Window on Washington – Vol. 6, Issue 2

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Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in session this week. Hearings for this week include examining U.S. ports, FEMA’s workforce, the energy impacts of blockchain, NASA’s Artemis initiative, and a House Science Committee markup on a handful of bills. The House also plans to vote on numerous pieces of legislation related to financial services, education, and veterans’ affairs.

Voting Rights. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicated last week that the Senate will take up voting rights legislation today rather than his self-imposed deadline of yesterday due to COVID-19 and the snowstorm in DC. The voting rights megabill will most likely fail given vocal opposition to changing filibuster rules from Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). It remains to be seen whether changing the Electoral Count Act instead, which has both some Democratic and Republican support, will be pursued.

Budget and Appropriations. The four top Democratic and Republican House and Senate Appropriations leaders (the two chairs and two ranking members) met last week to discuss the FY22 omnibus spending package. While the appropriations leaders from both parties indicated it was productive to meet, it does not appear that they made any substantial progress that would guarantee an omnibus passing before the current continuing resolution ends on February 18. There have also been discussions of passing another COVID-19 relief bill paired with disaster aid funding, but it remains to be seen whether there will be enough bipartisan support for that.

Reconciliation Bill. No progress has been made on the Build Back Better Act given the current focus on voting rights and election reform; however, there may be a scaled back version of the bill that Democrats focus on next month before President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1.

Biden Administration. President Biden plans to hold his first solo press conference since March 2021 tomorrow.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Congress Launches Funding Talks Ahead of February Shutdown Cliff: Leaders in Congress finally began cross-party talks last Thursday on a possible $1.4 trillion accord that would keep the federal government open through the fall, with five weeks to go until cash runs out again. (Politico)

Former Top Shelby Aide to Lead GOP Appropriations Staff: Senate veteran William D. Duhnke III will return to his old job as minority staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee. (Roll Call)

Health

Senate Panel Advances Biden’s FDA Pick In 13-8 Vote: The Senate HELP Committee voted 13-8 last Thursday to advance Robert Califf’s nomination to head the Food and Drug Administration, putting the Biden administration one step closer to installing a permanent leader at an agency critical to the pandemic response. Two senators who caucus with Democrats — Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) — opposed the nomination. Six Republicans — Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mike Braun of Indiana, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Jerry Moran of Kansas — joined them in opposition. (Politico)

Education

Senate Democrats probe impact of online degree programs on high student debt loads: Three Senate Democrats are raising concerns with companies that develop online degree programs for universities over whether their recruiting tactics and tuition-sharing arrangements are contributing to high student debt loads. The senators, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tina Smith (D-MN), sent a letter Friday to eight of the largest online program management, or OPM, companies — including 2U, Academic Partnerships and Pearson — raising concerns about their business practices. (NBC News)

Banking & Housing

Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Ban Stock Trades in Congress: A pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill last Wednesday that would ban members of Congress and their families from making stock trades while in office. The bill, dubbed the Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act, would require that all sitting members of Congress, their spouses and dependent children divest from certain investments or transfer them into a qualified blind trust within 120 days of the legislation being enacted. Incoming members of Congress and their families would have to do the same within 120 days of taking office. (The Hill)

GOP on Fed Picks “Open to Brainard, Wary of Raskin”: Some Senate Republicans are open to voting for Lael Brainard, President Biden’s nominee to serve as vice chair of the Federal Reserve, but sound more concerned about Sarah Bloom Raskin. (Axios)

Crypto/Blockchain

House to Hold Hearing on Energy Use of Crypto Mining: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on January 20 on the energy use of digital cryptocurrency mining and the growing concerns about carbon emissions linked to bitcoin and other currencies. (Axios)

Bipartisan Letter from Agriculture Committees Calls for CFTC Guidance on Digital Assets: U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR), along with House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-GA) and Ranking Member Glenn Thompson (R-PA) sent a letter to Rostin Behnam, Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), for more information on the digital asset marketplace, including its rapid growth, use among retail customers, and the CFTC’s role in protecting customers from fraud and abuse. (Senate Agriculture Committee)

Tax Reform

Democrats Urge IRS to Start with Lowest-Income Americans in Clearing Tax Return Backlog: House Democrats are urging the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to begin eliminating its backlog of unaddressed returns starting with the lowest-income Americans, days after the Treasury Department warned that tax refunds and other services may be delayed this year because of “enormous challenges.” In a Thursday letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Katie Porter (D-CA) said the lowest-income Americans are most in need of their refunds. (The Hill)

Trade

Senate Democrats Back Biden, Reject Cruz’s Nord Stream Sanctions Bill: Senators voted 55-44 last week against legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would require the imposition within two weeks of enactment of sanctions in the form of asset freezes and travel bans on European business officials leading the finalization of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Most Democrats are instead rallying around a broader Russia sanctions bill authored by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ). (Roll Call)

Defense

Reed Aims for Fresh Push to Confirm Biden’s Pentagon Nominees:  Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said this week he will renew his efforts to persuade the U.S. Senate to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees for the Pentagon.  He is expected to ask Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to expend floor time to hold procedural votes to install senior Pentagon officials, in the face of delay tactics from some Republicans, which is affecting nine nominees who have cleared the SASC and are awaiting a vote.  The vacancies at the Pentagon would get new attention amid fresh tensions with Russia and the military’s efforts to keep pace with China technologically. (Army Times)

Judiciary/Justice

Electoral Act Reform Picks Up Growing Bipartisan Support: An increasingly broad and powerful array of lawmakers is coalescing around the idea of changing how Congress tallies Electoral College votes — as MLK Day comes and goes on Monday without broader voting rights reforms. (Axios)

Democrats Embrace Hardball Judicial Nomination Tactics GOP Adopted under Trump: Former President Donald Trump and Republicans broke with previous Senate tradition to confirm 17 federal appeals court nominees over the objection of Democratic senators representing the states tied to their seats on the bench. Now President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats are using that precedent in their effort to fill vacancies in red states to continue their record-breaking pace of judicial confirmations. (CNN)

Democrats’ Filibuster Gambit Unravels: Democrats’ high-profile bid to change to the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation is officially unraveling as they face the reality of dug-in opposition that leaves them short of the support they need. President Biden made a high-profile trip to meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday, where he urged them to change the rules and pass voting rights legislation in the face of GOP opposition. Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), meanwhile, has blitzed the TV networks as he and Biden invest significant political capital and try to pressure their own members. (The Hill)

Cyber

Reps. Clarke, Katko say Cyber Incident Reporting a Legislative Priority in Cyber for 2022: After a surprising failure to get mandatory cyber incident reporting included in the fiscal year (FY) 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), and John Katko (R-NY), called the issue a top cybersecurity legislative priority for 2022. The goal was shared by the FBI’s Cyber Division Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran and Department of Homeland Security’s Under Secretary for Policy Rob Silvers, who each expressed their support for the effort at a Silverado Policy Accelerator webinar on Jan. 13. (MeriTalk)

Key Lawmaker Sets Sights on ‘CISA 2025’ Legislative Proposal: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has steadily received more money and authorities in recent years, but the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. John Katko (R-NY), is looking at how to take the agency to the next level with a plan to double its budget by 2025 and increase its authorities. The CISA 2025 effort will involve studying six distinct issues, he said, including organizational efficiencies, cyber threat information sharing, and “enhancing operational visibility” through mechanisms like cyber incident reporting. (Federal News Network)

Environment & Interior

Lummis Blocks Biden’s EPA Picks in Bid to Defend Coal Plants: Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) has stalled confirmation of President Biden’s pick for EPA enforcement chief over concerns about the agency’s handling of coal power plants in her state. Lummis also has placed holds on Biden’s remaining EPA picks. David Uhlmann, Biden’s choice for EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, had been scheduled for a vote Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. But Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) announced at the start of the markup that Uhlmann’s nomination had been pulled from the agenda. (E&E News)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Budget & Appropriations

White House to Ask for More Pandemic Relief Funds: The Biden administration is preparing to ask Congress for “substantial” funding to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic domestically and abroad, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). There’s no indication yet from Republicans about whether the party would broadly back more emergency funding to address the ongoing pandemic, which could pose problems in the evenly divided Senate. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

Biden Admin to Start Offering Free At-Home Covid Tests on Jan. 19: The Biden administration will begin making free at-home Covid-19 tests available through a government website starting Jan. 19 — but the public may have to wait a week or longer to receive them. Households will be able to order four tests at a time through the website COVIDTests.gov and the tests will “typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering,” according to a fact sheet. (Politico)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Brainard Tells Senators Reining in Inflation is Top Fed Priority: Federal Reserve Board member Lael Brainard told senators Thursday that taming inflation is the regulator’s “most important task,” in testimony a day after a data report showed annual price increases reached a 40-year high. (Roll Call)

U.S. Housing Agency Nominee Thompson Says Will ‘Defer’ to Congress on Fannie, Freddie Conservatorship: President Joe Biden’s nominee to run the agency overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Thursday said she would defer to Congress on whether to release the two home financing giants from federal government conservatorship. (Reuters)

Biden to Nominate Raskin, 2 Others to Fed Board: President Joe Biden has picked three nominees for open slots on the Federal Reserve board, including progressive favorite Sarah Bloom Raskin for the top job overseeing the nation’s banks, according to three people familiar with the matter. (Politico)

Crypto/Blockchain

Crypto Firms Brace for New Tax-Reporting Rules to IRS: The Biden administration is poised to specify which cryptocurrency firms will be forced to report reams of customer data to the Internal Revenue Service, said people familiar with the matter. The Treasury Department is planning to issue preliminary guidance this month clarifying who will be considered a crypto broker under legislation that Congress passed last year, said the people who asked not to be named before a public announcement. The initial move would later be followed by a more formal rule proposal, the people said. Treasury officials declined to comment. (Bloomberg)

Transportation/DOT

FAA Implements More Efficient Descent Procedures to Reduce Fuel Burn, Emissions: Descent procedures that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put in place across the country in the 2021 will save millions of gallons of fuel and reduce CO2 and other emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons. The 42 new Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs) allow planes to glide down safely from cruising altitudes into airspace for some of the nation’s largest airports instead of the fuel-consuming stair-step procedure. (Clark Hill Insight)

Airlines Ask Biden Administration for More 5G Protections to Avoid ‘Catastrophic Disruptions’: The airline industry on Monday called on the Biden administration to block any 5G wireless transmission within a two-mile radius of airport runways, citing the potential for thousands of flight cancellations and disruptions once the technology is switched on in just days. (Politico)

DOT, DOL Announce Expansion of Trucking Apprenticeships, New Truck Driver Boards and Studies to Improve the Working Conditions of Truck Drivers: In December, as part of Administration’s approach to strengthen America’s supply chains, address bottlenecks, and lower prices for Americans, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the Biden-Harris Trucking Action Plan. Last Thursday, to uphold the 30-day commitments made in the Trucking Action Plan, DOT and DOL announced next steps on several new initiatives that will support drivers and improve driver retention while expanding access to quality driving jobs now and in the years ahead. (Clark Hill Insight)

Space/NASA & NOAA

NASA Safety Panel Urges Updating Definition of Role in Human Spaceflight: NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel told NASA today that the agency is at an inflection point in its management of human spaceflight programs as it relies more and more heavily on partnerships with the commercial sector. NASA urgently must strategically define its future role and articulate a vision and principles to guide it for at least the next 20 years. (Space Policy Online)

NASA to Start Astrophysics Probe Program: NASA is starting to implement recommendations of the astrophysics decadal survey by announcing plans for a new line of missions and laying the groundwork for future large space telescopes. The agency announced on January 11 that it will go ahead with a line of “probe” class missions intended to fill the gap between large flagship missions and smaller Explorer-class spacecraft. NASA will limit proposals for the first probe competition to one of two concepts: a far-infrared imaging and spectroscopy space telescope or an X-ray mission that would complement Athena, a European Space Agency X-ray telescope scheduled for launch by the mid-2030s – those two concepts were recommended by the recently completely decadal survey. (Space News)

Extreme Weather in the U.S. Cost 688 Lives and $145 Billion Last Year, NOAA Says: Wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and a winter storm and cold wave were among 20 weather and climate disasters in the U.S. last year that cost $1 billion or more, totaling $145 billion and killing 688 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In an overview of an annual report released on Monday by NOAA, scientists also said that 2021 ranked as the fourth-warmest year on record in the United States, with December 2021 being the warmest December ever recorded. (National Public Radio)

Defense/DOD

DoD Space Policy Nominee Highlights Complex Security Challenges Facing U.S.: DoD nominee John Plumb, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, said he agreed with the Pentagon’s call for a ban on kinetic anti-satellite tests as part of a range of policies to address threats from peer rivals in space. Plumb is the Biden administration’s nominee to be assistant secretary of defense for space policy and he told lawmakers that the United States faces a complex security environment and has to prepare for the possibility of “conflict extending to or originating in space.” (Space News)

Impressed by 2022’s Record Research Budget? Wait ‘Til Next Year, DOD Undersecretary Says: Next year’s Defense Department request for research and engineering funds will likely top this year’s record $112 billion appropriation, thanks to lawmakers who say they’re on board with Pentagon tech priorities, the defense undersecretary for research and engineering said Thursday. Shyu said new progress would be demonstrated next month in an R&D area of particular emphasis: joint all-domain command and control, or JADC2, the linking together of weapons, vehicles, satellites and troops across the services and across the domains of air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. (Defense One)

DHS & Immigration

Tech Firms Cheer Smoother Visa Sailing: The Biden-era approach to visas used by skilled foreign workers is injecting more certainty into the hiring process for large tech employers after four tumultuous Trump administration years. (Axios)

DHS Unveils Effort to Recruit Climate Change Professionals: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last Wednesday that it would create a new program to recruit experts focused on climate change. The Climate Change Professionals Program seeks to attract recent graduates and current federal employees to work with DHS on climate-related goal. (The Hill)

Judiciary/DOJ

Biden DOJ Says Families Separated at Border Don’t Deserve Compensation, Despite His Call for it: President Biden’s Justice Department has argued in court that families separated at the border during the Trump years are not entitled to compensation, a stark contrast to Biden’s own position over the past several months. Court filings show Biden’s DOJ is arguing in federal court that the U.S. government is immune from legal challenges from illegal immigrants separated from their families at the border. (Fox News)

While Big Tech Zips, Regulators Slog: In the year it took the Federal Trade Commission to get a judge to green-light its antitrust suit against Facebook this week, Facebook has already changed its name and shifted its focus. Tech firms and Beltway regulators not only see issues differently but also operate on wildly different scales of time — with DC’s glacial pace often leaving it at a deep disadvantage in its quest to limit tech giants’ power. (Axios)

Biden Plans Executive Action on Police Reform to Revive Stalled Issue: President Joe Biden plans to sign executive actions on police reform as early as this month, three people familiar with the plans said, as his administration seeks to unilaterally jump-start an issue that is a top priority for a key constituency. (NBC News)

Cyber

FCC Chair Proposes Updating Data Breach Reporting Requirements: Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is exploring an expansion of consumer protections by increasing requirements for internet service providers to report their security breaches. (NextGov)

FBI Shifting Cybercrime Focus From Arrests, Indictments to Payment Seizures, Incident Response: In 2022, the FBI is looking to approach cybercrime differently. During separate public appearances on Thursday, two FBI officials said the bureau was going to change up how it deals with computer intrusions. “The FBI specifically is moving away from an indictment- and arrest-first model into the totality of imposing costs on our adversaries, and we’re making tremendous progress there,” said Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division. (Cyber Scoop)

‘We Have to Show Strength’: Calls Grow for U.S. to Deter Russian Hackers: Worries about a potential cyber conflict with Russia are placing a rising demand on President Joe Biden: Make it clear how the U.S. will respond if Moscow goes too far. The concern is growing more urgent as tensions ramp up over the 100,000 troops that Russia has placed on Ukraine’s border, and as U.S. officials warn that Vladimir Putin’s regime may be fomenting a pretext to invade. The Biden administration has threatened to respond with sanctions that would cripple the Russian economy — a development that could in turn prompt Russia to retaliate with cyberattacks against the U.S. (Politico)

EPA & DOI

EPA to Assess Health Impacts of Leaded Aircraft Fuel: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will investigate the potential negative impacts on human health from the emissions of airplanes using leaded fuel, the agency announced Wednesday. (The Hill)

Biden Administration Approves Third Major California Solar Project: The Biden administration has approved a third major solar project in California, part of a continued drive to achieve carbon-free electricity generation nationwide by 2035. The Oberon project, authorized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Thursday, will help meet an Energy Act of 2020 goal of permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025. (The Hill)

Department of Energy

DOE Kicks Off Recruitment to Support Implementation of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the launch of its Clean Energy Corps, which is made up of staff from more than a dozen offices across DOE – current staff and new hires – who will work together to research, develop, demonstrate, and deploy solutions to climate change. DOE also announced that the Clean Energy Corps is ready to recruit an additional 1,000 employees using a special hiring authority included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help implement the Law’s historic infusion of $62 billion in funding and accelerate the nation’s drive to a clean energy future. (Clark Hill Insight)

Energy Launches New Program to Overhaul the U.S. Electrical Grid: The Department of Energy announced the launch of a new initiative Wednesday that focuses on upgrading the U.S.’ electrical grid in support of a more sustainable energy economy. The program, dubbed the Building a Better Grid Initiative, takes cues from President Joe Biden’s plans to overhaul the country’s infrastructure in support of a nationwide transition to clean electricity by 2035. (NextGov)

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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