Window On Washington - Vol. 5, Issue 9

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Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. The House plans to take up the For the People Act (H.R. 1) this week, which the House passed in 2019 as well. The legislation is centered around government transparency and accountability. The House will also consider the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 1280) this week, which the House passed last Congress in June 2020. There will also be numerous Committee hearings throughout the week, including a House Transportation and Infrastructure hearing tomorrow on COVID-19’s effects on U.S. aviation and a House Energy and Commerce hearing tomorrow on the future of telehealth. The Senate Banking, House and Urban Affairs Committee will also hold a hearing tomorrow on the nominations of Gary Gensler to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Rohit Chopra to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

FY22 Budget and Appropriations. The Biden Administration is still working on their FY22 Budget Request, and it is expected there will be a “skinny” budget released mid-March and a full budget in either April or May. In the meantime, the appropriations process is underway in Congress. As part of the FY22 cycle, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rose DeLauro (D-CT) announced the Committee’s plan to bring earmarks back, though they will be referred to as “Community Project Funding,” capped at 1 percent of total discretionary spending, limited to 10 project requests per lawmaker, available only to state and local governments and eligible non-profits, and include a handful of transparency and accountability measures. Additional details on the House’s plan can be found here. The Senate has yet to announce when and how it will bring back earmarks, but Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said they are actively working out a plan as well.

Next COVID Package Negotiations. The House passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (H.R. 1319) late last Friday night. No Republican voted for the package, and two Democrats voted against it as well. While the House-passed bill included the federal $15 minimum wage provision, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that Democrats may not include the measure under the reconciliation process. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said that as a workaround he will try to amend the legislation to eliminate tax deductions for companies that do not pay workers at least $15 an hour. Should the Senate pass a version different than the House’s, the bill will go back to the House for another vote before it can go to President Joe Biden’s desk. The goal is to have the package signed into law by March 14.

Biden Administration. The Senate is poised to advance some of President Biden’s nominees this week, including Miguel Cardona for Education Secretary, Gina Raimondo for Commerce Secretary, and Cecilia Rouse for chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. The Senate Judiciary Committee will also vote on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to serve as Attorney General. Also on the nomination front, after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) expressed he will not vote for Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), two Senate committees delayed votes on her nomination, though the Biden Administration is standing by her candidacy despite this setback and is trying to find support for a 50th vote. Tanden and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who is undecided on the matter, plan to meet today, which could be a make-or-break meeting for Tanden’s confirmation prospects.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

House Appropriators Officially Bring Back Earmarks, Ending Ban: The announcement last Friday marks a new era for congressional influence over how the federal government spends some of the $1.4 trillion in discretionary spending approved every year. (Roll Call)

House Passes $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Package: The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote shortly after midnight last Friday, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk. (Axios)

Bipartisan Escape Hatch Emerges as Tanden Totters: Neera Tanden saw both of her Senate committee votes postponed last Wednesday morning as her nomination to lead the White House budget office nears the brink of collapse and as bipartisan appetite to elevate an alternative nominee grows. (Politico)

Health

4 Takeaways from Xavier Becerra’s Confirmation Hearings: Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Xavier Becerra appears to be on a smooth path to Senate confirmation. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Senate Parliamentarian Nixes Minimum Wage Boost in Aid Package: Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough told senators that the federal minimum wage increase President Joe Biden and Democrats have been seeking would violate the chamber's rules for inclusion in a filibuster-proof pandemic relief reconciliation bill. (Roll Call)

'Plan B' for $15 Minimum Wage Unveiled: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) last Friday announced Democrats’ “Plan B” to raise the minimum wage after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that an earlier proposal from House Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage $15 an hour did not meet special budgetary rules. (The Hill)

Transportation

Funding Remains a Hurdle for Latest Highway Bill Push: Difficult revenue and procedural issues may stand in the way of one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement, as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee begins hearings on a major highway and infrastructure package. (Roll Call)

Trade

Trade Nominee Tai Appears Poised for Finance Committee Approval: As the nation’s top trade official, Katherine Tai says she would hold trading partners to their obligations, shape trade policies to benefit U.S. workers and strive for balance in dealing with geopolitical rival China. (Roll Call)

Defense

Democrats Renew Push for War Powers Overhaul After Biden’s Syria Strike: The Biden administration is taking heat from fellow Democrats as lawmakers pressure the White House to provide a legal justification for an airstrike launched last Thursday against Iran-backed militia groups in Syria, and renewing discussions about reforming the War Powers Act. (Politico)

Judiciary/Justice

Garland Confirmation Hearing Previews Policy Battles Ahead: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from both parties used a confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Merrick Garland to foreshadow what could be more heated partisan policy fights on gun control, police accountability for use of force, immigration, and voting rights. (Roll Call)

Cyber

After SolarWinds, US Needs to Toughen Cyber Defenses, says Microsoft President: Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, urging renewed federal investment in cyber defenses and improved government/industry coordination to enable better detection of vulnerabilities. (C4ISR Net)

Lawmakers Line up Behind Potential Cyber Breach Notification Legislation: House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed strong support last Friday for legislation to put in place national breach notification requirements in the wake of a massive foreign cyber espionage attack. (The Hill)

Agriculture

Vilsack Confirmed as Agriculture Secretary: The Senate last Tuesday easily confirmed Tom Vilsack, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Agriculture Department, in a 92-7 vote. (Politico)

Environment & Interior

Interior Pick Deb Haaland Wins Key Manchin Endorsement as GOP Grouses: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that's responsible for vetting her nomination, praised Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) commitment to bipartisanship. (Roll Call)

House Passes Major Public Lands Package: The House on Friday passed a sprawling conservation bill 227-200 aimed at preserving land and water in Arizona, Colorado, California, and Washington state. (The Hill)

Energy

Senate Confirms Former Michigan Governor Granholm as Energy Secretary: The Senate last Thursday confirmed Jennifer Granholm to lead the Energy Department in a 64-35 vote, with 14 Republicans joining all 50 Senate Democrats in supporting her nomination. (The Hill)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Budget & Appropriations

White House Stands Behind Tanden as Opposition Mounts: The White House is maintaining its support for Neera Tanden’s nomination to lead the administration's budget office, insisting that it’s still working to get her confirmed after four senators announced they would vote against her. (The Hill)

Health/HHS/NIH

FDA Approves Johnson & Johnson’s Single-Shot Covid Vaccine for Emergency Use: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last Saturday approved Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. Unlike Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines, J&J’s one-dose regimen eliminates the need for patients to return for a second dose and it can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for months. (CNBC)

White House Planning to Forecast Vaccine Shipments Months in Advance: The Biden administration is planning to provide states with estimates of their expected vaccine shipments likely months ahead of time rather than weeks, according to multiple sources with knowledge. (Politico)

Labor & Workforce

Labor Department Expanded Eligibility for Unemployment: The U.S. Department of Labor last Thursday expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits to those facing unsafe workplaces, as well as out-of-work parents who had to quit their jobs when schools and child-care providers closed and had no job when children returned to the classroom. (CNBC)

Department of Education

Biden Legal Team Steps Back from Trump Stance on Transgender Female Sports Participation: The disputes involve transgender-supportive sports rules in Connecticut and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, an Idaho law that bars transgender female athletes from participating in girls’ sports. (Education Week)

Transportation/DOT

Biden Orders USDOT to Review Supply Chain and Transportation Problems: President Joe Biden has directed the Department of Transportation to conduct a review of the nation’s supply chain in the wake of challenges that arose during the earlier days of the coronavirus pandemic. (Transport Topics)

Space/NASA & NOAA

Company Plans to Start Building Space Station in 2025: Orbital Assembly Corporation (OAC) recently unveiled new details about its ambitious Voyager Station, which is projected to be the first commercial space station operating with artificial gravity. (Space)

NASA Says Maintaining Competition a Priority for Lunar Lander Procurement: With NASA “down to the wire” in reviewing lunar lander proposals, agency officials say a priority is to maintain competition for a later procurement, despite the budget constraints the program is facing in 2021. (Space News)

Public Backs NASA’s Earth Science Efforts: A new poll from Morning Consult finds that the public wants the government to focus its space research agenda on monitoring Earth’s climate, not human exploration of the Moon and Mars. (Space Policy Online)

Defense/DOD

DoD Reviewing Five Key Investments for FY22: Despite limited time before the Biden administration’s first defense budget request is due, Pentagon planners are diving deep into shaping five key modernization efforts including shipbuilding, the F-35 program, nuclear forces modernization, long-range fires and the Air Force’s procurement of the KC-46A tanker and MQ-9 Reaper drone. (Defense News)

Judiciary/DOJ

DOJ Pledges Enhanced Focus on Domestic Terror Ahead of Biden Speech to Congress: Deputy Attorney General John Carlin promised an “enhanced response” to domestic extremism last Friday. (The Hill)

Cyber

Health Care Bore Brunt of Cyberattacks in 2020, New Study Says: The global health care and pharmaceutical industries bore the brunt of cyberattacks in 2020 as nation-state hackers and criminals targeted companies looking for information on COVID-19 as well as vaccine development, in addition to an increase in ransomware attacks. (Roll Call)

Department of Energy

This EPA Mapping Tool Could Reshape Environmental Justice: The Biden administration wants to build out EPA's EJSCREEN, a mapping tool used to identify pollution risks in low-income and minority communities. The tool played a key role in a recent court ruling denying a permit for a planned Louisiana petrochemical facility called the Sunshine Project. (E&E News)

SEC to Update Climate-Related Risk Disclosure Requirements: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced last Wednesday that it will update its guidelines on how publicly traded companies should disclose climate change-related risks to investors. (The Hill)

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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