Window on Washington – Vol. 6, Issue 3

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Outlook for This Week in the Nation’s Capital

Congress. The House and Senate are both in recess this week. Once they return, they will continue their work on FY22 appropriations, the reconciliation bill, election reform, and the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) conference negotiations.

FY22 Appropriations. While House and Senate appropriators remain optimistic about reaching an agreement on an omnibus package before the continuing resolution (CR) expires on February 18, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to wrap up their work by then. Democrats are also weighing the potential addition of coronavirus relief funding to the omnibus bill. As of now, discussions are ongoing and there is not yet an initial proposal as to what this relief spending would look like.

Reconciliation. The White House and Democratic lawmakers are discussing their new approach to the Build Back Better (BBB) Act largely behind the scenes. President Joe Biden has indicated they may look to break the bill up into smaller pieces, and other lawmakers have indicated they may modify some provisions in order to gain Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) support. A vote is still far off, but the work is slowly resuming.

Election Reform. A bipartisan group of senators, led by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), will meet virtually today to explore changes to the Electoral Count Act (ECA). There are a handful of Democratic senators involved in these discussions, including Senators Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). With the voting rights megabill failing to advance last week, reforms to the ECA may be the only viable election reform proposal that Congress could pass for the time being.

USICA. A Dear Colleague letter from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last week indicated that the House will soon introduce its version of the competitiveness bill that focuses on chips, the supply chain, and the country’s research capacity. President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to pass a bill as soon as possible, but the exact timing of Congress finalizing their work on the competitiveness bill is unclear. Punchbowl News reports today that House Democrats could unveil their version of this legislation as early as this week with floor action following shortly thereafter.

Biden Administration.  Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Milwaukee today, where she will be joined by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. She will also visit San Bernardino, California with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Friday.

Last Week in the Nation’s Capital

CONGRESS

Budget & Appropriations

Pelosi Says Democrats are Considering Adding Covid-19 Relief to Larger Bill:  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters last Wednesday that Democrats are considering adding Covid-19 relief to the larger government funding bill, which could complicate Republican support for the broader legislative package. (CNN)

Banking & Housing

Pelosi Opens the Door to Stock Trading Ban for Members of Congress: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has opposed new legislation banning members of Congress from trading individual stocks, signaled last Thursday she is open to advancing it — if it has the support of her caucus. “I just don’t buy into it, but if members want to do that I’m OK with that,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference. (NPR)

Crypto/Blockchain

Bitcoin is Next Climate Fight for Democrats: Democrats in Congress are ramping up pressure on cryptocurrency firms to show that Bitcoin is worth the wattage, amid concerns that minting digital money has become an environmental disaster. Scrutiny from lawmakers including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is triggering lobbying on behalf of so-called crypto miners who are using an escalating amount of computing and electricity to extract valuable digital tokens from the blockchain. (Politico)

Defense

New Bill Aims to Cut the Price of Spare Parts for DoD:  A newly proposed bill from House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) would require companies to provide the government with uncertified cost data when contracting officers need it to determine whether a price is fair and reasonable. The bill, released as a discussion draft, would apply to contracts government-wide, starting a year after enactment.  At a recent hearing, the Pentagon’s principal director for defense pricing and contracting, John Tenaglia, said Maloney’s legislation has the support of the Pentagon.  (Defense News)

Democrats Ask Biden to Overhaul Counterterrorism, Drone Strike Strategy:  Democrats last Thursday called for President Biden to review and overhaul the United States’ counterterrorism policy and rethink its drone strike strategy.  The letter from 11 senators and 37 House members comes one day after U.S. Central Command (Centcom) released the first public footage of an Aug. 29 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians.  (The Hill)

Homeland Security & Immigration

Congress Mulls Independent Immigration Courts as Backlog Soars: House Democrats heard testimony last Thursday on the prospect of making the immigration court system — now housed within the Justice Department — independent. The hearing by the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel will feature current and former immigration judges, as well as representatives from major bar associations. It comes amid the release of a new report that found the current immigration backlog is approaching 1.6 million cases. (Roll Call)

Immigration Advocates Unite Behind Strategy to ‘Disregard’ Parliamentarian: Immigration advocates have taken three strikes, but they don’t believe they’re out. Instead, they plan to ignore the umpire. After the Senate parliamentarian shot down Democrats’ third effort to include immigration provisions in their sprawling social and climate spending bill, advocates entered 2022 united behind a bolder, more politically risky strategy: to convince Senate Democrats to disregard their chamber adviser. (Roll Call)

Judiciary/Justice

Senators Set to Meet Today on Election Reform: The Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)-led bipartisan group of senators exploring reforms to the 1887 Electoral Count Act is holding a Zoom meeting later today as they continue to inch toward an agreement. Staff met last Wednesday to talk about whether and where agreement exists on modest voting reform measures. As a reminder, they are discussing reworking ECA – the vice president’s role and how many lawmakers are required to object to a state’s election results. Other provisions under discussion include instituting measures to protect election workers and renewing election grants. (Punchbowl News)

Senate Judiciary Approves Bill Cracking Down on Tech Monopolies: The Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday overcame stiff opposition from tech companies and a prolonged debate to approve a bipartisan bill that would prohibit digital giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google from giving preference to their own products and services over those of their competitors. The bill, backed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), and nine others, would cover companies that have at least 50 million U.S.-based monthly active users and a market capitalization or annual sales greater than $550 billion in two prior years. (Roll Call)

Cyber

Congressional Cyber Heavyweights Langevin, Katko Won’t Seek Reelection:  In the span of a few days, two House members who have concentrated much of their energy on cybersecurity — and perhaps just as importantly, on working across the aisle on the issue — have announced their plans to depart Congress.  Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) said last Tuesday that he would not run for reelection in 2022. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) made his own announcement last Friday.  Matt Masterson, a former election security official at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, called the exit of Langevin and Katko “tough” and “a big loss.”  (Cyber Scoop)

Environment & Interior

House Panel Asks Five Oil Company Board Members to Testify: The House Oversight and Reform Committee has issued another round of invitations to fossil fuel companies to testify about their knowledge of climate change, this time to board directors at major companies. Witness invites shared with The Hill confirmed that the invitees include Enrique Hernandez, a director on Chevron’s board; Jane Holl Lute of the Shell board; Melody Meyer of the BP board; and Susan Avery and Alexander Karsner of the ExxonMobil board. The proposed hearing is set for Feb. 8. A spokesperson for the committee said the panel will release a full hearing advisory with further details in the weeks ahead. (The Hill)

Energy

Bipartisan Lawmakers Announce Climate Adaptation Bill: U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and U.S. Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and María Salazar (R-FL) introduced the National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy Act (NCARS), a bipartisan bill to streamline the federal response to climate hazards that threaten human health and well-being, critical infrastructure, and natural systems. Cosponsors include Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as well as Representatives John Curtis (R-UT) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE). (The Hill)

Ahead of Secretary Granholm’s Trip to Mexico, Senators Urge Biden Administration to Push Back Against President López Obrador’s Fossil Fuel-Friendly Agenda: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) joined Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in pressing the Biden administration to speak out publicly and through diplomatic channels with greater force regarding Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s troubling fossil fuel-friendly agenda. In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, the senators condemned President Obrador’s continued efforts to roll back Mexico’s progress on combating climate change through clean energy development, including through his recent proposed legislation to subvert private sector renewable energy development projects in favor of state-owned fossil fuel industries. (Clark Hill Insight)

Bice’s Well Remediation Bill Passes House Science, Space, and Technology Committee: A bill written by Representatives Stephanie Bice (R-OK) and Conor Lamb (D-PA) passed out of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee unanimously. The Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act would establish an abandoned wells research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy. (Clark Hill Insight)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

Budget & Appropriations

Acknowledging Hurdles, Biden Ready to Split Up Budget Package: President Joe Biden acknowledged publicly for the first-time last Wednesday that his stalled social safety net and climate change mitigation package may have to be substantially slimmed down. In a rare press conference, Biden said top priorities including expanded child tax credits that lapsed on Jan. 1 may have to wait for a subsequent legislative push. (Roll Call)

Health/HHS/NIH

Walensky Calls for Overhaul of U.S. Public Health System: The U.S. needs to rethink its approach to tackling Covid-19 by rebuilding the nation’s public health system, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said in an interview with POLITICO. It’s been a year since Walensky took over the public health agency and the country has gone through a vaccine rollout, seen variants emerge and witnessed three massive surges. To Walensky, the pandemic shows no signs of vanishing. This week, an average of 740,000 infections were reported each day. On Thursday, the day she spoke with POLITICO, more than 2,400 people were reported as having died from Covid-19. (Politico)

Department of Education

Biden Administration Moves to Undo DeVos Education Agenda: While their call for President Joe Biden to cancel student loan debt remains the central education priority for progressive Democrats, the White House has been quietly tackling major federal regulations that govern how the higher education industry operates – an effort that will put the administration’s stamp on the college accountability agenda on which Biden campaigned. A panel is set to meet Tuesday for a new round of negotiated rulemaking, where members will debate and draft regulations for how the Education Department oversees colleges and universities – particularly for-profit schools – and their ability to tap into federal funding. (U.S. News)

Banking & Housing/HUD

Biden says Fighting inflation is the Fed’s Job: President Biden said last Wednesday that fighting inflation is the job of the Federal Reserve, tacitly endorsing the central bank’s shift toward higher interest rates. Biden’s comments made clear that Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell will face no pushback from the White House as it moves toward tighter money, contrary to the typical political dynamics. (Axios)

Crypto/Blockchain

SEC’s Gensler Wants Crypto Exchange Regulation in 2022: Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Gary Gensler said he hopes this will be the year the agency regulates cryptocurrency exchanges. Gensler reiterated that there are “real vulnerabilities” with cryptocurrency exchanges, calling crypto a “highly speculative” asset class and underscoring that the platforms might be registered in some jurisdictions for some light consumer protection, but that it’s not about market integrity. (Yahoo)

Transportation/DOT

Robin Hutcheson Announced as Deputy Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced that Robin Hutcheson will become the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. As Deputy Administrator, Ms. Hutcheson will serve as the Acting Administrator. Since January 2021, Ms. Hutcheson has served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Safety Policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Biden-Harris Administration. In this role she led safety policy for the Department, and coordinated other critical efforts, including COVID-19 response and recovery. She was instrumental in the development of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, especially the new Safe Streets and Roads for All program. (Clark Hill Insight)

NTSB Asks FAA to Require CO Detectors for GA Aircraft: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a safety recommendation report on Thursday calling for the FAA to require carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in general aviation aircraft. In addition, the report specifies that the agency should require CO detectors that comply “with an aviation-specific minimum performance standard with active aural or visual alerting.” (AVWeb)

FAA Approves More of U.S. Fleet for Low Visibility Landings after 5G Deployment: The Federal Aviation Administration last Thursday cleared more of the U.S. fleet to make low-visibility landings after the launch of new 5G wireless service. The FAA has warned that it would limit landings in certain low-visibility conditions due to concerns that 5G signals could interfere with crucial aircraft equipment. As winter storms and other adverse weather popped up Thursday, the FAA said it may have to divert some flights. (CNBC)

Trade

U.S. and UK Start Formal Talks over Trump’s Steel, Aluminum Tariffs: The United States and the United Kingdom announced an agreement last Wednesday to begin talks on lifting the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by former President Trump in 2018. (The Hill)

Space/NASA & NOAA

What to Expect in 2022 for Space and National Security:  As the new year starts, the Space Force stands on firmer political ground but is coming under pressure to deliver new technologies to counter threats from Russia and China, the Space Development Agency is counting down to the launch of its first operational satellites, and ULA is still waiting for Blue Origin to deliver engines for Vulcan’s maiden flight – these and other issues will dominate space and defense policy in the next 12 months.  (Space News)

NASA Confirms Russian ASAT Test Doubled Debris Risk to ISS:  NASA recently confirmed that the risk of orbital debris penetrating the International Space Station has doubled because of Russia’s recent antisatellite test.  In November, shards from the destroyed Russian satellite caused the seven crewmembers, including two Russians, to hurriedly secure in place for a day until the immediate threat passed. But the long-term threat remains from the increase in the background debris field. U.S. officials and other experts are now calling for an end to debris-generating ASAT tests.  (Space Policy Online)

Machine to Melt Moon Rocks and Derive Metals May Launch in 2024: A company is proposing a new technology to extract metals that has its roots at NASA.  The goal of the Molten Regolith Electrolysis mission is to process as much as 100 kilograms of lunar regolith during a 24-hour period. Lunar Resources of Houston, TX is negotiating with NASA for a ride to the Moon on one of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services missions in 2024, but this demonstrator would be a fairly large payload for such a mission, about one-half of a metric ton.  (Ars Technica)

Defense/DOD

DOD’s Research and Engineering Priorities Focus on Contested Areas:  The Pentagon’s head of research and engineering is prioritizing technologies that can penetrate and operate inside highly contested enemy territory. Top among the tech priorities are artificial intelligence and autonomy.  Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, also said the time is now to create the technology and standards for “6G and 7G,” which will advance beyond today’s state of the art for cyber connectivity.  (Air Force Magazine)

DHS & Immigration

White House Eyes Vaccine Mandate for Migrants: The White House is considering requiring migrants aged 5 and older to receive a coronavirus vaccination as a condition for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to await court hearings. The Biden administration has been offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people in immigration detention centers or shelters but hasn’t yet offered it to other migrants who’ve crossed the border — much less required it. (Axios)

DHS Expands Opportunities in U.S. for STEM Professionals: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced 22 new fields of study have been added to the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to enhance the contributions of nonimmigrant students studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and support the growth of the U.S. economy and innovation. (Clark Hill Insight)

DHS to Require Non-U.S. Individual Travelers Entering the United States at Land Ports of Entry and Ferry Terminals to be Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19: Beginning on January 22, 2022, DHS will require non-U.S. individuals seeking to enter the United States via land ports of entry and ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise nationwide. These new restrictions will apply to non-U.S. individuals who are traveling for both essential and non-essential reasons. They will not apply to U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, or U.S. nationals. (Clark Hill Insight)

Judiciary/DOJ

Biden Ties Midterm Election Legitimacy to Doomed Voting Rights Bill: Hours before Senate Democrats were unable to change their rules to force a vote on top-priority voting rights legislation, President Joe Biden expressed hope that voters would still overcome hurdles to turn out in this year’s midterm elections. “I think no matter how hard they make it for minorities to vote, I think you are going to see them willing to stand in line and defy the attempt to keep them from being able to vote,” Biden said last Wednesday. “But it’s going to be difficult. I make no bones about that, it’s going to be difficult.” (Roll Call)

FTC Chair Lina Khan says Agency Won’t Back Down in the Face of Intimidation from Big Tech: The Federal Trade Commission won’t back down in the face of intimidation from better-resourced opponents, said Chair Lina Khan. Khan said it takes “courage” to take on companies with immense power, especially in the face of the FTC’s own resource challenges that force it to narrow the scope of its enforcement capabilities. (CNBC)

White House Meets Small and Mid-sized Firms to Discuss Competition in Tech Sector: White House officials met last Wednesday with small and mid-sized companies to discuss competition issues in the tech sector, as momentum grows in the U.S. Congress to rein in large technology companies. The meeting was attended by Bruce Reed, president Joe Biden’s top tech advisor and deputy chief of staff; Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council and executives of smaller tech firms such as Sonos and Yelp Inc, the White House said. (Reuters)

White House Simultaneously Negotiating Executive Orders on Policing Amid Voting Rights Push: The Biden-Harris administration is still negotiating proposed executive orders on policing, according to White House officials and stakeholders who are discussing next steps since Congress failed to pass what was supposed to be a bipartisan George Floyd Justice in Policing Act due to a lack of support from lead Republican negotiator Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The White House has hosted a series of meetings with the latest conference call held last week. While the world was focused on President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris‘ voting rights speeches in Atlanta, back in Washington, D.C. at the White House there was a call with stakeholders on the policing executive orders as a resolve to the stalemate on Capitol Hill. (The Grio)

FTC, DOJ Launch Joint Inquiry Aimed at Blocking Illegal Mergers: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice’s antitrust division last Tuesday launched a new inquiry aimed at updating guidelines to block illegal mergers. The agencies are seeking public input to update guidelines over the next 60 days. (The Hill)

Cyber

Big Tech Anxious About Commerce Plan to Secure Supply Chains from Foreign Influence:  The Information Technology Industry Council is uneasy with language in a Commerce Department proposal for securing supply chains that suggests a need to conduct source-code reviews as part of a process for approving U.S. transactions of information and communications technology to guard against threats from China and other foreign adversaries.  The big tech groups said it’s worrying that Commerce assumes “third-party auditing of connected software applications” should include such source-code reviews.  (Next Gov)

Biden’s Cyber Chief Wants to Help Software Developers Code Better and Americans Click Smarter:  National Cyber Director Chris Inglis is planning projects focused on the security of open-source software and the cyber literacy of the American public as he seeks to establish himself within a crowded constellation of cybersecurity leaders in the Biden administration.  Inglis, a former NSA veteran who was confirmed by the Senate last summer to lead a newly-created White House office, is moving quickly to demonstrate the value of his team amid growing threats from adversaries like Russia and China and cyber criminals such as ransomware gangs. His staff will grow to 25 people this week and is expected to reach 75 people by the end of the year.  (Politico)

EPA & DOI

EPA Hires Additional Criminal Investigators, But Advocates Call for More: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started hiring more people to investigate environmental crimes, but some advocates believe it’s not moving fast enough.  A Freedom of Information Act Request from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) from December, which was first shared with The Hill last week, shows that the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement Forensics & Training currently has 161 environmental cops. (The Hill)

Interior Reveals Plans for Orphan Well Cleanup: The Interior Department has signed an agreement with several other federal agencies to organize its nationwide effort to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. Congress directed a historic $4.7 billion toward plugging abandoned wells on federal, tribal, and private lands when it passed the bipartisan infrastructure package in November. The law directs Interior to take the lead in carrying out the program on public lands and distributing funding to states and tribes. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau recently, and disclosed publicly last week, also details the agency’s planned collaboration with the departments of Energy and Agriculture, as well as EPA and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. (E&E News)

Department of Energy

Biden Official Endorses Effort to Move Pipeline Cybersecurity Regulation to DOE: The Biden administration’s current approach to securing pipelines from cyberattacks is not ideal, according to the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, testifying last Wednesday in support of legislation that would create a new entity at the Department of Energy for that purpose. Congress and the administration zoomed in on cybersecurity for pipelines after a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline disrupted fuel supplies along the East Coast in May. After the incident, Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount said cybersecurity mandates the Transportation Security Administration was preparing to roll out in response could be helpful. (NextGov)

U.S. Not Considering Gas Export Ban: The U.S. is not considering a ban on exporting liquified natural gas (LNG) to other countries, a Biden official said last Wednesday, despite a push from some Democrats to curb exports of the fuel. Asked during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing whether an export ban was on the table, Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk said, “An export ban, either on the LNG side or on the oil side, is not something we’re currently discussing and under consideration.” (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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