Window on Washington – Vol. 5, Issue 49

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Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. Congress is working to finalize numerous issues before the holidays, including addressing the debt limit and passing the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). While Senate Democrats are aiming to vote on the reconciliation bill before Christmas, there are indications that their changes to the House-passed version may not be complete before then. Meanwhile, the House plans to vote on a number of bills this week related to health, agriculture, financial services, and natural resources. The Senate is expected to hold nominations votes and a vote on a GOP effort to end the vaccine mandate for large employers. Hearings for the week include examining nominations, research, and development to address PFAS as well as federal challenges to addressing PFAS, disaster recovery assistance, challenges posed by ocean shipping supply chains, and clean energy investments.

FY22 Appropriations. Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) that will last until February 18, 2022. The measure did not address the Medicare sequester cuts, though it did include $7 billion for continued assistance to Afghan refugees, $1.6 billion to help unaccompanied minors who crossed the border and are in U.S. custody, and language that averts cuts for nutritional assistance programs. With the CR lasting 11 weeks, the FY22 appropriations negotiations will continue into the new year.

Defense Authorization. The NDAA is currently stalled in the Senate due to last-minute resistance from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to support the amendments package. Senator Rubio is asking for his legislation related to China’s treatment of the Uyghurs to be included in the NDAA or see action in the House, but Senate Democrats and Republicans are saying its inclusion in the Senate NDAA would violate a constitutional requirement that legislation that raises revenue originate in the House. If the Senate is unable to resolve this delay soon, Senators have a Plan B in place that entails finishing the final bill text with the House, having the House vote on that version, and sending that “conferenced” version to the Senate. The House’s floor schedule for this week noted that they would hold a vote (for a second time) on the NDAA, indicating the House is ready to move forward with this plan if needed.

Debt Limit. House and Senate Democratic leaders are still trying to determine how to address the debt limit issue. It remains unclear what path they will take, but it is expected there will be movement on it soon given that the Treasury Department has indicated they may reach the debt limit on December 15.

Biden Administration. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin plan to have a virtual meeting tomorrow.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations 

Congress Thwarts Shutdown After Vaccine Mandate Clash: Congress averted a government shutdown last Thursday night after Senate leaders mollified a group of Republicans who demanded a vote targeting President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate. The House voted 221-212 earlier last Thursday to pass the 11-week stopgap spending bill, and the Senate passed the bill in a 69-28 vote. (Politico)

House Leaders Reject Tying Debt Limit to Defense Bill: House leaders warned last Thursday they likely can’t address the debt limit by linking it to the annual defense authorization bill, a move Senate leaders have discussed in negotiations to ensure the Treasury can continue paying its financial obligations beyond Dec. 15. (Roll Call)

Health 

Manchin To Vote to Nix Biden’s Vaccine Mandate for Larger Businesses: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said last Thursday night that he is supporting a GOP effort to nix President Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger businesses, which is expected to get a vote in the Senate next week. “Let me be clear, I do not support any government vaccine mandate on private businesses. That’s why I have cosponsored and will strongly support a bill to overturn the federal government vaccine mandate for private businesses,” Manchin said in a statement. “I have long said we should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19,” he added. (The Hill) 

Transportation

Norton, Larsen Bid for Top Democratic Spot on Transportation Committee: Less than a day after Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) announced his plans to retire, two House Democrats have launched bids to replace the Oregonian as top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), both formally declared their candidacy for the top Democratic spot on the committee, with Norton announcing her bid hours after DeFazio’s retirement announcement Wednesday and Larsen formally announcing Thursday. (Roll Call)

Axne, Lee, Wild Lead Call to Turn House’s Focus to Supply Chain Solutions:  Last week, U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne (D-IA), Susie Lee (D-NV), and Susan Wild (D-PA) sent a letter signed by 22 House Democrats calling for additional legislative action to ease supply chain bottlenecks and help lower costs for their constituents. As the winter holiday season approaches, the letter urges House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to turn the House’s attention to passing additional legislation that will provide solutions to supply chain disruptions and complement the investments in infrastructure made in the bills already passed by their chamber. (Clark Hill Insight)

Bill Would Create Database to Address Supply Chain Crisis: A group of bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers is hoping to push a supply chain bill through Congress during the final days of the year. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Reps. Norma J. Torres (D-CA), and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), are hoping to attach their draft bill, which would establish a national database aimed at streamlining the U.S. supply chain, to the pending National Defense Authorization Act but also reintroduced it Wednesday as a stand-alone bill in case it isn’t included in the final package. (Roll Call) 

Trade 

Senators Propose Ban on FTC ‘Zombie Votes’: Six GOP senators are introducing legislation that would bar the Federal Trade Commission from counting the votes of departed commissioners — a practice that has drawn new Republican criticism to agency Chair Lina Khan. (Politico)

Defense

Senate Eyes Plan B Amid Defense Bill Standoff: After the Senate left town for the week without an agreement on a path forward for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Senators are now mulling pulling the sweeping defense policy bill that has been stuck in limbo for days, and instead cutting a deal with the House on a final version of the legislation. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is blocking an amendments package on the NDAA until he either gets a vote, as part of the defense bill, on his amendment banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region, or action in the House, where his proposal has stalled for months. (The Hill) 

Judiciary/Justice 

Senators Weigh Online Protections for Lawmakers’ Personal Info: The Senate is weighing whether to give current and former members of Congress the power to demand their personal information be wiped off the internet, in response to recent threats and physical attacks against government officials. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), at a Senate Judiciary Committee markup Thursday, sought to add lawmakers onto a bill that aims to protect federal judges and their immediate families. (Roll Call)

Congress Closes in on Sexual Misconduct Reform, 4 Years after its #MeToo Moment: Four years after a national awakening to the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct shook Congress, lawmakers are the closest they’ve ever been to reforming private companies’ treatment of assault and harassment cases. The Senate and House Judiciary Committees recently approved bipartisan legislation that would put an end to private employers’ use of forced arbitration — mediation between alleged victims and perpetrators that operates outside the traditional legal system — by allowing victims to decide whether they want to take their sexual harassment or assault claims to court instead. (Politico) 

Agriculture

New Rep. Shontel Brown Appointed to Serve on House Ag: Recently sworn-in Rep. Shontel M. Brown (D-OH) was appointed as a member of the House Committee for Oversight and Reform as well as the House Agriculture Committee. Rep. Brown follows in the footsteps of her mentor and Ohio’s former 11th Congressional District Representative, Marcia Fudge, who worked on the House Agriculture Committee in the past. (WKYC) 

Environment & Interior

Democrats Press Drillers for Methane Leak Data: Democrats are asking 10 oil and gas companies for data on leaks of a planet-warming gas called methane, as these leaks can add significantly to fuels’ contributions to climate change. As part of a new inquiry announced on Friday, House Space, Science and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) wrote to companies seeking such data. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Health/HHS/NIH

Biden’s Free At-Home Test Promise Could Come with Added Costs: The Biden administration is selling a key part of its pandemic strategy as free at-home Covid-19 tests for all. The reality may be far different, adding hurdles for Americans who buy over-the-counter tests and potentially increasing test costs to the health care system. The administration wants to require private health insurers to reimburse customers who buy rapid tests that have been in short supply in many parts of the U.S. and cost more than they’re sold for abroad. One popular test, by Abbott, costs about $24 for a box of two tests, but many other countries subsidize at-home tests or provide them for free. (Politico) 

Labor & Workforce

Biden and Businesses Agree on One Thing – U.S. Needs Immigrant Workers: Processing delays for millions of foreign workers are aggravating the nation’s labor shortage, lawmakers and business groups say, putting the dysfunction of the immigration system on display at a pivotal time for the economic recovery. (Politico)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Elizabeth Warren Ally Richard Cordray Under Discussion for Fed Bank Supervisor Role: The Democratic chairman of the Senate Banking Committee said Tuesday that he is talking with the White House about nominating Richard Cordray, who was the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to be the Federal Reserve’s top banking regulator. (CNBC)

Transportation/DOT

TSA Issues Directives to Rail Sector to Strengthen Cybersecurity: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Thursday issued two security directives requiring rail and rail transit groups to implement steps to strengthen cybersecurity of the sector, including a requirement to report cyber incidents to the federal government. (The Hill)

White House Not Currently Weighing COVID-19 Domestic Travel Limits: President Joe Biden and his COVID-19 response team told reporters Friday they are not “at this point” considering imposing vaccine mandates or other new requirements for domestic flights ahead of the upcoming holiday travel season, and instead are focusing on international testing and providing Americans with extra vaccine protection. (Roll Call)

Commerce Secretary says Chip Shortage Threatens Biden EV Plans: Building support for a congressional bill to take on China, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said last week that automakers’ grand electric vehicle plans are imperiled by the ongoing shortage of computer semiconductors. “The average electric vehicle has about 2,000 chips, roughly double the average number of chips in a non-electric car,” Raimondo said in prepared remarks to the Detroit Economic Club, a nonprofit business group located in Michigan’s automotive hub. (E&E News) 

Trade

FTC Sues to Block Nvidia’s $40 Billion Acquisition of Arm: The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday sued to block Nvidia’s $40 billion acquisition of Arm from SoftBank on antitrust grounds. The deal has faced scrutiny from regulators since it was announced last year. The U.S. action is the biggest hurdle it has faced yet and threatens whether the deal will be completed. (CNBC)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Harris Calls for New International Rules for Space after Russia Blows Up Satellite: Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday said Russia’s “irresponsible act” last month of blowing up one of its satellites demands a more robust global effort to adopt rules of behavior in orbit to protect national security and defend growing commerce. (Politico)

National Space Council Meeting Focuses on Space Debris and NASA Earth Science Missions and Data: The first meeting of the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Space Council covered a lot of ground, but a main focus was Russia’s recent antisatellite test and the resulting debris that is imperiling satellites in low Earth orbit, not to mention the seven crew members aboard the International Space Station. Harris is also focusing on ensuring easy access to satellite data and tools to analyze it, asking McCarthy’s climate policy office, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Space Council staff to work together to establish a “baseline of available space data and decision-making tools that are needed to tackle the climate crisis”. (Space Policy Online)

Defense/DOD

Change is Coming for Space Force Procurement Organizations:  The Pentagon next year for the first time will have a senior procurement executive for space programs, a post mandated by Congress. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said a candidate to fill the position of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration has been selected and is currently being vetted by the White House. (Space News)

Austin Warns Against Over-Hyping Recent Chinese Weapons Tests: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cautioned national security leaders and industry executives against over-hyping recent Chinese weapons tests—but also called for deeper ties between the Pentagon and large and small technology companies to counter China in the areas of hypersonic launch technologies and its gains in nuclear weapons, cyber, and space. (Defense One)

DHS & Immigration

U.S. Rolls out Changes to ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy Pending Mexico Agreement: The United States rolled out its changes to carry out the “remain in Mexico” policy, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), on Thursday, pending agreement from the Mexican government. (ABC News)

FEMA Wants to Track Race of Disaster Victims for First Time: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking for the first time to collect information about the race and ethnicity of people who apply for disaster relief to determine if there is discrimination in the distribution of billions of dollars of federal aid. FEMA has requested authority from the Office of Management and Budget to begin asking people to provide broad demographic information when they apply for FEMA aid after a flood, hurricane, or other major disaster. (E&E News)

Judiciary/DOJ

Feds Could Release ‘Alternative’ Mueller Report Soon: An unpublished investigative compilation sometimes referred to as the “Alternative Mueller Report” has been located in Justice Department files and could be released soon, according to a letter filed in federal court Thursday. (Politico)

DOJ opens civil rights probe into suburban New York police force: The Department of Justice on Friday announced it has opened a civil rights investigation into the Mount Vernon Police Department in Westchester County, New York, following allegations of discriminatory policing. (Axios) 

Cyber

CISA’s Advisory Panel is Announced, Set to Make Recommendations on Major Cyber Topics: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on Wednesday named members to a new cyber advisory panel that will make recommendations on subjects ranging from battling misinformation to gaining aid from the hacker community on national cyber defense. Among the 23 members selected are leaders from social media, cybersecurity companies, major technology firms, and critical infrastructure sectors such as finance and energy. (Cyber Scoop)

Congressional Witnesses Say Lack of Agency Resources is Holding Back Government Cybersecurity Efforts: Representatives of federal agencies tasked with overseeing the nation’s infrastructure systems told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that their efforts to safeguard national cybersecurity are hampered by a lack of funding for their agencies. Throughout the hearing Thursday as lawmakers presented agency representatives with proposals to improve federal cybersecurity efforts, the agency representatives frequently cited a lack of resources as preventing them from executing such changes in cyber policy. (Broadband Breakfast)

Federal Watchdog Warns Security of U.S. Infrastructure ‘in Jeopardy’ Without Action: The Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) on Thursday released findings highlighting serious concerns around cybersecurity vulnerabilities in U.S. critical infrastructure, warning that these systems are “in jeopardy” if the government fails to take action. The report highlights increasing threats to the nation’s key systems over the past year to argue for the need for the federal government to take steps, including implementing a national cybersecurity strategy and enhancing federal protection of critical infrastructure. (The Hill)

Agriculture/USDA

USDA Announces Hemp Policy Changes to Improve Insurance Coverage for Producers: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last Thursday announced that it has taken steps to improve insurance policies for hemp businesses, making them more flexible in response to stakeholder feedback. USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) said it is making it so hemp producers are no longer mandated to deliver their crop “without economic value for insurability.” It further amended policy to clarify how the “amount of insurable acreage is determined if the processor contract specifies both an acreage and a production amount.” (Marijuana Moment)

Biden Returning to USDA Survey for H-2A Rates: Following a failed attempt by the Trump administration to freeze farmworker wages for two years, the Labor Department is proposing to go back to setting minimum wage rates for foreign workers the same way it had been for 30 years. (Agri-Pulse)

U.S. Biofuel Blending Proposals to Come In Days: The U.S. administration plans to propose in days the amount of biofuels oil refiners must blend into their fuel mix this year and next year, as it reaches out to lawmakers to discuss the move. (Reuters) 

EPA & DOI

Lawmakers Send Three Biden Picks for EPA To Full Senate: The U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee last Wednesday approved President Joe Biden’s nominees for three top positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, while a fourth EPA nominee failed to win support to advance to a full Senate vote. Members of the committee voted 10-9 to advance the nomination of David Uhlmann, a former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, to lead EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance office. (Reuters)

Department of Energy

U.S. Energy Envoy says Biden Stands Ready to Release Even More Oil Reserves to Cool Markets: President Joe Biden’s administration stands ready to release even more barrels of oil from its strategic reserves should the need arise again, according to the U.S. State Department’s senior advisor for global energy security. (CNBC)

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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