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Window On Washington - October 19, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 42

October 19, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is back in session, with votes planned throughout the week. The House is not in session until Nov. 16, though members could be called back with 24-hours’ notice for a vote on a COVID-19 relief package. Additionally, tomorrow the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee will hold a hearing on health coverage enrollment, and on Wednesday the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a rescheduled hearing on the current status and the future of passenger and freight rail.

Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on and approve Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to bring her nomination to the Senate floor on Friday, paving the way for a final vote next week.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. McConnell plans to bring two COVID-19 relief bills to the Senate floor this week totaling $500 billion: a vote tomorrow on a PPP bill and a vote Wednesday on the rest of the stimulus bill, which is nearly identical to the one that did not pass the Senate in September. Separately, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are continuing their negotiations and plan to speak again today; however, differences remain, especially regarding the ultimate price tag of the bill and the legislative language for the provisions, which Speaker Pelosi detailed in a Dear Colleague letter yesterday. Democrats are not pulling out of talks, though Speaker Pelosi said yesterday the White House must reconcile their differences with Democrats in the next 48 hours. 

2020 Elections. The election is 15 days away from today, and this National Journal presentation provides an overview of the state of the election. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are currently set to participate in the second and final presidential debate on Thursday at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Kristen Welker of NBC News will serve as moderator, and she has selected the following topics for the debate: fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital


Budget & Appropriations

McConnell Sets Up Votes on Narrow Coronavirus Relief Proposal: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Saturday that the Senate will hold two votes next week on a half-trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package, even as the chances of Congress approving a broader deal before the election remain slim. (Politico)

Yarmuth Sees $1.8 Trillion as Workable: House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) said that Democrats can compromise more on the overall cost of another coronavirus stimulus measure and should accept a $1.8 trillion deal if it’s structured the right way. (Bloomberg Government)

House Democrats Set Leadership Elections for Nov. 18-19: The Democratic caucus will hold leadership elections on Nov. 18 and 19, followed by committee chairmanship elections the week of Nov. 30. As of now there are two chairmanships open, including for the House Appropriations Committee. Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey’s (D-NY) decision to retire at the end of this term has spurred a three-way competition among Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). (Roll Call)

Bill Johnson Seeks Top GOP Slot on House Budget Panel: Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) is officially in the running to succeed Steve Womack (R-AR) as the top Republican on the House Budget Committee in the 117th Congress. (Roll Call)


Pelosi Stays Firm on Coronavirus Relief as a Few Democrats Urge Compromise: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is trying to keep her caucus together as she holds out for a better coronavirus relief package than the Trump administration’s latest $1.8 trillion proposal, but some Democrats are growing impatient as the window to enact a law before the Nov. 3 election closes. (Roll Call)

Pelosi Says White House Made 'Unacceptable Changes' to Testing Language During Negotiations on Coronavirus Stimulus: In a letter to House Democrats released by the Speaker's office yesterday afternoon, Speaker Pelosi accused the White House of refusing to commit funding for a national coronavirus testing and contact tracing program, as well as trying to create a "slush fund" from which the administration could offer grants to various entities at its own discretion. (The Hill)

State Health Officials Tell Congress They Need $8.4B for COVID-19 Vaccination Effort: State public health officials are urging Congress to provide at least $8.4 billion in emergency funding for distributing a coronavirus vaccine, warning that they do not currently have enough money to carry out the immense logistical effort. (The Hill)

Top Democrats Call for Watchdog to Review Trump Medicare Drug Cards: Top-ranking Democrats want an independent watchdog to expedite a review of the Trump administration's plans to send $200 Medicare prescription drug discount cards to seniors. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Baldwin Calls for Senate Hearing on CDC Response to Meatpacking Plant Coronavirus Outbreak: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) called on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to hold a hearing on the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak at a Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

Warren Asks Watchdogs to Probe Private White House Coronavirus Briefings for Insider Trading: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has asked the two U.S. financial market regulators to investigate whether the Trump administration’s private February warnings to a conservative think tank about the potential economic harm of the coronavirus pandemic spurred insider trading. (The Hill)


Congress Probing White House Influence Over CDC's Cruise 'No-Sail' Order: A congressional subcommittee is investigating possible White House interference in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's "no-sail" order for cruise ships, which is set to expire at the end of this month. (USA Today)


U.S. Congress Passes Haiti-Led Trade Agreement Between America and the Caribbean: The U.S. Congress has renewed the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, an agreement that allows countries in the region to continue importing and exporting goods with America. (Haitian Times)


Increasing Sealift Funding, Fixing Tankers are 2022 Budget Priorities, Esper Says: The Pentagon plans to include funding in its fiscal year 2022 budget request to increase military sealift capabilities, including through the use of commercial vessels, to begin to address shortfalls identified in a 2018 report, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in comments last Thursday. (Defense News)


Senate Judiciary Lines up Oct. 22 Vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination: The Senate Judiciary Committee officially set an Oct. 22 vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) immediately announced plans to bring her nomination to the floor for the following day. (Roll Call)

Environment & Interior

Murkowski Says She’ll Use Appropriations to Block Alaskan Mine: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) issued her strongest objection to date against the Pebble Mine project, a proposed mining site of copper, gold and molybdenum near the ecologically sensitive Bristol Bay, pledging to use the federal appropriations process to protect the region. (Roll Call)


House Stakes Out Energy R&D Priorities with Major Policy Bill: Last month, the House passed the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, a sweeping energy policy reform package containing numerous R&D-focused provisions spanning renewable, nuclear, and fossil energy. It also includes measures to promote energy storage, technology commercialization, environmental justice, energy efficiency, and workforce development. While it will not become law by the end of this year and this Congress, it does indicate priorities of the majority for the 117th Congress. (AIP Science Policy News)


Budget & Appropriations

Trump Wants Bigger Coronavirus Relief Package; GOP Support Tepid: President Donald Trump continues to move away from his own political party on COVID-19 aid, saying last Thursday that he’s authorized his top negotiator to offer Democrats more than $1.8 trillion. (Roll Call)


Trump Administration Announces Coronavirus Vaccine Deal with CVS and Walgreens to Administer Vaccine to Seniors: The Trump administration on Friday announced a deal with CVS Health and Walgreens to administer coronavirus vaccines to the elderly and staff in long-term care facilities. (CNBC)

HHS Lawyer Says Trump’s Drug Cards Could Violate Election Law: The health department’s top lawyer is warning in an internal memo that President Trump's plan to give seniors $200 discount cards to buy prescription drugs could violate election law, according to three officials with knowledge of those legal concerns. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Jobless Claims Jump, Hitting Highest Level Since Mid-August: American workers continued to hit the unemployment line in large numbers last week, with 898,000 new claims filed for jobless benefits. (CNBC)

Banking & Housing/HUD

U.S. Deficit Spikes to Record $3.1 Trillion in 2020 Amid Pandemic Spending: The federal deficit surged to a record $3.1 trillion in fiscal 2020, according to Treasury Department figures released Friday. That figure is more than 2 1/2 times the previous record, which came in at $1.4 trillion in 2009 during the height of the Great Recession. The nation's accumulated debt is also estimated to have surpassed 100 percent of gross domestic product in recent months for the first time since World War II and is on a trajectory that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says is "unsustainable." (The Hill)

Fed Vice Chair Says U.S. Economy Will Take Years to Fully Recover from Coronavirus: Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said last Wednesday that it could take the U.S. economy years to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic and would likely require further fiscal support from President Trump and Congress to make it out of the woods. (The Hill)

Tax Reform/IRS

IRS Closes in on Final Phase of Challenging Tax Season: The IRS this year has faced the dual responsibilities of processing tax returns, while many employees were working remotely, and carrying out aspects of coronavirus relief legislation — most prominently, the stimulus payments sent to most U.S. households. (The Hill)


Pentagon Study Finds Low Risk of Contracting COVID-19 on Planes with Passengers Wearing Masks: The results of the study could give a boost to the commercial airline industry, which has been one of the hardest hit during the coronavirus recession. Major U.S. airlines started cutting thousands of jobs this month due to decreased demand. (The Hill)

Driverless Trucking Not Slowing Down but the Ride is Getting Bumpier: Despite the large scale testing and investment by many companies and the evolving consensus that long-haul automated trucks will be the first segment in the Automated Driving System (ADS) space to scale up, draft federal regulations to allow such operations have been delayed and will now be “punted” to the next administration. (Forbes)


FAA’S Modernized Space Launch and Reentry Regulations Promise Flexibility: The Department of Transportation released updated and streamlined regulations last week for the commercial space launch and reentry industry in response to the Trump Administration’s Space Policy Directive-2. Industry is getting its first look right now, but so far the reaction is cautious optimism that some of their main concerns with the draft regulations have been addressed. (Space Policy Online)

NOAA and NASA Study How Climate Change is Causing Drought and Colder Winters: Climate change is affecting regions of the globe differently and accelerating or in some cases slowing areas of heating in the summer and creating harsher winters in other areas. Patterns of rainfall in many regions are also undergoing changes, based on satellite and surface data collected by the agencies. (Science Times)

NASA Makes a Significant Investment in On-Orbit Spacecraft Refueling: NASA has reached an agreement with 14 U.S. companies to develop technologies that will enable future modes of exploration in space and on the surface of the Moon. NASA says the value of these awards for "Tipping Point" technologies is more than $370 million. With these awards, the space agency is leaning heavily into technologies related to the collection, storage, and transfer of cryogenic propellants in space. (Ars Technica)


Watchdog to Audit Pentagon's Use of COVID-19 Funds on Defense Contractors: The Pentagon’s internal watchdog will audit whether the department appropriately used coronavirus relief funding to boost the defense industrial base rather than pay for coronavirus medical supplies and costs, according to a memo released last Thursday. (The Hill)

DHS & Immigration

McClintock Says Trump Will Reverse FEMA Denial of Emergency Aid for California Fires: Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said Friday that President Donald Trump has agreed to reverse his administration's decision to deny federal cleanup funding for six wildfires, including the largest single fire in state history located in the Republican-heavy Central Valley. (Politico)


Postal Service Agrees to Reverse Service Changes: The U.S. Postal Service agreed last Wednesday to reverse changes that slowed mail service nationwide, settling a lawsuit filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock during a pandemic that is expected to force many more people to vote by mail. (Politico)

Supreme Court Will Hear Trump Appeal to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants from Census Count: The Supreme Court said Friday that it will hear arguments on Nov. 30 on an appeal by the Trump administration that seeks to exclude the tally of undocumented immigrants in the United States from the census data used to calculate the apportionment of congressional districts. (CNBC)


Federal Contractors Argue Cyber Insurance Isn’t a Safe Bet for Better Security: A broad range of federal contractors fear a watchdog report on the government’s role facilitating coverage of cybersecurity risks—included in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act—will lead to a mandate that their companies hold related insurance policies, and that the idea may be based on flawed assumptions. (Next Gov)

U.S. Department of Energy Announces More than $7 Million to Protect Electric Grid from Cyberattacks: The DOE has provided funding for Michigan-based cybersecurity company, The Dream Team LLC (DTLLC) to develop a first-of-its-kind infrastructure that protects the electric grid from cyberattacks on electric vehicles (EV) and electric vehicle charging systems. (Clean Technica)


Perdue Faces Ethics Questions Over His Business Holdings: Watchdog organizations are calling for the Agriculture Department’s inspector general to investigate whether USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has run afoul of the ethics agreement he signed as a nominee for the job early in the Trump administration. The commitments entailed moving his holdings into a new trust and agreeing not to serve as a trustee or beneficiary of a newly formed fund. (Politico)


EPA Allows Use of Radioactive Material in Some Road Construction: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved for use in government road construction projects a substance that has been regulated due to radioactivity. (The Hill)

EPA May Violate Courts with New Rule Extending Life of Unlined Coal Ash Ponds: The EPA will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water. (The Hill)

President Donald Trump Signed Two Executive Orders Last Tuesday: One of the executive orders creates an interagency council to bolster the United States' role in the One Trillion Trees Initiative, and the second executive order creates an interagency "water subcabinet" chaired by the Interior secretary and EPA administrator. (Politico)

Department of Energy

FERC Confirms Carbon Pricing Jurisdiction in Wholesale Markets, Chatterjee 'Encourages' Proposals: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last Thursday cemented its jurisdiction over carbon pricing within wholesale markets, confirming that it does have the authority to approve such rules if brought forward by grid operators. FERC's statement also praised the potential of such a policy to improve the efficiency and transparency of wholesale markets. (Utility Dive)

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