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Window On Washington - September 28, 2020, Vol. 4, Issue 39

September 28, 2020

Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The Senate will hold a final vote as early as tomorrow afternoon on the House-passed continuing resolution legislation that would extend government funding through Dec. 11, which President Trump is expected to sign to avoid a government shutdown. The House returns tomorrow, with votes throughout the week on dozens of pieces of legislation and talks continuing from last week regarding the next COVID-19 relief package. Additionally, tomorrow the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will hold a hearing on white supremacy and local police departments. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hear testimony from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on the agency’s missions and future plans, and the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing about the pathway to the COVID-19 vaccine. On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is scheduled to testify before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on HHS’ response to the pandemic.

Supreme Court. President Trump on Saturday officially nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are tentatively scheduled to begin Oct. 12, with Judge Barrett facing questioning for the following two days and then senators hearing from outside witnesses on Oct. 15. This current timeline would allow for a Senate floor vote shortly before Election Day unless something unexpected comes up. Should everything go as planned, this confirmation would set a record for the closest to a presidential election that a Supreme Court nominee has been confirmed. Though previous high court picks have been confirmed in fewer days, they were further out from a presidential election.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. After weeks of pressure from both House Democrats and Republicans, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) plans to introduce and have the House vote on a $2.4 trillion COVID-19 relief package this week. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is involved in talks with Speaker Pelosi on the package as well, but Senate Republicans expressed doubt that a compromise agreement could be reached. The possibility remains that if negotiations extend into October recess, the House could be called back with 24 hours’ notice for a vote. If a deal isn’t reached by Election Day, some Democrats are holding out hope of passing a stimulus bill during the lame-duck session after the election.

2020 Elections. The first of the three presidential debates between President Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will be held tomorrow on the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University’s campus, with Chris Wallace of Fox News moderating. The debate’s topics are set to include the pandemic, the Supreme Court, each candidate’s records, the economy, race and violence across the U.S., and election integrity. Additionally, neither President Trump, Biden, or Wallace will wear masks, and unlike past presidential debates, the two sides are foregoing the traditional pre-debate handshake due to the pandemic and are not substituting it with an elbow-bump. There will also be a limited audience of only 75 to 80 people, all of whom will be tested prior to attending the debate.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital


Budget & Appropriations

House Passes Stopgap Funding Bill Shortly After Bipartisan Deal: The House swiftly passed a stopgap funding measure in a 359-57 vote last Tuesday needed to avert a partial government shutdown after top congressional leaders reached a deal resolving a fight over farm payments. (Roll Call)

‘Fix Congress Committee’ Launches Framework for Earmark Revival: Unlike most panels on Capitol Hill, the Modernization Committee is evenly split with six Democrats and six Republicans and has been unusually bipartisan. Committee members advanced their final slate of 40 proposals last Thursday, with the final report to be released in the coming weeks. (Roll Call)


Pelosi Preps New Coronavirus Relief Plan Amid Stalled Talks: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has directed her committee chairs to assemble a scaled back coronavirus relief package as a basis for potential talks with the White House. (Politico)

Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Investigate Political Interference in COVID-19 Response: Legislation introduced last Tuesday would create a task force within the Pandemic Response and Accountability Committee — an independent body created by the CARES Act — to investigate what Democrats argue are clear examples of the Trump administration impeding scientific work by agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

House Passes Legislation to Crack Down on Business with Companies that Utilize China's Forced Labor: The House last Tuesday in a 406-3 vote passed legislation aimed at tamping down the exchange of goods made in forced labor camps by Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. (The Hill)


For-Profits Hope Urban Democrats Will Help Them: The association representing for-profit colleges and universities is coming under fire after a news report that it is targeting Democratic members of Congress in urban areas to oppose efforts to further regulate the industry. (Inside Higher Ed)

Banking & Housing

Mnuchin, Powell Call on Congress to Rescue Small Businesses: During a Senate Banking Committee hearing last Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell urged Congress to make more funding available for small businesses, warning that more economic pain lies ahead, as lawmakers remain deadlocked over a relief package. (Politico)


House Democrats to Include More Aid for Airlines in Coronavirus Package: House Democrats' new emergency coronavirus relief package, which has not yet been unveiled, will include additional funding for airlines, according to Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). (The Hill)


House Reauthorizes Expiring Trade Program: The House last Tuesday by voice vote sent the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act to the Senate just days before the program expires Sept. 30. The program falls under the Caribbean Economic Recovery Act. (Clark Hill Insight)


NASA Wants a Big Budget Increase for its Moon Plans. Is Congress Biting? NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testified before the Senate Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations Subcommittee last week and emphasized that the space agency needs its full FY21 budget request for landers by the year’s end to keep Moon plan on track. (Ars Technica)


Warren, Khanna Request IG Investigation Into Pentagon's Use of Coronavirus Funds: A pair of Democrats is asking the Pentagon’s internal watchdog to investigate how the department used $1 billion in coronavirus relief funds, after concerns were raised that the Pentagon has used most of a $1 billion fund allocated by the CARES Act on defense contractors rather than medical supplies. (The Hill)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Senate GOP Eases Wolf’s Path to Becoming Homeland Security Secretary: Overcoming a pair of whistleblower reports by employees alleging misconduct and neglect, as well as skepticism over the legality of his current appointment, Chad Wolf faced little resistance at his Senate confirmation hearing last Wednesday to become Homeland Security secretary. (Roll Call)

DHS Whistleblower Testimony Delayed Again Amid Security Clearance Dispute: A DHS whistleblower’s testimony to House investigators has been postponed a second time as his attorney awaits a top-secret security clearance that he now accuses DHS of slow-walking in order to “prevent the deposition.” (Politico)


Supreme Court Fight Pushes Senate Toward Brink: Senators in both parties acknowledge the level of dysfunction in a chamber where the bulk of their time is spent processing nominations amid failures to break stalemates on pressing national issues like coronavirus relief and police reform. (The Hill)

Capitol Bids Goodbye to Ruth Bader Ginsburg: As the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday became the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol, it was fitting that most of the members of Congress gathered for her intimate arrival ceremony were women. (Roll Call)


Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Boost Cybersecurity of Local Governments, Small Businesses: The Improving Cybersecurity of Small Organizations Act would require the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to develop and issue guidance on cybersecurity policies for small businesses, nonprofits and local governments. (The Hill)


House Stopgap Spending Bill Includes CCC and Nutrition Funding: The bill includes $21 billion in funding for the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and around $8 billion for nutrition spending. (Pro Farmer)


House Passes Sweeping Clean Energy Bill: The House last Thursday passed the Clean Energy and Jobs Innovation Act in a 220-185 vote, which aims to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as part of an attempt to combat climate change. (The Hill)


Budget & Appropriations

CBO Warns Federal Debt Will Nearly Double GDP by 2050: The independent agency released its long-term budget forecast in the wake of the pandemic and the ensuing economic recess, forecasting that the debt will rise to 98 percent of GDP by the end of this year and reach 195 percent of GDP by 2050. Such levels would demolish the previous record of 106 percent just after World War II. (Politico)


New York Times Obtains More than Two Decades of President Trump’s Tax Information: The Times obtained President Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle, and hundreds of millions in debt coming due. (The New York Times)


Trump Signs EOs on Health Care but Does Little to Change Existing Legislation: President Donald Trump announced two new health care executive orders last Thursday on protecting pre-existing conditions and preventing surprise billing. (NBC News)

Trump Says He’s Sending Seniors $200 Drug Coupons: President Donald Trump is promising to send $200 drug discount cards to 33 million seniors, an election year bid aimed at saying he’s lowering sky high prescription drug costs for older Americans. (Politico)

CDC Removes Revised Guidance on Coronavirus Transmission through the Air: The CDC last Monday removed guidance it had posted on its website the prior week that said airborne transmissions of the coronavirus were “thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” The CDC said that the guidance had been posted in error. (The Hill)

Labor & Workforce

Meadows Puts Agencies on Notice About Staff Shake-Up: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told administration officials last Monday to expect senior aides to be replaced at many government agencies, according to an internal email obtained by Axios. (Axios)

Weekly Jobless Claims Rise Unexpectedly as Stimulus Boost Fades: The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits were slightly higher than expected last week. The Labor Department reported last Thursday that initial jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 19 came in at 870,000, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Devos Won’t Shift COVID Relief Funds to Private Schools After Multiple Losses in Court: After rebuffs by three federal judges, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last Friday dropped her effort to give private schools a greater share of billions of dollars in Congress’ COVID-19 relief funds at the expense of public schools in low-income areas. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Banking & Housing/HUD

FHFA Requests Input on Goals for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac: The Federal Housing Finance Agency is requesting industry input on its strategic plan for fiscal 2021 to 2024, weeks before an election that could change the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (HousingWire)

Hundreds of Billions of Dollars in Unused Aid Could Be Reallocated, Say Fed Chair Powell and Secretary Mnuchin: About $200 billion in money allocated to the Treasury to backstop central bank loans remains uncommitted. (NBC News)


Potential Swing States Cash in With DOT’s Latest Grant Round: Some states that may be competitive in November's election — including Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas — raked in millions in infrastructure grants awarded Wednesday by the Department of Transportation, while some blue states like New York got comparatively little. (Politico)


NASA Gearing Up for Epic Asteroid-Sampling Maneuver: NASA is poised to make history next month. The OSIRIS-REx probe is scheduled to pull off NASA's first-ever asteroid-sampling operation on Oct. 20, snagging precious dirt and gravel from a 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) space rock called Bennu. (Space)

NASA, Space Force Sign MOU for Future Collaboration: The new MOU replaces one signed in 2006 between the Air Force and NASA and has a strong focus on synergies between NASA’s planetary defense and Space Force’s Space Domain Awareness responsibilities.  (Space Policy Online)


New Study Looks at Space Power Competition Through China’s Lens: A new study by the U.S. Air Force’s university think tank confirms the widely held view that China’s anti-satellite weapons pose a national security threat to the United States, but the study also highlights China’s use of soft power and diplomacy as potentially powerful weapons that could undermine the United States. (Space News)

The Pentagon is Eyeing a 500-ship Navy, Documents Reveal: The Pentagon’s upcoming recommendation for a future Navy is expected to call for a significant increase in the number of ships, with officials discussing a fleet as large as 530 hulls. Supporting documents to the forthcoming Future Navy Force Study reviewed by Defense News show the Navy moving towards a lighter force with many more ships but fewer aircraft carriers and large surface combatants. (Defense News)

DOD Floats Plan to Build its Own 5G Network: According to a Sept. 18 request for information, DOD is looking to industry for ideas on how it can implement dynamic spectrum sharing that would support 5G development and deployment for military and commercial users within the same frequency bands. (Defense Systems)

DHS & Immigration

DHS Proposing Time Limits on International Students, Exchange Visitors: The DHS last Thursday proposed fixed time limits for international students, exchange visitors, and foreign information media representatives to combat overstays. (The Hill)


Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court, setting up election year confirmation battle: President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that he will nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. (CNBC)


GAO Report Calls for White House Cyber Director: Centralized, clearly defined leadership will help government enforce cybersecurity policies and respond to breaches, but legislation might be needed to bring that about, according to a new watchdog report. (Federal Computer Week)


Second Round of Aid for Farmers: USDA opened enrollment last Monday on the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which is funded out of the Commodity Credit Corporation. The payments are expected to total more than $13 billion. (Agri-Pulse)

USDA Extends WIC COVID-19 Flexibilities for Duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: The USDA last Monday announced the extension of more than a dozen flexibilities ensuring participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) continue receiving the food and health support they need during the COVID-19 pandemic. (USDA)


Federal Judge Ousts Trump's Top Public Lands Chief: The ruling blocks William Perry Pendley from continuing to serve as the temporary head of the Bureau of Land Management, a post he has held for more than a year. The judge ruled in response to a lawsuit filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock who argued it's illegal for Pendley to lead the agency because he had never been confirmed by the Senate. (NPR)

EPA Questions Science Linking Widely Used Pesticide to Brain Damage in Children: Critics see it as the agency laying the groundwork to deny a petition filed by environmental groups years ago to ban the substance in the wake of a reversal under the Trump administration. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

Feds Say Offshore Testing for Oil Can Proceed Despite Drilling Moratorium: A recent court filing said that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management can “authorize seismic surveys in the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”) even in areas of the OCS that are not open to oil and gas exploration under the leasing process.” (The Hill)

California Moves to End Sales of Gas-Powered Cars by 2035: The governor’s office said the new executive order directs the state air pollution regulator, the California Air Resources Board, to craft a mandate to meet that deadline, but that the order would not prevent the public from owning or using gasoline-powered cars or selling them after that deadline. (Roll Call)

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