Window On Washington - September 4, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 35
Outlook for This Week in the Nation's Capital
Congress Returns. Clark Hill hopes that everyone had a safe and happy Labor Day weekend. Both the House and Senate return to the Capitol this week. The House was in recess for all of August and the Senate adjourned for the majority of last week to attend the funeral services for Senator John McCain.
McCain Successor. While Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was unwilling to discuss Senator McCain’s successor during his funeral last week, several sources say that he has now started to consider candidates and a decision should be made quickly. The most likely candidates being discussed currently are: Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, the director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs and the state’s adjutant general; Karrin Taylor Robson, a businesswoman whom Ducey appointed to the state Board of Regents in 2017; and Kirk Adams, a former state House Speaker who is now Ducey's chief of staff.
Kavanaugh Hearings. The Senate will begin confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh today. In advance of the hearings, Senate Democrats continue to express concerns that certain confidential documents related to Kavanaugh are not being made available to the public. To date, no Republican Senators have indicated they would oppose the nominee and Republicans maintain a 50-49 advantage in the Senate.
Approps Outlook. All signs point to the Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security and State-Foreign Ops appropriations bills being funded under continuing resolutions until after the mid-term elections or possibly later. Other measures continue to have movement though with both Republican and Democratic Senators talking optimistically about entering into conference negotiations for the Defense appropriations bill.
Last Week in the Nation's Capital
- GOP Leaders Scramble to Avoid Pre-Election Day Shutdown: Congressional Republicans return to Washington on Tuesday with a singular goal: avoid a government shutdown. For months, GOP leaders have been laying the groundwork to avoid a shutdown on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year and just five weeks before Election Day. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and even Vice President Mike Pence are already quietly lobbying Trump to postpone a shutdown fight over his border wall with Mexico until after the election, Hill and Trump administration sources say. (Politico)
- Congress Faces September Scramble on Spending: Lawmakers get back to the Capitol today, giving them just a matter of weeks to clear spending legislation. Senators, who stayed in Washington instead of taking their usual August recess, have made quick work of their funding packages, passing nine out of the 12 individual appropriations bills. But lawmakers still need to get a deal on the three spending packages they have not cleared so far, a challenge that will require them to defuse partisan policy riders included in the House bills. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that while lawmakers and staffs have been talking throughout August, they haven’t “resolved anything.” He said they needed to meet face-to-face with returning House lawmakers. (The Hill)
- Numerous House Republican Appropriators Competing for Top Slot: The Appropriations gavel is highly coveted, with five members running to chair the committee that controls federal discretionary spending. Current Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey is retiring. In order of seniority, the five members who want to replace Frelinghuysen are Reps. Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama, Kay Granger of Texas, Mike Simpson of Idaho, Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Tom Graves of Georgia. (Roll Call)
- Senate GOP Signs Off on Opioid Package: Republican senators have signed off on a legislative package to fight the opioid crisis and now wait for Democrats to weigh in, with GOP Senate leadership hoping for a vote in September. If the Senate approves its own collection of opioid bills, it will then move to a conference with the House, which passed its own package in June. (The Washington Examiner)
- Supreme Court Nominee Signals Skepticism Over GOP's Latest Bid to Repeal Obamacare: If Republicans are hoping Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will help them knock down Obamacare in the courts, they might be in for a disappointment. Kavanaugh has signaled in private meetings with Senate Democrats that he is skeptical of some of the legal claims being asserted in the latest GOP-led effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act. (LA Times)
- Midterms to Test New Security Efforts: Cybersecurity issues are expected to take center stage this fall as officials and the tech world look to prevent any repeat of foreign adversaries interfering in U.S. elections. Secure Elections Act, which has bipartisan support, is aimed at boosting the security of U.S. election systems and increasing confidence in voting results. It would establish a paper trail to audit the election results and give states money to boost the cybersecurity of voting systems. It is unclear if the legislation will pass this fall. Some reports claimed the White House killed the bill, a claim fiercely disputed by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who introduced the bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Lankford attributed the delay to concerns from state and local election officials over the bill’s language. (The Hill)
- California Gas Tax Divides Democrats Trying to Flip U.S. House: Some Democratic congressional candidates in competitive California races are bucking state party leaders and distancing themselves from an unpopular gas tax that Republicans are using against them in the November election campaign. The 12-cent-per-gallon California gasoline tax, championed by California Governor Jerry Brown and passed by the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature last year, is emerging as one of the most contentious issues in a state that could be pivotal in the national battle to control the U.S. House. (Bloomberg)
- House Floor Expected to Vote on Homeland Security Bills: The House is expected to vote on a number of non-controversial Homeland Security bills that passed the House Committee on Homeland Security earlier this year. The bill are the Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program Authorization Act of 201 (HR 6439), the TSA OPEN for Business Act (HR 6459), Securing the Homeland Security Supply Chain Act of 2018 (HR 6430), and Advancing Cybersecurity Diagnostics and Mitigation Act (HR 6443). (Clark Hill Insight)
- Progress Made on Farm Bill, Including SNAP, Ag Chairman Says: The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said lawmakers made progress on the farm bill’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program language – long seen as the bill’s biggest stumbling block – after leaders of the House and Senate agriculture panels met last week. Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told reporters “some real progress was made” on the measure (H.R. 2), including the nutrition title. The full farm bill conference committee will hold its first public meeting Sept. 5. Lawmakers will be racing the clock to get the new farm bill enacted by the Sept. 30 expiration date of the current farm law. The farm bill has 12 titles, including commodity, conservation, and nutrition programs. (Bloomberg Government)
- Pentagon Still Faces Possible CR, Even Government Shutdown: Despite the unusual pace Congress has moved on appropriations bills this fiscal year, a number of Washington Insiders predict the DOD stands a 50-50 chance of operating under the constraints of a Continuing Resolution (CR). On October 1, the current FY 2018 appropriations bills will expire and unless FY 2019 appropriations bills are signed into law before the end of September 30, a CR or a few will be necessary to ensure the federal government remains open. The military brass has vocally opposed CRs because they do not allow new programs to be launched and funding must stay at current levels unless an expectation (anomaly) is expressly written in the CR. (Roll Call)
- Droegemeier Nomination for OSTP Being Considered: On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is considering the nomination of Kelvin Droegemeier, of Oklahoma, to be Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. His nomination hearing was last week and the vote to send his nomination to the full Senate could be unanimous. (Clark Hill Insight)
- FDA Pushes for Development of Non-opioid Pain Medications: The Food and Drug Administration is planning new steps to encourage the development of nonaddictive alternatives to opioid pain medications, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview. Over the next six to 12 months, the agency plans to issue several documents intended to spur development of medications for specific types of pain. The result should lead to smaller clinical trials, faster approvals and quicker launches of novel therapies, Gottlieb said. (The Washington Post)
- CMS to Allow Indication-Based Formulary Design in Medicare: Beginning in 2020, Medicare Part D plans will be allowed to cover prescription drugs for some indications but not others for which they're approved, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced. Under current Part D rules, if a plan covers a drug it must cover that drug for all its FDA-approved indications. In the private sector, this isn't always the case — plans are allowed to use indication-based formulary design, explained an agency press release. (MedPage Today)
- NIH Research Program to Explore the Transition from Acute to Chronic Pain: The National Institutes of Health has launched the Acute to Chronic Pain Signatures program to investigate the biological characteristics underlying the transition from acute to chronic pain. The effort will also seek to determine the mechanisms that make some people susceptible and others resilient to the development of chronic pain. Its anticipated $40.4 million four-year budget is supplied by the NIH Common Fund (NIH News Releases)
- Lengthy Operations are Grinding Down the Air Force: A new study sounds the alarm over the longer missions the Air Force has conducted overseas since the Cold War — and warns that the service won’t be able to fully do any of the jobs that may be asked of it in the future. The study aims to help the Air Force "develop planning tools to test the robustness of the flying force against a range of possible future demands.” It does so by estimating future fixed demands on Air Force aircraft, by missions such as homeland air defense, then predicting possible additional demands that might be placed on those aircraft, relying on historical data dating back to 1946. The report outlines four different scenarios the Air Force most likely would encounter: a Cold War-type situation with a long regional conflict like the Korean or Vietnam wars; a Cold War situation with a short regional conflict like Operation Desert Storm; a peacetime environment, perhaps to include a no-fly zone; and a counterterrorism or counterinsurgency conflict similar to the current operations going on in the Middle East. In all four of those scenarios, the Air Force would see significant shortfalls in multiple areas, according to Rand Report. (Air Force Times)
- Department of Energy Announces $8 Million for Particle Accelerators for Science & Society: The U.S. Department of Energy announced $8 million in funding for 12 research awards on a range of topics in both basic and use-inspired research in particle accelerator science and technology. Projects include work to develop faster methods of applying ion beams to help cure cancer, increase the power of ultrafast lasers, improve technology for industrial-scale accelerators, and research new methods of acceleration. In total, the projects involve scientists at 30 U.S. institutions, including 12 universities, 8 national laboratories, and 8 companies. The list of projects and more information can be found here. (DoE Press Releases)
- Got an Idea for Science and Engineering Research? Send it to the NSF 2026 Idea Machine: If you've ever had an idea about how the National Science Foundation (NSF) could transform fundamental research, a huge window of opportunity is about to open. From Aug. 31, 2018 through Oct. 26, 2018, the foundation will open the entry window for its first-ever NSF 2026 Idea Machine, a competition that gives entrants a chance to help inform the agenda for basic research, through the Nation's 250th anniversary in 2026 and beyond. NSF is looking for fresh ideas — large in scope and different from what the foundation already does. These ideas should address compelling challenges in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). On Aug. 31, the NSF 2026 Idea Machine website will be updated with full rules and guidelines, and a portal for submitting entries. NSF 2026 is one of the agency's 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments. (NSF Press Release)
- Trump's Trade War Could Affect 11 Million Jobs: With an escalation in President Trump's trade war possible as early as Thursday, retaliatory tariffs threaten U.S. companies employing some 11 million workers, according to an Axios analysis. Industries affected by the brinksmanship are mostly concentrated in rural, deeply red, already-struggling parts of the country, with political consequences for Trump and Republicans in 2018 and beyond. On Thursday, a public comment period ends on Trump's threat to quadruple tariffs on China, slapping them on $200 billion in Chinese goods, up from $50 billion in force today. If Trump proceeds this week or later, as experts expect him to, China has said it will retaliate with tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. exports. (Axios)
Banking & Housing
- Ten Years Later: Wounds Run Deep From 2008 Crash: Ten years have passed since the depths of the 2008 financial crisis and the U.S. has emerged as a more prosperous but less equal nation. Millions of Americans would lose their homes to foreclosure and their jobs to the contracting economy. The devastation helped fuel the election of former President Obama, who enacted sweeping new rules for banks and a massive stimulus package over the opposition of Republicans. A decade later, joblessness is close to all-time lows, corporations and banks are boasting record profits, and consumer spending has gradually risen as the economy expands. But the wounds still run deep for millions of Americans who haven't felt the full benefits of the recovery. (The Hill)
Space, NASA & NOAA
- New NASA Advisory Committee to Explore Enhanced Commercial Activities: NASA has tasked a new advisory committee with studying greater commercial activities at the agency. Administrator Jim Bridenstine named as chairman of the committee Mike Gold, vice president of regulatory issues at Maxar Technologies. Gold is also chairman of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, an advisory group for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The committee, he said, will work to “target and tackle barriers” to achieving the agency’s goals on a wide range of issues related to commercialization. One area of focus will be commercial activities on the International Space Station, from allowing NASA astronauts to perform commercial work there to issues associated with adding private-sector modules to the station. (Space News)
- Federal CIO: Expect New Cybersecurity Reporting Metrics by Year’s End: Changes are coming to how agencies report on their cybersecurity posture as Federal Information Management Security Act (FISMA) guidelines are updated to better reflect the administration’s focus and priorities, a top tech official said. The Office of Management and Budget and Homeland Security Department “are updating the Federal Information Security Management Act metrics to align with the report to the president on federal IT and the [President’s Management Agenda],” Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent, the government’s top IT executive, said during a Digital Government Institute event. Kent also noted progress with two major initiatives: interagency information sharing and implementing continuous monitoring through the program known as CDM DEFEND. Kent said more than half of the agencies are moving to procure and implement those tools, which will “continue to raise the bar” on federal cybersecurity. (NextGov)
- FBI Launches Website on Efforts to Combat Foreign Influence Campaigns: The FBI announced that it has launched a new website to share information on efforts to curb foreign influence campaigns. The bureau said that the site is designed “to educate the public about the threats faced from disinformation campaigns, cyber attacks, and the overall impact of foreign influence on society.” The website stems from the Foreign Influence Task Force, which FBI Director Christopher Wray launched last year as part of an effort to identify and combat foreign influence campaigns targeting the U.S. (The Hill)
- USCIS Extends and Expands the Temporary Suspension of Premium Processing: On August 28, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it is extending the temporary suspension of premium processing for CAP-subject H-1B petitions to February 19, 2019. Originally, the suspension was only slated to last until September 10, 2018. This temporary suspension has been in place since April 2, 2018. Additionally, starting September 11, 2018, USCIS is expanding the premium processing suspension to include all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers. This includes H-1B transfers and H-1B amendments. (Clark Hill Insight)
- DHS S&T to Improve X-Ray Detection with $3.5M in Awards: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has awarded a total of nearly $3.5 million in funding to three new research and development (R&D) projects designed to improve the threat detection capabilities of current X-ray technologies for checked baggage systems. The three project contracts were awarded under Broad Agency Announcement HSHQDC-17-R-B0003, which was issued in December 2016. (American Security Today)