Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital
Congress. The House and Senate are both back in session this week, where they will largely focus on the path forward for voting rights and FY22 appropriations. The House also plans to vote on the NASA Enhanced Use Leasing Extension Act of 2021 (H.R. 5746) and the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2021 (H.R. 1836), while the Senate plans to vote on nominees as well as Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) legislation regarding sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (S. 3436). Hearings for this week include examining nominations, hydropower capacity, the Federal COVID-19 response in light of new variants, and the next Water Resources Development Act. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee also plans to vote on Dr. Robert Califf’s nomination to lead the FDA. Additionally, the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will lie in state on Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
Voting Rights. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has set a deadline of January 17 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) to debate and consider changing the Senate’s filibuster rules if Republicans continue to block the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It is unclear whether this will work or not, as both Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are not yet supportive of removing the 60-vote threshold to proceed with the legislation. With both Manchin and Sinema holding out, Senate Republicans are trying to push for updating the Electoral Count Act instead; however, Schumer has indicated that proposal is insufficient and does not address the voting rights issue at hand.
Budget and Appropriations. House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders are still trying to come to an agreement on spending levels and policy riders for the FY22 omnibus package. With an agreement not yet in place and the current continuing resolution (CR) set to expire on February 18, it remains to be seen whether Congress will be able to finalize their FY22 appropriations work by then or not. Many lawmakers are hoping to avoid another CR, and the House Appropriations Committee plans to hold a hearing this Wednesday on the implications of a CR on the Department of Defense. Additionally, given the delay in finalizing FY22 appropriations, it is expected that the President’s FY23 Budget Request will also be delayed and pushed from February to March at the earliest.
Reconciliation Bill. Talks over the Democrat-only Build Back Better (BBB) Act are currently on hold while the Senate addresses voting rights and FY22 appropriations. Depending on how those play out, some Senate Democrats have indicated the BBB negotiations could resume later this month. Much of the upcoming work on BBB will happen behind the scenes given that the White House and Senate Democratic leadership need to determine the path forward in light of the Washington Post’s reporting that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has privately signaled he is no longer proposing his $1.8 trillion late-December offer and that he is not interested in approving any legislation like the BBB in its current form.
Biden Administration. President Joe Biden will travel to Atlanta tomorrow to speak about voting rights. Separately, Biden’s first State of the Union address to Congress has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.
2022 Midterm Elections. The Cook Political Report released an overview of how redistricting will impact the 2022 House races and what to watch in the months ahead. The report concludes that “Democrats have modestly outpaced redistricting expectations, and the next decade’s House map is on pace to be slightly less biased towards the GOP than the last one’s, but the new maps carry as much short-term risk as long-term upside.” The full report can be found here.
Last Week in the Nation’s Capital
Budget & Appropriations
Manchin’s $1.8 Trillion Spending Offer No Longer on Table: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said publicly last week that he was no longer involved in talks with the White House over the economic Build Back Better package. Privately, he has also made clear that he is not interested in approving legislation resembling Biden’s Build Back Better package and that Democrats should fundamentally rethink their approach. (Washington Post)
Pentagon Spending Stuck in Neutral Even as Lawmakers Back Budget Boost: The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that runs out on Feb. 18. Lawmakers need to pass spending legislation before then or risk trapping agencies at last year’s levels, a prospect that’s particularly unpopular in the halls of the Pentagon. House Democrats plan to shine a light on the dire budget situation this week when top Pentagon officials testify on the impact of temporary funding on the military. (Politico)
Lawmakers Push for Surprise Billing Changes as Law Takes Effect: All Americans are protected as of Jan. 1 from unexpected out-of-network medical bills, thanks to the implementation of legislation to ban surprise medical billing, but many lawmakers want the Biden administration to make more changes to line up with what they argue was Congress’ intent in crafting the law. “At this point, it’s another principle involved. Can you just really totally reject that which Congress has said because you don’t like it? Or because maybe a couple of members of Congress who didn’t get their way influence you?” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told CQ Roll Call, expressing his frustration. (The Hill)
Defense Bill Sets Up Next Fight Over Military Justice: The passage of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) at the end of the year ushered in a massive military justice overhaul, but also set up the next political fight over the role of commanders in prosecutions. A provision of the mammoth defense bill would remove commanders from the chain of command when prosecuting certain crimes like sexual assault, while still giving them some authorities like picking juries and calling witnesses. Advocates and their allies in Congress are gearing up for the next push, demanding that among other things commanders be completely removed from the process. (The Hill)
Bipartisan Senate Group in Talks about Election Reform Measure: A new bipartisan Senate group is in early discussions about crafting an election reform measure, as the Democrats’ sweeping voting rights proposals continue to run into steep procedural hurdles. (Axios)
Sen. Warren and Rep. Jayapal Tell Google to Stop Trying to ‘Bully’ DOJ Antitrust Chief into Recusal: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), told Google CEO Sundar Pichai last Wednesday to stop trying to “bully” Department of Justice antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter into recusal in a new letter. (CNBC)
Congress Zooms in on Cybersecurity After Banner Year of Attacks: The past 12 months stand as a banner year in the severity of cyberattacks that wreaked havoc on organizations large and small. But in the wake of the chaos, a silver lining has emerged around a never before seen level of bipartisan support and genuine interest on Capitol Hill for strengthening the nation’s cybersecurity. The effort to pass legislation to give critical infrastructure owners and operators a set amount of time to report a major incident to the federal government and to report if they chose to pay hackers following a ransomware attack built momentum on Capitol Hill throughout the year which will continue this year. (The Hill)
Bowman, Markey, Schakowsky, Urge Biden Administration to Protect Consumers from Unfairly High Heating and Energy Prices This Winter: Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), led a bicameral letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick urging the agency to use its authority to protect consumers from unfairly high energy costs. (Clark Hill Insight)
Republicans Respond to Biden Administration Proposal to Suspend Reasonable LNG by Rail Regulations: Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO); Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR); and 18 additional Committee Republicans are calling on the Biden Administration to drop plans to suspend recently finalized regulations that authorized the safe transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail. They warned this unwarranted action will unnecessarily burden the transportation sector during the ongoing supply chain crisis, while stifling access to a more environmentally friendly source of energy. (Clark Hill Insight)
Budget & Appropriations
Biden Budget Release Likely Delayed Until March: The White House appears to be aiming for release of President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget in March, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, a month after the statutory deadline, which is the first Monday in February. It’s also possible release of the budget could be further delayed either by an inability to reach a deal on fiscal 2022 appropriations or action on the reconciliation bill under consideration in the Senate. (Roll Call)
CDC Recommends All Teens Get Pfizer Covid Booster: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky endorsed her advisers’ recommendation last Wednesday night to offer booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to teens ages 12 to 17 as the Omicron variant continues to sweep across the U.S. The new guidance strengthens the CDC’s earlier suggestion that 16- and 17-year-olds “may” get boosters at least five months after their primary two-shot series to say they “should,” while also including kids as young as 12. The Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized Pfizer boosters for those younger adolescents. (Politico)
CDC Recommits to Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines Without Tests: After days of criticism over new isolation and quarantine guidelines, the CDC last Tuesday doubled down on its policy, pointing to data that it says supports its guidance that Americans who contract Covid-19 or have not been boosted and are exposed to the virus can return to normal life after five days if they wear a mask.(Politico)
CDC Reports Record Number of Child COVID-19 Hospitalizations: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reported Friday that there have been a record number of pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and announced new isolation guidelines for students, staff and teachers to preserve in-person learning in schools. During a media briefing, Walensky cautioned that pediatric hospitalizations are at the highest point they have ever been during the pandemic, even though they are much lower when compared to adults. She said it’s still not clear if the increase is due to a greater burden of disease in children’s communities or their lower rates of vaccination. (The Hill)
Banking & Housing/HUD
Fannie and Freddie Must Factor in Climate Change Risks, says FHFA: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s federal regulator has put executives at the mortgage giants on official notice that they’re now expected to factor the financial risks posed by climate change into their decision making. (Inman)
The Federal Reserve is Scaring Markets with the Triple Threat of Policy Tightening: Investors have been preparing for the Federal Reserve to start hiking interest rates. They also know the central bank is cutting the amount of bonds it buys each month. On top of that, they figured, eventually, the tapering would lead to a reduction in the nearly $9 trillion in assets the Fed is holding. (CNBC)
Fed Ethics Scandal Reignited Over New Disclosures by Top Official: Federal Reserve Vice Chair Richard Clarida quietly admitted last month that he had failed to fully disclose financial trades he made at the onset of the pandemic, the latest revelation in a string of ethics problems at the central bank. (Politico)
Biden Faces Time Crunch to Pick Financial Watchdogs: President Biden has a growing list of vacancies to fill at top financial watchdog agencies before he and his party risk losing control of the Senate. Biden has roughly a year to nominate and confirm some of the most important officials overseeing the financial system before the November midterm elections, in which Republicans are thought to have a good chance to recapture the Senate. (The Hill)
U.S. Flights Still Face Risks from New 5G Service: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last Thursday issued fresh warnings that new 5G wireless service could still disrupt flights, saying there were “big differences” between U.S. aviation protections and those used in France. (Reuters)
Pete Buttigieg is Racing to Keep Up with Self-Driving Cars: It’s something of a tradition for the U.S. secretary of transportation to address the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and talk about all the ways that the government hopes to foster innovation in technology and transportation. This year, despite surging cases of omicron putting a damper on the show, Pete Buttigieg held up the tradition, delivering a virtual speech outlining his department’s new innovation principles. (The Verge)
DOT, Dept. of Education Announce Temporary Waiver to Help Increase the Number of School Bus Drivers Nationwide: To help states and municipalities that are experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers recruit new hires, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in coordination with the Department of Education, announced it would give states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires school bus driver applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test must be met. (Clark Hill Insight)
White House asks Governors to Name Infrastructure Coordinators: White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu is asking states to tap their own high-level coordinators to help implement the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. Landrieu wrote a letter to every governor last Tuesday requesting they name their own infrastructure implementation coordinators, following the model of the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, when a group of state representatives served as recovery coordinators. (The Hill)
Space/NASA & NOAA
Biden Commits U.S. to ISS Through 2030 amid Russian Tensions: Just prior to the New Year, NASA announced that the Biden Administration is committed to operating the International Space Station through 2030, a six-year extension. The sudden statement comes one day after a tense conversation where Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly told President Joe Biden that any more U.S.-imposed sanctions could result in a “complete rupture” in relations. Russia is a major partner in the ISS, and the level of interdependency involved with the ISS means it is difficult to see how it could function if the United States and Russia parted ways. (Space Policy Online)
James Webb Space Telescope is Fully Deployed – What’s Next for the Biggest Observatory Off Earth? Last Saturday, the new observatory and largest space telescope ever built successfully unfolded its final primary mirror segment to cap what NASA has billed as one of its most complicated deployments in space ever. The Webb mission team is now turning its attention to directing the telescope to its final destination, while getting key parts of the observatory online for its astronomy work. (Space.Com)
Making Weather Forecasts is Hard, and Getting People to Understand Them is Even Harder: Dr. Louis Uccellini retired at the beginning of the month as director of the National Weather Service, the federal agency responsible for issuing forecasts and warnings. His departure ends a nine-year tenure when the weather – especially extreme weather – began upending the lives of greater numbers of Americans. Dr. Uccellini spent a great deal of his time as director on improving technology at the weather service, but he spoke in a recent interview about the agency’s biggest challenge – effective messaging about the weather, especially extreme events. (National Public Radio)
Space Debris Expert Warns U.S. ‘Woefully Behind’ in Efforts to Clean Up Junk in Orbit: The United States is a space superpower but is not doing as much as other nations to solve the problem of orbital debris, an industry expert said Jan. 6. Darren McKnight, senior technical fellow at LeoLabs and member of the International Academy of Astronautics’ Space Debris Committee, said new initiatives by the U.S. Space Force to fund debris cleanup technologies are laudable but not nearly enough to address what is becoming a serious threat to the space business. (Space News)
Pentagon Spending Stuck in Neutral Even as Lawmakers Back Budget Boost: House Democrats plan to shine a light on the dire budget situation when top Pentagon officials testify on the impact of temporary funding on the military this week. While Democrats appear ready to accept a defense boost, top Republicans are also insisting on “parity” between spending on the Pentagon and non-defense programs as well as ground rules for handling contentious policy riders — including whether to renew the Hyde Amendment that bars federal funds for abortion. (Politico)
Naval Surface Warfare Center Invests in Additive Manufacturing Prototypes: The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) is investing in six additive manufacturing prototypes through its Crane, Ind., division as it looks for new ways to protect military technologies. The NSWC believes the military can use additive manufacturing to help protect its systems from intrusion or compromise. (Defense News)
White House Sees Clock Ticking on Voting Rights Push: The White House is returning its focus to protecting voting rights, and with a renewed sense of urgency. With the administration’s social spending agenda effectively stalled in the 50-50 Senate, Democrats are eager to see a win on an issue they warn could have long-term consequences for U.S. democracy. (The Hill)
Cyberspace Solarium Commission to Reboot as a Non-Profit: One of the government’s key mechanisms for pushing cybersecurity policy in recent years is shutting down (but will return to its work in a different form). The Cyberspace Solarium Commission was charged in 2019 with sorting through the difficult policy solutions needed to help prevent and prepare the U.S. cyberattacks, is shutting down this month after more than two years and a report to Congress with nearly 100 recommendations that led to a slew of legislative changes. (Defense One)
CMMC, Cybersecurity, Acquisition Initiatives Made the Federal IT Community Take Notice: The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification was probably the most watched, talked-about and criticized topic of 2021, but there were many other very important developments in federal cybersecurity policy during the year, including DHS and NSA creating reusable pieces to zero trust foundation, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s efforts to improve cyber information sharing and DoD planning to create big data platform to better understand supply chain risks. (Federal News Network)
Biden Promotes Plan to Tackle Meat Prices: The Action Plan includes four core strategies for creating a more competitive, fair, resilient meat and poultry sector, aimed at having better earnings for producers and more choices and affordable prices for consumers. (White House)
U.S. Dairy Industry Claims Victory Over Canada in Trade Pact Dispute: The United States has claimed victory over Canada in its first dispute under the new North American trade agreement after an international panel found that Canada gave preferential treatment to its own dairy industry. Members of the cross-border panel agreed with U.S. assertions that Canada breached the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by earmarking most of its lower and zero-tariff dairy import quotas for domestic processors. (The Hill)
EPA & DOI
Challenge to Biden Keystone XL Revocation Dismissed as Moot: A federal judge in Texas dismissed a challenge to Biden’s decision to revoke a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline — saying that the case is moot since the project has already been canceled. Judge Jeffrey Brown cited a brief from pipeline owner TC Energy confirming that it was starting to remove the pipeline’s border-crossing segment and was expected to have done so by November. (The Hill)
EPA Adds New Air Pollutant to Hazardous List for First Time In 30 Years: For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adding a new pollutant to a list of those it has deemed unsafe to breathe. It added a chemical called 1-bromopropane (1-BP), normally used in dry cleaning, stain removers, adhesives and cleaners, to its list of hazardous air pollutants. The listing, which was announced last Wednesday in a Federal Register notice, represents the first time the agency added a substance to the list since it was created by Congress in 1990. (The Hill)
Department of Energy
White House Welcomes OPEC+ Decision to Stick to Planned Output Increase: The White House last Tuesday welcomed a decision by top oil producers to stick with their plans to raise crude production and touted “close” coordination with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (Reuters)