares and Invesco, which are based on futures contracts and were filed under mutual fund guidelines that SEC Chairman Gary Gensler thinks offer investors significant protection. (CNBC)

Coinbase Calls for New Regulator and Framework for the Crypto Sector: Coinbase, a leading cryptocurrency marketplace, is calling for vast changes in how the crypto sector is regulated. Last week, the company released a digital asset proposal in which its Chief Policy Officer called for cryptocurrencies and other digital assets to be regulated under a separate legal framework by a single federal agency. Furthermore, the proposal calls for separate disclosure requirements on particular digital assets such as stablecoins. (Yahoo)


Biden Tries to Tame Inflation by Having LA Port Open 24/7: President Joe Biden tried to reassure Americans last Wednesday that he can tame high inflation, announcing a deal to expand operations at the Port of Los Angeles as prices keep climbing and container ships wait to dock in a traffic jam threatening the U.S. economy and holiday shopping. (AP)

Buttigieg Warns Some Supply Chain Problems Will Persist into 2022: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said yesterday that the Biden administration is working to alleviate the ongoing supply chain squeeze while acknowledging some strains will persist for months. “A lot of the challenges that we have been experiencing this year will continue into next year,” Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” But there are both short-term and long-term steps that we can take to do something about it.” (Politico)


NOAA is Raising its Climate Profile: Richard W. Spinrad is the first Senate-confirmed administrator of NOAA in five years, which has its advantages in Washington. “That immediately gets doors open and gets me access,” Spinrad said in an interview following an interagency climate and equity roundtable in Detroit last Tuesday. Spinrad, who previously served as the agency’s chief scientist, said he’s been quietly working to raise his agency’s profile in the Biden administration, which has an all-hands-on-deck approach to climate change and other topics of interest to the agency. (Axios)

NASA, ULA Launch Lucy Mission to Visit ‘Fossils’ of Planet Formation: NASA’s Lucy mission, the agency’s first to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, launched at 5:34 a.m. EDT Saturday on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL.  Managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and led by Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, CO, Lucy will, over the next 12 years, fly by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids, making it the agency’s first single spacecraft mission in history to explore so many different asteroids. (NASA)

Space Force Wants to Learn How Venture Capitalists Assess Startups: With the space sector attracting so many new businesses, it can be difficult for the government to assess the qualifications of startups bidding for SBIR contracts.  An agreement just announced between the U.S. Space Force and a venture capital firm is a pilot project intended to help government buyers understand how investors assess space industry startups. (Space News)

NASA is Ready to Take on the World With Its New Climate Action Plan: NASA has big plans to fight against climate change and its devastating global impacts with a new climate action plan the agency released last week.  President Joe Biden aims to tackle the crisis with a “whole-of-government” approach that uses the National Climate Task Force, which includes leaders from dozens of federal agencies and departments, according to a White House statement. (Space.Com)


Army Gets Strategic About Going Digital: The newly crafted Army Digital Transformation Strategy, or ADTS, marks a key component of the branch’s overarching modernization efforts that is meant to reform policies, advance technical capabilities and prepare personnel for the next era of conflict. Army Chief Information Officer Dr. Raj Iyer announced the creation and impending release of the multi-year plan last Wednesday. The strategy aligns with a broader culture and mindset shift, according to him, and is intended to transform the Army into a technology-driven, multi-domain operations force by 2028. (NextGov)

Archbishop Says Catholic Troops Should Be Able to Reject Vaccines on Religious Grounds: Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop of the U.S. military, says Catholic troops should be able to reject receiving the coronavirus vaccine on religious grounds. Broglio said in a statement released Tuesday that Catholics in the military who believe the vaccine goes against their religion since they were tested “using an abortion-derived cell line” shouldn’t be forced to get vaccinated. (The Hill)

U.S. Army to Stage Largest Robot Tank Experiment Ever: The U.S. Army intends to test an entire company of unmanned combat vehicles in simulated battle next year involving multiple companies and academic organizations, a wargame that leaders called unprecedented and a big step toward refining the hardware and software that will one day enable wheeled robots to take the battlefield. (Defense One)

‘Affordable’ Hypersonics, Small Business and Sustainment Lead DoD Tech Chief’s Priorities: The new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Heidi Shyu, has laid out some of her top priorities for the Pentagon in its innovation race with China during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting last Tuesday. (Defense News)

DHS & Immigration

U.S. Prepares to Resume Trump ‘Remain in Mexico’ Asylum Policy in November: President Joe Biden’s administration is taking steps to restart by mid-November a program begun under his predecessor Donald Trump that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings after a federal court deemed the termination of the program unjustified. (Reuters)

Homeland Security Secretary Orders ICE to Stop Mass Raids on Immigrants’ Workplaces: Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will no longer conduct mass raids on workplaces where undocumented immigrants are employed, according to a new order by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (NPR)

U.S. to Allow Fully Vaccinated International Travelers to Visit Starting Nov. 8: The United States will lift border restrictions for fully vaccinated international travelers beginning Nov. 8, according to the White House. The policy will be effective for both land borders and air travel. (The Hill)

White House to Review Floodplain Building Codes in Response to Petition: The White House on Tuesday announced a series of new proposals for climate initiatives, including new building standards for structures in flood-vulnerable areas. In the fact sheet, the Biden administration announced a comment period for an update to the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) standards for floodplains. The last major update to the standards took place in 1976. (The Hill)

DHS Wants Wearables to Track Employee Health at Work and at Home: The Homeland Security Department wants to build a tech solution to monitor the health and stress levels of its employees to help identify when workers need assistance—due to physical or mental weariness—and optimize “human performance and resiliency” among the workforce. The department issued a call for proposals looking for solutions that incorporate biometric technologies to monitor employees’ health and “psychosocial information” entered into the software by the user. That data will be supported by algorithms that can alert employees to oncoming physical and mental health issues and suggest actions that can be taken to avert those breakdowns. (NextGov)


Biden Commission on Supreme Court Reform is Split on Adding Justices: A bipartisan White House commission agreed that Congress has the legal power to expand the Supreme Court — but the group was divided on whether lawmakers should actually do it. That’s according to draft “discussion materials” released Thursday by the White House, which tasked 30-odd experts with considering an array of possible reforms to the nine-member high court. (CNBC)


White House Wants to Know How Biometrics Like Facial Recognition Are Being Used: The White House office in charge of advising broadly on federal technology policy is trying to get a better sense of how the government and private sector use biometric technologies like facial recognition. The Office of Science and Technology Policy released a request for information seeking specifics about how federal agencies and the private sector are employing biometrics, whether for security and law enforcement—by far the most widely seen use—or other uses like making hiring decisions or predicting intent. (NextGov)

NIST Seeks Feedback on Potential ‘Moonshot’ of Supply Chain Security Project: The National Institute of Standards and Technology, tasked by the White House with developing a supply chain security framework applicable to the broad information and communications technology sector, isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. (Federal News Network)

Nations Vow to Combat Ransomware at US-Led Summit: Over two dozen nations resolved Thursday to battle collectively against the global and escalating threat posed by cyber-extortionists, following a Washington-led anti-ransomware summit.  The United States gathered the countries — with the notable exception of Russia — to unify and boost efforts to fight a cybercrime that is transnational, on the rise, and potentially devastating. (Security Week)

Agencies Warn of Cyber Threats to Water, Wastewater Systems: A coalition of federal agencies led by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned last week that hackers are targeting the water and wastewater treatment sectors, strongly recommending that organizations take steps to protect themselves. (The Hill)


Biden Asks Food Makers to Crack Down on Salt: The FDA last Wednesday released long-delayed short-term sodium reduction targets, urging food makers to voluntarily cut back their use of salt to help Americans eat healthier. The guidance sets voluntary sodium limits for more than 160 categories of processed foods, from pizza to toddler snacks, with the overall goal of helping consumers cut their average salt intake from 3,400 mg to 3,000 mg per day — about 12 percent — to reduce the risk of hypertension and other cardiovascular disease. (Politico) 


EPA Plans to Clean Up Troubled Chemical and Pesticide Programs: The Environmental Protection Agency laid out plans to improve scientific integrity today, including the creation of two internal science policy advisory councils. One will focus on the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics and the Office of Pesticide Programs and will be chaired by a science policy adviser, a new senior-level role within the agency. The EPA will also be overhauling its New Chemicals Division. (The Intercept)

U.S. Wants Federal Contracts to Reflect Climate Risk: The Biden administration on Thursday began a process to amend federal procurement rules to require the U.S. government – the world’s largest buyer of goods and services – to factor the risks of climate change into its contracts. (Reuters)

White House Makes Shore Pick for EPA Post Official: The White House last Tuesday officially named Chicago water executive Debra Shore to head EPA’s Chicago-based Midwest office following unusually public lobbying over the position. As POLITICO first reported last week, Shore won the job after being one of two frontrunners since last December. Since 2006, she has been an elected commissioner on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which has a $1.2 billion annual budget and which Illinois Democrats credit Shore with turning from a sleepy agency into an environmental force. (Politico)

Department of Energy

FERC Deadlock Clears the Way for Launch of Controversial Southeast Energy Market: After nearly a year of debate, a controversial plan by utilities in the Southeastern U.S. to create the region’s first energy-trading market has cleared a federal regulatory hurdle that will allow it to go into effect. But opponents say the plan fails to create the competitive structures that could drive down costs and enable far faster clean energy growth in the region — and they’re vowing to fight for their preferred alternatives. (Canary Media)

White House asks U.S. Oil-and-Gas Companies to Help Lower Fuel Costs: The White House has been speaking with U.S. oil and gas producers in recent days about helping to bring down rising fuel costs, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Energy costs are rising worldwide, in some cases leading to shortages in major economies like China and India. In the United States, the average retail cost of a gallon of gas is at a seven-year high, and winter fuel costs are expected to surge, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Oil-and-gas production remains below the nation’s peak reached in 2019. (Reuters)

Biden Administration Announces Plans for Massive Expansion of Wind Farms off U.S. Coasts: The Biden administration is planning to aggressively expand offshore wind energy capacity in the United States, potentially holding as many as seven new offshore lease sales by 2025. The move was announced last Wednesday by US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Haaland said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is exploring leasing sales along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, in the Gulf of Maine, the New York Bight, the central Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the Carolinas, California and Oregon. (CNN)

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