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Window On Washington - October 21, 2019, Vol. 3, Issue 39

October 21, 2019

Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital

Senate Appropriations. The Senate plans to bring up two House minibus appropriations bills this week according to Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY). If the bills receive enough support on the procedural vote, the Senate will replace the House approved bills with text approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The first package will consist of domestic spending bills that received unanimous support in committee. While it has not been officially announced which bills would be included in the first package, the Agriculture and Transportation-HUD subcommittee chairmen anticipate that their bills will be included. McConnell has said that if the first package is approved, the Senate will move onto the second package, which would include the defense spending bill. However, discussions on the Defense Appropriations bill have stalled and there is currently not enough support for the bill. And even if the Senate is able to pass some of the appropriations bills, it is unclear how they would proceed with the House on the conference process, as the two chambers have yet to agree on top-line spending levels for the 12 bills. It is increasingly likely that there will be another continuing resolution after the current resolution expires in November.

Turkey Sanctions. The House is expected to vote on a bipartisan bill that sanctions Turkey for its actions on Syria. Senators Graham (R-SC) and Van Hollen (D-MD) are also working on a sanctions bill that targets more industries than the House version.

Gun Control. House Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD) said that the House will not take up any gun control legislation until the Senate takes up a background check bill. Democrats are using this as a means to pressure the Senate to act.

Congressman Cummings. House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) announced that the late Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) will lie in state in the US Capitol on Thursday. Funeral services will be held in Baltimore on Friday. Cummings passed away last week.

Last Week in the Nation's Capital


Budget & Appropriations

McConnell Tees Up Government Funding Votes Amid Stalemate: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is turning the Senate toward trying to pass a set of long-stalled appropriations bills. McConnell said the Senate will try to take up two packages of spending bills this week. The first, as an olive branch to Democrats, will include domestic priorities. The second package will include a mammoth defense bill, which is considered a top priority for Republicans. (The Hill)


House Dems Move Forward with Drug Pricing Bill: The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) sweeping drug pricing bill, a key step in getting the legislation to the full House floor for a vote later this year. Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders, who had been working on the plan for months, are working to get it through committees to the floor as soon as the end of this month. The House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill as well. (Roll Call)

Top Republican Rejects Democratic Chairman's Approach to Stopping Surprise Medical Bills: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, rejected a proposal from the Democratic chairman of the panel to protect patients from surprise medical bills, saying a different approach is needed to solve the problem. Brady seemed to say that as an alternative approach, he supports allowing for an arbitration process as a backstop to give doctors a way to appeal payment rates that they view as too low, though he did not get into specifics. (The Hill)

House Lawmakers Press the Vaping Industry with Two Hearings: House lawmakers are upping the pressure on the e-cigarette industry with two hearings looking to rein in vaping and assess its risk as an emerging public health threat. The House Appropriations Committee and an Energy and Commerce subcommittee have called physicians, parent groups, public health officials and anti-smoking groups to testify. The hearings are the latest in a recent wave of congressional scrutiny over the e-cigarette industry amid a teen vaping epidemic and an outbreak of a vaping-related lung disease that’s killed at least 26 people across the US (CNBC)


House Condemns Trump’s Syria Withdrawal: Voting 354 to 60, a bipartisan group of lawmakers approved a nonbinding resolution opposing the move, which set the stage for Turkey's military assault against Kurdish forces in Syria that the U.S. partnered with to beat back Islamic State terrorists. (Politico)

Barbara Barrett Confirmed As Next US Air Force Secretary: The Senate last Wednesday approved Barbara Barrett, a former ambassador to Finland, to become the next secretary of the U.S. Air Force after a 85-7 vote. Barrett will serve as the Air Force’s 25th secretary, becoming the fourth woman to hold that role. (Defense News)

Pelosi Visits Jordan to Discuss Syria Crisis Amid Shaky Cease-Fire: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) led a bipartisan delegation to meet the Jordanian king as an American-brokered truce with Turkey in northern Syria continued to stutter. (New York Times)

Senators Vow to Press Turkey Sanctions Bills Despite Pence Cease-fire Announcement: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID), who have each released separate sanctions bills, both said they would continue working on their bills despite the cease-fire. (The Hill)

House Foreign Affairs Leaders Introduce Turkey Sanctions Bill: The bill would target Turkish officials involved in the decision to invade and those committing human rights abuses. (The Hill)


Rise of Fintech Weakens Law to Prevent Lending Discrimination: As online banking threatens to make in-person banking at brick-and-mortar branches as archaic as video rental stores, it may do the same to a 1977 law created to counteract decades of underinvestment in minority neighborhoods. (Roll Call)


FTC Democrat Raises Concerns that Government is ‘Captured’ by Large Tech Companies: Chopra made the comments during a hearing about data privacy before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, which has been investigating whether the top technology firms wield their power in the marketplace. (The Hill)

Homeland Security/Immigration

In One of His Final Acts, Elijah Cummings Signed Subpoenas for Immigration Agencies: The late House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was working right until the end, signing two subpoenas for documents related to an immigration policy change hours before he died. (The Week)

Apple CEO Tim Cook Calls on the Senate to Pass Immigration Reform: The support for the stalled legislation is both a sign of Cook’s personal interest in immigration policy as well as Apple’s interest in making immigration easier for many of its employees who live in California but often face challenges obtaining a green card. (CNBC)

Trump Again Vetoes Resolution Blocking National Emergency For Border Wall: President Trump last Tuesday vetoed a joint resolution that would overturn his emergency declaration at the southern border to aid construction of a wall, the second time he has been forced to do so. (The Hill)


Senate Dems Lose Forced Vote Against EPA Power Plant Rule: The vote, which failed 41 to 53, was largely seen as a protest of the Trump administration’s rollbacks on several environmental protections and climate change mitigation efforts, and offers a roadmap of actions Democrats might take if they win back the Senate in 2020. (The Hill)


Senators Vow to Press Turkey Sanctions Bills Despite Pence Cease-Fire Announcement: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID), who have each released separate sanctions bills, both said they would continue working on their bills despite the cease-fire. (The Hill)

Banking & Housing

Tensions Flare as Democrats Urge Consumer Bureau to Boost Penalties: A House Financial Services Committee hearing last week with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Kathy Kraninger quickly devolved after a top Democratic congresswoman insisted the bureau had abandoned its mission under her watch by ignoring a staff recommendation to seek restitution for consumers in addition to a $3.2 million January fine/legal settlement with Enova International, an online lender accused of illegally collecting debts from consumers. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Federal Employees Lose a Powerful Advocate With Death of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings: With the passing of Rep. Cummings (D-MD), on Thursday, Democrats lost a powerful figure at the forefront of government oversight and reform, and a steadfast advocate for civil servants. Elected to Congress in 1996, Cummings was a staunch fighter for racial justice, federal workers and government reform and most recently, he’s led the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s many investigations into the Trump administration. (Government Executive)


Congress Wanted to Grill Uber and Lyft on Safety – the Companies Blew Them Off: Uber and Lyft decided to skip a congressional hearing last Wednesday aimed at examining their safety and labor practices, to the aggravation of members of the committee who are threatening to press ahead regardless with new legislation. (Washington Post)


Democrats Vow to Push for Repeal of Other Trump Rules After Loss on Power Plant Rollback: Senate Democrats say they will continue to try to use congressional powers to repeal executive branch regulations, even though the tactic failed during an effort to overturn a rollback of power plant pollution. (The Hill)

Space, NASA & NOAA

Key House Appropriator Remains Skeptical About Artemis: The Chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA said he remains unconvinced of the need to accelerate NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon because of its uncertain cost. At a hearing last Wednesday, Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), expressed frustration at the lack of information from NASA on the overall costs of its Artemis program that now seeks to land humans on the moon by 2024, four years earlier than the timeline in the agency’s original fiscal year 2020 budget request. (Space News)

New Legislation Seeks to Give NASA More Contracting Power/New Head of NASA Human Spaceflight: Three Republican lawmakers last week introduced the Contracts and Obligations Modernization for Efficient Terms of Service — the COMET Act — to help NASA better leverage what commercial space companies have to offer. The bill from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rick Scott (R-FL) “would give NASA contracting authority similar to what DOD currently has as far as planning out future needs” according to staff. Also Douglas Loverro, a long-time leader in the national security space realm, was announced as the new Associate Administrator for Human Exploration at NASA. (Politico)


Partisan Divide Reaches into Views of Higher Education: While many liberal-leaning Americans continue to put their faith in higher education, conservative-leaning ones have begun to grow skeptical — a phenomenon traced to several factors: media portrayals of college campuses, skyrocketing costs and declining trust in institutions at large. (Roll Call)

Impeachment Inquiry

Pelosi Holds Off on Vote to Authorize Trump Impeachment Inquiry: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic leaders will hold off on a full House vote authorizing an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, according to multiple lawmakers and aides. (Politico)

As Inquiry Widens, McConnell Is Said to See Impeachment Trial as Inevitable: Last week, Senator Mitch McConnell sat his colleagues down over lunch in the Capitol and warned them to prepare for an extended impeachment trial of President Trump. (New York Times)

‘Meltdown’: Trump-Pelosi Feud Intensifies After Dem Walkout: Last Wednesday’s ugly encounter marks the third time in less than nine months that a meeting between two of the nation’s most powerful leaders has been derailed after a barrage of insults from the president. (Politico)



CMS' Verma Touts Value-Based Pricing for Lowering High Drug Prices: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said the Trump administration wants to move forward on a value-based pricing approach to pharmaceuticals to help curb the high cost of drugs. The Trump administration is focused on targeting the cost of physician-administered drugs. Currently, Medicare Part B pays the average sales price for a physician-administered drug, and the agency gives the doctor or hospital 6% of that price for handling and storage costs. (FierceHealthcare)

Medicare for All Would Actually Be 'Medicare for None,' HHS Secretary Argues: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar called Medicare for All a “utopian” and “simplistic” approach to health care that would actually become “Medicare for None” during an interview at the TIME 100 Health Summit. He argued that, though the U.S. needs better individual insurance market solutions, many people are satisfied with their coverage through employers, unions or programs like Medicare. (TIME)

Labor & Workforce

Department of Labor Announces Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Expand Tip Pooling Practices for Employers: Last week, the DOL announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will rescind regulations restricting an employer’s use of tip pooling, even when the employees are paid a direct cash wage of at least the full federal minimum wage and the employer does not claim a tip credit. Under the proposal, employers will be able to distribute customer tips to non-tipped employees, such as dishwashers and cooks, so long as the employer is not claiming a tip credit. (JD Supra)


Fighting Continues in Syrian Town Despite Cease-Fire Deal: Fighting continued in northern Syria last Friday morning despite a five-day cease-fire deal between the United States and Turkey announced the day before. (The Hill)

Trump Adviser Lays Out Plans to Slash National Security Staff: President Trump’s new national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, plans to cut staff at the National Security Council (NSC) by more than 50 positions by the start of next year. (The Hill)

Inspector General to Review DOD’s Use of PFAS: The inspector general at the Department of Defense (DOD) agreed in a letter released Tuesday to review the agency’s history with a class of cancer-linked chemicals that have leached into the water supply near military bases across the country. (The Hill)

Pentagon Chief says US troops Leaving Syria for Western Iraq: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that under current plans all US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the American military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence. (AP)


Deal Or No Deal? US-China Trade Optimism Fades, Yet Again: Despite the US and China announcing a partial trade deal last Friday, many analysts remain skeptical about the lack of details, and optimism has quickly faded—with Hong Kong emerging as a new sticking point. (Forbes)


Trump Wants a Warrior to Elevate His Immigration Fight in an Election Year: People inside and outside the White House are lobbying President Trump to give the job of Homeland Security secretary to Ken Cuccinelli. (Politico)


Underground Hackers and Spies Helped China Steal Jet Secrets: Chinese government hackers working with the country’s traditional spies and agencies plotted and stole U.S. and European aircraft engine secrets to help Beijing leapfrog over its Western competitors in developing a domestic commercial aircraft industry, according to researchers at the cybersecurity protection firm CrowdStrike. (Roll Call)


Energy Secretary Rick Perry To Resign: Secretary of Energy Rick Perry plans to leave his position at the end of the year, President Trump confirmed to reporters last Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. The president praised Perry and said he already has a replacement in mind. (NPR)

Trump Announces Brouillette as Energy Nominee to Replace Perry: President Donald Trump said Friday he is nominating Dan Brouillette to be the top official at the Energy Department, replacing Secretary Rick Perry, and the department said it would not comply with a congressional subpoena for records about Perry’s contacts with officials in Ukraine. (Roll Call)


Boeing Pilot Complained of ‘Egregious’ Issue With 737 Max in 2016: Last Friday, Boeing gave lawmakers a transcript revealing that a top pilot working on the plane had raised concerns about the system in messages to a colleague in 2016, more than two years before the Max was grounded because of the accidents, which left 346 people dead. (New York Times)


Judge Rules DOJ Improperly Redacted Court Filing Related to Mueller Probe: The Department of Justice improperly redacted a court filing related to the Mueller investigation and must reveal the names of two individuals who figured prominently in the probe, a federal judge in Washington ruled on Thursday. (The Hill)

Prosecutors Flag That DOJ is Not in Sync with Trump on Tax Returns Claim: New York prosecutors pressing for access to President Trump’s tax returns are drawing attention to the Justice Department’s refusal to back up a claim by the president’s personal attorneys that he is immune from the state-run criminal justice process. (Politico)


Committee Pushes National Park Service to Privatize Campgrounds: A committee that reports to the National Park Service is recommending privatizing campgrounds within national parks, limiting benefits for senior visitors and allowing food trucks as a way to bring more money into the system. (The Hill)

Trump Administration Proposes Plan to Raise US Biofuels Use: The Trump administration, in an effort to mend fences with the powerful corn lobby, proposed a new formula on Tuesday to boost biofuels demand, but the proposal instead only provoked more consternation from the industry. (Reuters)

Department of Education

Warren to DeVos: Drop Navient's Contract: In a sign of growing scrutiny of student loan companies, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is urging the Trump administration to end its contract with Navient, one of the biggest contractors that collects payments on federal student loans. (Inside Higher Ed)


Fed Says Farm Finances Are Worsening: The central bank released its latest “Beige Book” report on the economic strength of specific sectors and regions, and the survey says… agriculture is still in a tough spot. The Fed reports that farm conditions across the country “deteriorated further due to the ongoing impacts of adverse weather, weak commodity prices and trade disruptions.” (Politico)

“Outrage” in Iowa Biofuels Industry Over Proposed EPA Blending Rules: The president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association has accused the EPA of failing to implement the details of a plan President Trump announced two weeks ago. The president’s outline suggested oil refineries would be forced to blend more ethanol in gasoline next year, to make up for the ethanol blending waivers granted this year, but the Association said the EPA’s document fell “well short” of that mark. (Radio Iowa)

Impeachment Inquiry

Mulvaney Links Delay in Ukraine Aid to DOJ Investigation into 2016, Then Revises Statement: The acting White House chief of staff said last Thursday that a delay in hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine over the summer was driven partly by a desire to pressure the country into cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into supposed Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 US election. (CBS News)

Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani Won’t Cooperate in US House Impeachment Inquiry: Vice President Pence and President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said last Tuesday they will not cooperate with a US House of Representatives impeachment inquiry, prompting a leading Democrat to say that would strengthen the case against the president. (CNBC)

Gordon Sondland says Giuliani Pushed Ukraine Probes at Trump’s Direction: Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, bolstered Democrats’ impeachment inquiry last Thursday as he broke sharply from President Donald Trump in testimony before House investigators. (Politico)

Senior State Dept. Ukraine Expert Says White House Sidelined Him: A senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy told impeachment investigators last Tuesday that he was all but cut out of decisions regarding the country after a May meeting organized by Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, describing his sidelining by President Trump’s inner circle as “wrong,” according to a lawmaker who heard the testimony. (New York Times)

Trump’s Ex-Russia Adviser Told Impeachment Investigators of Giuliani’s Efforts in Ukraine: Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators last Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony. (Washington Post)

Diplomat Tells Investigators He Raised Alarms in 2015 About Hunter Biden’s Ukraine Work but was Rebuffed: George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, testified last Tuesday that he worried that Hunter Biden’s position at the firm Burisma Holdings would complicate efforts by US diplomats to convey to Ukrainian officials the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality rules surrounding the deposition. (Washington Post)

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