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Window on Washington – October 4, 2021, Vol. 5, Issue 40

October 4, 2021

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate is in session this week, while the House only has committee work. Both chambers are continuing their efforts to finalize the Democratic-only priorities reconciliation package and to have the House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal. Hearings for this week include examining nominations, the balance of open science and security in the U.S. research enterprise, the Violence Against Women Act, Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) efforts following Hurricane Ida, the challenges of emerging contaminants and forever chemicals, the historical roots and continued contributions of HBCUs, voting rights legislation, and the state of telehealth.

Reconciliation and Infrastructure Packages.  After the House did not vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure package last week, Congress passed a stand-alone surface transportation funding extension that will last until the end of October, which President Biden signed into law on Saturday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated her new deadline for passing the bipartisan infrastructure deal is Oct. 31, which is when the 30-day reauthorization of federal highway programs is set to expire. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders, as well as President Biden, are working to address the intraparty divisions on the reconciliation package. House Progressives have indicated that the substance of the bill is the priority more so than the final price tag but do not feel that Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) proposed top-line figure of $1.5 trillion is enough to properly fund the provisions they care about. Negotiations within the party are ongoing, and it remains to be seen what the final reconciliation package will look like. Administration officials have indicated that they expect the size of any final package to be somewhere between $1.9-2.3 trillion, with decisions to be made on how to phase or limit the proposed expansion of new programs like university pre-K and community college access, as well as whether or not to means-test new benefits such as dental, vision and hearing aid coverage under Medicare.

Debt Limit. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the federal debt limit could be reached by October 18, and Senate Republicans continued to block Democrats’ efforts last week to raise or suspend the debt ceiling. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that Democrats should address the debt limit via reconciliation, but Democratic leaders are divided on that approach. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is open to starting this process, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) have said the reconciliation road is a non-starter. Punchbowl News reports this morning that the Senate Parliamentarian has privately given guidance to both Senate Democrats and Republicans that Senate Democrats could pass a separate Budget Reconciliation bill that only addresses the debt limit increase, but it remains unclear whether Democrats will pursue this path of action.

FY22 Appropriations. Given that Congress did not finish its appropriations work by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown. The CR will fund the government through December 3 and includes funding to respond to recent natural disasters and to assist Afghan refugee resettlement efforts. The Senate Appropriations Committee may release its remaining appropriations bills on or around October 15, but as of now, there are no plans for additional Senate markups.

Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is set to start its next term today, and they will hear oral arguments in person for the first time since the pandemic began. However, Justice Brett Kavanaugh will participate remotely for this week’s sessions given a recent positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Some of the big cases for this term include a new challenge to Roe v. Wade, a challenge to a New York state gun law, a case regarding aid for religious schools, a battle over alleged discrimination against HIV patients, and two cases that focus on whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) displaces the government’s assertion of the “state secrets privilege” for these cases.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital


Budget & Appropriations 

Democrats Offer Array of Options for Passing Stalled Infrastructure, Reconciliation Bills: Some lawmakers said they were confident that they would be able to pass both measures while others, including some progressives who refused to vote for the bipartisan bill unless they could pass the larger reconciliation package first, suggested they’d be open to a smaller price tag or a shorter amount of years of funding social programs. (The Hill) 


Limiting Medicare Benefits Deepens Rift Among Hill Democrats: Means-testing Medicare, a long-running controversy in health policy debates, is re-emerging as a major source of tension for Democrats seeking a path forward on their stalled social spending package. Centrist lawmakers are demanding that an expansion of the program to cover dental, vision, and hearing care be limited to the poorest Americans, to pare the projected cost by as much as half. (Politico) 


Congress Presses Becerra, Cardona on Keeping Schools Open and Recovering: For the first time since America’s public school system returned to full time, in-person learning for more than 50 million children, members of Congress came face to face with the two Cabinet secretaries charged with making that happen. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra sat before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee last Thursday to relay the good news about school re-openings. However, they also discussed ongoing concerns associated with school re-openings. (U.S. News) 

Banking & Housing  

Senate Confirms Chopra to Head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: The Senate voted 50-48 last Thursday to confirm Rohit Chopra to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, bringing to an end a drawn-out effort to put a new director at the agency Congress established in the wake of the financial crisis more than a decade ago. (Roll Call)

Dems Propose 20-Year Mortgage for First-Gen Homebuyers: The raft of legislation designed to spur first-time homeownership in America seems to grow by the minute. Another bill has joined the fray, and its sponsors propose creating a new 20-year-fixed-rate mortgage program through Ginnie Mae. The legislation, dubbed the “Low-income First Time Homebuyer (LIFT) Act,” would create a program through the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would sponsor low fixed-rate 20-year mortgages. (Housing Wire) 


China’s Crypto Ban Fuels New Wedge Issue: Some Republican congressional members are pushing back on the Biden administration’s moves to regulate crypto circulation in the U.S., currently valued at $2 trillion. That tussle creates a new wedge issue that GOP crypto advocates portray as a battle: the defense of financial freedom and innovation versus Democratic nanny state financial market control. But China’s recent ban on crypto transactions adds an ideological element to congressional anti-China sentiment that may obstruct or derail U.S. Federal Reserve plans to regulate the use of cryptocurrencies. (Politico) 


Sinema Slams Democratic Leadership on Infrastructure Vote Delay: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) skewered Democratic leadership on Saturday for delaying a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package, calling the decision “inexcusable” and “deeply disappointing.” In a statement, the Arizona Democrat warned that delaying the vote only reduced trust within the party. (Politico) 

Homeland Security & Immigration

Senate Parliamentarian Rules Out Democrats’ Immigration Plan B: The Senate parliamentarian has nixed Democrats’ back-up plan for getting immigration reform into a sweeping spending bill, handing them a second setback. Democrats had pitched parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants by making a change to the date for when undocumented immigrants within the United States can apply to adjust their legal status. (The Hill)


House Committee Advances Bill to Legalize Marijuana: The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill last Thursday that would decriminalize and deschedule cannabis and implement a federal tax on marijuana products to fund grants for communities hardest hit by the nation’s war on drugs. The bill would also allow most individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses to expunge their records, with the exception of those considered to be “kingpins,” or those who helped oversee a criminal drug ring. (Roll Call)

Top Republican Opposes Bipartisan House Antitrust Package: Top Senate Republican Chuck Grassley (R-IA) came out against the House’s bipartisan antitrust bills targeted at Big Tech last Monday, dealing a blow to those who want to curb Silicon Valley’s influence through the legislation. (Yahoo News)

Booker ‘More Than Confident’ Work Toward Police Reform Will Continue: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said yesterday he is “more than confident” that future work toward police reform will continue despite failed recent negotiations.  Booker said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” he would be willing to come back to the table in the future to negotiate the matter with other lawmakers like Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) who tried to help craft previous measures. (The Hill)

Supreme Court Takes Up Dispute Between Ted Cruz and FEC Over Campaign Loans: The Supreme Court last Thursday said it will hear a dispute between Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) over campaign finance rules limiting the repayment of a candidate’s personal loans to their campaigns. (CBS News)

Senators Weigh Latest Proposal to Boost Data Privacy Protections: Members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee at a September 29 hearing sketched out the latest chapter in a years-long debate about how to boost consumer data privacy protections – with the current options centering on a proposal from committee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would set up a new privacy bureau for that purpose at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). (MeriTalk)


Senators Roll Out Bill Giving Organizations 24 Hours to Report Ransomware Attack Payments: The leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last Tuesday introduced legislation that would give set timelines for cyber incident reporting, including giving certain organizations, owners, and operators of critical infrastructure deadlines to report to the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) if they paid the sum demanded in a ransomware attack.  (The Hill)

Congress Demands Briefing from FBI on Decision Not to Share Kaseya Decryption Keys: U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Ranking Member Rep. James Comer (R-KY) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking him to appear before Congress to explain the FBI’s actions in the case.  The FBI’s decision to keep the REvil ransomware decryption key from victims of the attack on Kaseya has caused a furor among some victims and experts who questioned the organization’s judgment.  (ZDNet) 


Congress Approves $10 Billion in Disaster Aid to Agriculture: Farmers and ranchers would be eligible for $10 billion in disaster relief for losses in 2020 and this year under the short-term government funding bill passed by Congress last Thursday. (Successful Farming) 

Environment & Interior  

Senate Confirms Biden’s Controversial Land Management Pick: The Senate last Thursday voted to confirm Tracy Stone-Manning to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) despite a decades-old tree-spiking incident that led to GOP opposition to her nomination. In a 50-45 vote, Stone-Manning was confirmed to oversee an agency that’s in charge of the nation’s public lands — including their use in energy production. Republicans opposed Stone-Manning’s confirmation because of a letter she sent in 1989 that mentioned tree-spiking, a tactic used to prevent logging that involves putting metal rods or materials into trees. It can both damage equipment and cause injuries. (The Hill)


Manchin says Natural Gas ‘Has to Be’ Part of Clean Energy Program: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) last Thursday said natural gas must be included in a clean energy program his fellow Democrats are pushing. “It has to be,” the key swing vote senator told reporters. “I am all for all of the above. I am all for clean energy, but I am also for producing the amount of energy that we need to make sure that we have reliability.” (The Hill)

Democrats’ Split on Energy Policies Threaten Budget Bill: House and Senate Democrats are moving further away from each other on energy-related provisions of their sprawling budget reconciliation bill at a critical moment for President Joe Biden’s domestic policy agenda. The latest sign of trouble came last Monday night when a trio of Texas Democrats released a letter asking party leaders to drop new taxes and fees from the budget bill they say would harm U.S. oil and gas producers. (Roll Call)


Budget & Appropriations

Biden Signs Bill to Avert Shutdown: President Biden last Thursday signed a stopgap bill that will keep the government funded through early December, narrowly averting a government shutdown. (The Hill)

Biden Plays for Time on Infrastructure, Larger Budget Package: President Joe Biden told House Democrats last Friday to hold off on his bipartisan infrastructure bill until they reach an agreement on a scaled-back partisan tax and spending package funding the rest of his economic agenda. Biden ultimately sided with progressives on process but asked them for a concession on policy: The budget package needs to be scaled down from $3.5 trillion, which progressives already viewed as a compromise, to $2 trillion, give or take, while still addressing key party priorities like family leave, child care, and climate change. (Roll Call) 


Fauci Sees Hope in New Merck Drug: Dr. Anthony Fauci praised yesterday the results of a late-stage clinical trial of an experimental antiviral drug from Merck that public health experts hope could open a new front in the United States’ pandemic response. “It’s extremely important,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union” — emphasizing that the drug, molnupiravir, can be taken by mouth as a pill. (Politico) 

Department of Education 

Cardona Fears Effort to Reimagine Public Education is Slipping Away: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona fretted in the back of a tour bus rolling through Detroit’s rain-soaked suburbs about the future of President Joe Biden’s signature proposal to reshape American higher education. Cardona was concerned a $45.5 billion free community college program, one of the Biden initiatives he’s supposed to shepherd, won’t make it into the final version of the multitrillion-dollar social spending package Congress is hashing out. (Politico)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Yellen Lends Support for Effort to Remove the Debt Ceiling Altogether: With a potential default looming for the U.S. in October, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last Thursday she would just as soon see the power over debt limits taken away from Congress. A bill introduced in May would repeal the national debt ceiling, and Yellen said “yes, I would” when asked during a House hearing if she backs the effort. (CNBC)

DHS S&T Partners with Fannie Mae to Improve Use of Flood Insurance: The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) to carry out collaborative research related to flood insurance in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration. S&T and Fannie Mae will conduct joint research to identify ways to expand the use of flood insurance to reduce the financial losses suffered by homeowners and creditors in future storms. (Clark Hill Insight)

New York Fed Researchers Develop Climate Stress Test for Banks: Researchers at the New York Federal Reserve Bank have developed an approach to measuring banks’ exposures to climate-related risks, a possible early step toward assessing whether financial institutions have enough capital on hand to withstand them. (Reuters)


Crypto’s Road Gets Harder with Biden Pick for Bank Watchdog: The White House nominated Saule Omarova to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks. If Omarova is confirmed by the Senate, the OCC would likely go further in pursuing stricter oversight of digital tokens and tougher rules given her past critiques of digital tokens. (Yahoo)


President Biden Avoids Furloughs, Signs Department of Transportation Funding Extension: White House officials confirmed that President Joe Biden has signed the “Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2021,” funding the Department of Transportation’s surface transportation programs until the end of October. This bill extends the transportation budget and the deadline to form a new budget to Nov. 1. (WTOP)

NASA Transfers Air Traffic Management Tool Updates to FAA: As part of an effort aimed at making aviation more sustainable, NASA has transferred findings from an air traffic management project to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for nationwide implementation, the two agencies announced last Tuesday. Over the past six years, NASA’s Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 (ATD-2) project demonstrated the benefits of a suite of airport operations tools known as Integrated Arrival, Departure, and Surface (IADS) technology. The tools, tested at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, and at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field Airport in Texas, saved fuel, reduced carbon emissions, and increased information sharing between the FAA and industry. NASA provided the FAA with technology and knowledge from the demonstrations. (Clark Hill Insight)

White House Pushes U.S. Airlines to Mandate Vaccines for Staff by Dec. 8: The White House is pressing major U.S. airlines to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees by Dec. 8 – the deadline for federal contractors to do so – and is showing no signs of pushing back the date, four sources told Reuters last Friday. (Reuters)


DoD Trying to Keep China from Accessing Critical U.S. Space Technology: Chinese investments in U.S. space startups and use of Chinese software by DoD suppliers are issues of growing concern at the Pentagon, officials said.  DoD has created a “Trusted Capital Program” in January due to concerns that China is using its financial clout to access segments of the U.S. defense and space industrial bases, which in now encouraging venture capital firms to get vetted by DoD so they can be declared sources of “clean capital.” (Space News)

After Years of Futility, NASA Turns to Private Sector for Spacesuit Help: NASA hopes to finally solve the problem of finding its next-generation spacesuits by switching approaches and moving to a commercial procurement process.  The inability to design an upgraded replacement for their “Extravehicular Mobility Units” has vexed the agency for the last 14 years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  (Ars Technica)

What Comes After the ISS? Why NASA Won’t Be Building the Next Space Station: Looking at the likely need to replace the ISS by 2030, NASA hopes to publish service requirements commercial space stations must meet by sometime in the spring of 2022 and if funding is provided by the Congress, is prepared to award up to four contracts worth a total of $400 million for the first phase of the program at that time. (Inverse)


Defense Business Board Relaunches After Pentagon Review: The Biden administration has reassembled one of the Pentagon’s most influential advisory boards with a diverse group of business leaders, seven months after it was disbanded.  The Defense Business Board is re-launching with 17 new members. It’s the most diverse group assembled in the board’s 20-year history: seven women and nine people of color have been named to the panel. (Defense One)

Troops Move to Block Pentagon Vaccine Requirement in Court:  Two service members in North Carolina have filed a potential class action lawsuit against Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to attempt to block him from requiring all troops receive a COVID-19 vaccine. (The Hill)

Pentagon Told Biden Not to Withdraw from Afghanistan:  Pentagon leaders who faced a gantlet of congressional frustration this past week tried to distribute blame for the chaotic end to America’s longest war during testimony before several House and Senate Committees.  Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said they believed the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last month was a mistake, and said they’d recommended keeping at least 2,500 troops there to both President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. (Roll Call)

DHS & Immigration

Biden Rule to Shield ‘Dreamers’ Seeks to Bypass Congress: The Biden administration last Monday renewed efforts to shield hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the United States as young children from deportation, the latest maneuver in a long-running drama over the policy’s legality. (AP)

Appeals Court Allows Biden Administration to Resume Title 42 Expulsions: The Biden administration can resume use of a Trump-era policy that allows officials to rapidly expel migrants without chance of asylum, a federal appeals court in D.C. ruled last Thursday. (Axios)

DHS Releases Priority-Based Immigration Enforcement Guidelines: The Department of Homeland Security last Thursday released guidelines about who is to be prioritized for immigration enforcement, following up on a set of interim guidance released early in the Biden administration. (CNN)

DHS Announces Continued Efforts, Outlines Steps Taken to Address Best Practices in Law Enforcement Efforts: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the formation of the Law Enforcement Coordination Council (LECC) – the Department’s first unified law enforcement coordination body – to comprehensively assess a broad range of law enforcement matters, including its law enforcement policies and training.  The LECC, which will be chaired by Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, will immediately begin comprehensive reviews that ensure more fair, equitable, and impartial policing, as well as officer and community safety.  The LECC builds on several steps undertaken by DHS during the Biden-Harris Administration to promote best practices in its law enforcement activities. (Clark Hill Insight)


4 Federal Agencies Win $311M to Modernize IT, Cybersecurity: The first seven of more than 100 proposals chasing some of the $1 billion windfall that Congress gave to the Technology Modernization Fund earlier this year have made it to the finish line.  Each of these projects at the GSA, OPM, Education, and DHS focus on either improving citizen services or addressing cybersecurity shortcomings, or both. (Federal News Network) 

Department of Justice

Biden Nominates 10 More Federal Judges Amid Diversity Push: President Joe Biden last Thursday continued his push to bring greater diversity to the federal judiciary with 10 new nominees to the bench, picking several people of color and civil rights lawyers for U.S. district court seats. (Reuters) 


EPA Plowing Ahead on Power Plant Rules: As lawmakers joust over sweeping new incentives for green electricity, EPA is quietly working on the next generation of Clean Air Act power regulations. The Washington main event: the fate of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, which includes an ambitious regulatory-and-market hybrid to reward utilities for green power investments and penalize them for clinging to fossil fuels. The proposed package would expand tax incentives for renewable power and introduce pollution fees and a panoply of other actions and policies that Democrats say would deliver on President Biden’s promise to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. (E&E News)

Biden Admin Revokes Trump-Era Fossil Fuel Royalty Regs: The Interior Department axed Trump-era regulations last week that would have eliminated millions in federal revenues each year from coal and oil extraction. The Trump administration finalized the soon-to-be withdrawn valuation rule in January, after a failed attempt to repeal Obama-era reforms on how the federal government determines royalties’ payments on federal minerals. (E&E News)

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