Weekly Washington Report

New England Council logoThis weekly Washington, D.C. update is courtesy of our friends at The New England Council.

Upcoming in Congress

Only the Senate will be in session for the week ahead, as the House has adjourned for its August recess.   The Senate will begin its week on Monday afternoon with a 5:30 vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the nomination of Kevin Newsom to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the 11th District.  After likely disposition of the nomination by Wednesday, it remains unclear what the Senate will debate.  An effort to begin consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R 2810) last Friday morning directly after a critical vote on health care legislation was met with an objection by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).   The NDAA traditionally takes at least several days to a week (or more) to complete. 

With the House of Representatives out of session for the next five weeks, members are expected to be reaching out to their constituents at a variety of functions during this time, and may also be on travel abroad for such activities as visiting U.S. troops or engaging world leaders on policy matters.  The House likely will release its scheduled agenda for the first week of September towards the end of August. 

Hearings and Markups of Interest

The House has not scheduled any hearings for Capitol Hill for the coming week.

The Senate's hearing schedule begins on Tuesday where the Environment and Public Works Committee's Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight will hold a hearing to review the EPA's Superfund program; the Finance Committee will hold a hearing on America's affordable housing crisis; and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will review the nominations of a number of individuals, including Jerome Adams who has been tapped to be the U.S. Surgeon General.

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a markup on eight bills dealing with such issues as cybersecurity, fisheries, and human trafficking as well as eleven nominations, including three Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nominees, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) head, and the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), while the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will hold a markup to consider six specific pieces of legislation.  In addition, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Water and Power will hold a hearing on efforts to increase water security and drought preparedness through infrastructure, management, and innovation; the Environment and Public Works Committee will look at the FBI headquarters project; the Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues will review the peace process in Colombia; and the full Foreign Relations Committee will hold a classified/closed hearing later in the day on the authorization of the use of military force.

On Thursday, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security will hold a hearing to look at insurance fraud in the U.S.; the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to examine collaborative efforts to reduce wildfire risks; and the Finance Committee will review the nominations of Gilbert Kaplan to be the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, and Matthew Bassett to be an Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services.

There are no hearings scheduled for Friday in the Senate.



Budget/Appropriations

House Passes Mini-Bus Spending Bill - On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a combination appropriations package totaling $789.6 billion, voting 235 to 192 with only 5 Republicans opposed, and 5 Democrats in favor.  The Make America Secure Appropriations Act (H.R. 3219) combines four separate Appropriations measures with the Department of Defense Appropriations Act as its base.  Also included in the bill are the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch Appropriations bills. This "mini-bus" (so-called for being a shorter version of a 12-bill omnibus appropriations bill) will fund the programs and policies of all agencies and Departments under the four-bill package through all of fiscal year 2018.  The lion's share of funding - some $658 billion -  goes to the Department of Defense.  The bill also includes $1.6 billion to help build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.  In opposing the bill, the Appropriations Committee's Ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY) said that H.R 3219 not only wastes money building a border wall, it "uses fraudulent defense numbers, guts critical investments in clean energy, includes poison pill riders, and leaves the remaining spending bills with no path forward."  During floor debate, members considered a number of amendments - most geared toward eliminating provisions already in the bill.  One particularly contentious amendment that was offered would have cut the staff funding of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) by roughly one-third.  The amendment failed by a vote of 116 to 309 with 120 Republicans joining all House Democrats in opposition to the amendment.

Senate Appropriators Pass Transportation & Housing Funding Bill - On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted the fiscal year 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.  The vote was 31 to 0.  The T-HUD Subcommittee is chaired by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee is Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).  The bill funds the programs and operations of the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as other independent federal entities such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  The bill as adopted by the Committee would allocate a total of $60.06 billion in discretionary spending, which is about $2.4 billion more than the amount approved for fiscal year 2017, and some $3.6 billion more than what the House adopted earlier this month.  Approximately $19.5 billion in discretionary funds would go towards the programs and policies of the Department of Transportation - an increase of $978 million from current spending. TIGER grants would increase $25 million to a total of $550 million rather than zeroing out the program as the President requested.  Rail programs would see a $122 million increase to a total of $1.97 billion, with Amtrak receiving approximately $1.6 billion and a continuation of all routes.  Rail safety would be funded at $250 million.  Some $45 billion would be allocated from the Highway Trust Fund for highway infrastructure, and the Federal Aviation Administration would see nearly $17 billion in total funds.  The bill does not okay funds for a new privatized air traffic control (ATC) system, and instead includes $1.1 billion for implementing the NextGen ATC system.  The bill also increases the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) cap from $4.50 to $8.50, which has drawn some criticism that raising the cap is outside the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee.  The legislation also includes a total of nearly $40.25 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a $1.4 billion increase over FY17 levels. Included in that funding is $21.4 billion for tenant-based and $11.5 billion for project-based Section 8 housing; $6.45 billion for public housing; and $3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.  During Committee consideration on Thursday, Senator Reed offered an amendment to increase spending on transportation and housing programs by $7.725 billion including $1 billion more for TIGER funding and over $1.5 billion for public housing.  That amendment fell on a party-line vote of 15 to 16.  Now that it has been reported out of Committee, the full Senate may now take up and consider the bill.

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Commerce, Justice, Science Funding Bill - On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY2018 Commerce, Justice, Science, (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act,  by a vote of 30 to 1.  As passed, the bill provides $53.4 billion in overall discretionary funding for the Departments of Commerce ($9.16 billion) and Justice ($29.1 billion) and the various offices within those departments including: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at $9 billion; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $5.6 billion; the International Trade Administration (ITA) at $495 million; the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at $944 million.  The bill also funds NASA ($19.5 billion), the National Science Foundation ($7.3 billion), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative ($57.6 million), and the Patent and Trademark Office ($3.5 billion) among others. Additionally, the bill provides for $3.64 billion to be distributed from the Crime Victim's Fund (CVF) which is $1.06 billion above the FY2017 level.  Further, the bill includes a total of $174 million to help fight heroin and opioid use and abuse.  Overall, the bill is approximately $3.2 billion below what was allocated for fiscal year 2017, however it is $4.4 billion more than the President's request.  During Committee consideration on Thursday, the CJS Subcommittee's Ranking Democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), offered an amendment to increase spending for public safety, economic development, and the Census by $6.51 billion including $2.25 billion more for fighting opioid addiction, grants to combat violence against women, and a new FBI HQ; $3.37 billion extra for the EDA, NIST, NSF, NASA, NOAA and other agencies; and nearly $900 million to assist with the 2020 Census.  That amendment fell on a party-line vote of 15 to 16.  Separately, Senator Shaheen was able to secure some priorities for New Hampshire, including language in the bill that "protects New Hampshire's existing federal truck weight exemption and ensures the state's ability to decide the size and weight limit of trucks operating on local interstates."  With approval by the Appropriations Committee, the bill is now ready for consideration by the full Senate.



Energy & Environment

Senate Confirms Nominee For Department of the Interior Post - On Monday the Senate voted 53-43 to confirm David Bernhardt as the Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department, the agency's second highest post under Secretary Ryan Zinke. Bernhardt was unanimously approved to a position in the Interior Department under President George W. Bush, however, many Democrats raised ethics concerns over his recent nomination due to his lobbying career where he represented more than a dozen companies including energy and mining developers. Bernhardt has stated that he will recuse himself from Interior decisions involving former clients for at least one year. Secretary Zinke praised the confirmation.

State Prosecutors Sue EPA Over Chemical Safety Rule Delay - A group of eleven Democratic state prosecutors sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday in an effort to force the EPA to implement rules designed to prevent chemical spills and other industrial accidents at facilities such as refineries and fertilizer plants. Attorneys general of Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont were among the states that asked the U.S. Appeals Court to vacate a two-year delay on the rules' effective date the EPA imposed in June. The set of regulations, called the Chemical Accident Safety Rule, would require industrial facilities to take new steps to prevent accidents and to conduct more robust examinations when accidents occur. The rules also call for more coordination between local authorities and first responders, as well as more public outreach following an accident. Despite delaying the implementation, the EPA released a fact sheet in June touting the importance of the new rules, citing that 58 people have died in the last 10 years as a result of 1,517 industrial accidents that caused $2 billion worth of property damage.

Bureau of Land Management Proposes Repealing Fracking Rules - The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a proposal on Tuesday to eliminate an Obama-era rule that required fracking operators on public lands to disclose chemicals used in fracking and to ensure certain precautions are taken around clean water sources. Citing burdensome and duplicative regulation, the BLM stated the rule costs the oil and gas industry up to $45 million a year. Publication of the proposal will kick off a 60-day period when the agency will gather comments from the public. At that point, BLM will make any necessary changes to the rule before publishing a final version. After the final version is published, the repeal would still be subject to lawsuits filed against the BLM by environmental groups and Democratic states.

Senate Democrats Introduce Bill To Ban Controversial Pesticide - A group of senate Democrats introduced S.1624 on Tuesday, a bill that would ban the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifo. The bill comes in response to Environmental Protection Agency decision against banning chlorpyrifos on food crops in March, reversing course from the Obama administration. Research cited by the Obama administration's proposal found that the pesticide can cause neurological and brain development problems in children and fetuses, among other health problems. Among the co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward Markey (D-MA).

House Energy Subcommittee Holds Hearing On Electrical Markets - The House Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing titled "Powering America: A Review of the Operation and Effectiveness of the Nation's Wholesale Electricity Markets". Subcommittee members heard from all seven Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent Service Operators, including Gordon van Welie, President and CEO at ISO New England. Discussed at the hearing was the status of wholesale electricity markets, the operational and market-based changes needed to meet the needs of the region, and an examination of how market forces and public policy decisions are impacting the market.

Environmental Protection Agency Proposes Undoing Clean Water Rule - A proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to undo the Clean Water Rule was published on Thursday. The proposal would reverse the 2015 rule, which extended federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to small bodies of water like headwaters, wetlands, and some ponds. The 2015 rule never took effect due to being put on hold by a federal court. Environmentalists and Obama supporters charged that the rollback would threaten drinking water for 117 million people. Publication of the proposal opens a 30-day period for comments. After the EPA gathers and analyzes the comments, it can make any necessary changes and then make the rollback final. After the final version is published, the repeal would still be subject to lawsuits from environmental groups and Democratic states.

House and Senate Pass Russia Sanctions Deal - The House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to advance new financial sanctions against key U.S. adversaries and deliver a foreign-policy brushback to President Trump by limiting his ability to waive many of them. Included in the bill, which passed 419 to 3, are new measures targeting key Russian officials in retaliation for that country's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as sanctions against Iran and North Korea in response to those nations' weapons programs. Also addressed were provisions limiting the extent to which American and Russian energy companies could interact. U.S. energy companies warned that provisions banning American investments supporting the maintenance or construction of Russian pipelines could inadvertently prevent U.S. development near Russian sites. The bill passed on Tuesday clarifies that only Russian energy export pipelines can be sanctioned. It also establishes that the ban on U.S. investments in deep-water, shale or Arctic offshore projects applies only if there are Russian entities with an ownership interest of at least 33 percent. The Senate passed a similar bill on Thursday by a margin of 98-2.


For more information on the Council's work on energy & environment issues, please contact David O'Donnell.



Financial Services/Fiscal Policy

House Passes Resolution to Repeal CFPB Arbitration Rule - The House of Representatives by a vote of 231-190 on Tuesday passed a joint resolution that would strike the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) recently announced final rule on arbitration, set to take effect in early September.  The resolution, which passed on largely party lines, would repeal the rule using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to eliminate rules promulgated by agencies within a brief period of time.  A similar resolution has been introduced in the Senate by Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) and others, but its fate is uncertain at this point in time.        

Republicans Unveil Long-Awaited Tax Reform Statement - Prior to the departure of the House of Representatives for the August recess, the so-called "Big Six" - which includes Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council (NEC) Director Gary Cohn, and top Congressional leaders - released a joint statement of principles for tax reform on Thursday.  In the five paragraph statement, the leaders say that "given our shared sense of purpose, the time has arrived for the two tax-writing committees to develop and draft legislation that will result in the first comprehensive tax reform in a generation," but remains light on details.  The broad goal of the Republican's work will be a plan that reduces tax rates as much as possible, allows unprecedented capital expensing, places a priority on permanence, and creates a system that encourages American companies to bring back jobs and profits trapped overseas."  Of note, the statement specifically squashes chances for the border adjustment tax (BAT), saying that "we appreciate that there are many unknowns associated with it and have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform." Brady separately told reporters that taxes contained in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would not be repealed as part of a tax reform package.  Earlier the same day, The New England Council released its own "Principles for Effective Tax Reform," which was shared with the Trump Administration, Congressional and committee leadership, and the New England Congressional delegation.

House Committee Passes Four Bipartisan Financial Services Bills - The House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday held a markup on four bipartisan pieces of legislation, all of which passed unanimously.  Among the measures considered was legislation to allow the Independent Member with insurance expertise on the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to remain in the position after the expiration of his or her term until a successor is confirmed or for 18 months, and another bill requiring federal regulators to treat certain municipal securities as high-quality level 2A liquid assets for purposes of the Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) rule.  The measures now move to the full House of Representatives for consideration at a later date.

Nomination Hearing Held for Otting, Quarles - Nominees for two key financial services positions appeared before the Senate Banking Committee last Thursday for an examination of their qualifications.  Joseph Otting, President Trump's nominee to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and Randal Quarles, who is slated to become the Federal Reserve's first Vice Chair for Supervision, touched on several topics, including the regulatory burden facing financial institutions.  Quarles, for instance, said simplification and transparency would be key goals for him, saying he wanted to establish a "much simpler, clearer, less kaleidoscopic construction of the regulatory system that would make it easier to understand where risk is and where risk isn't."  Committee Democrats primarily challenged Otting on his time as President and CEO of OneWest Bank following the financial crisis.  The committee will need to vote on the two nominations at a future date before the full Senate considers them.  

Mnuchin Testifies Before House Financial Services Committee - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday to provide an update on the "state of the international finance system," but the hearing quickly dissolved in partisan rancor as Democrats went after Mnuchin for his previous actions while at OneWest Bank and other unrelated matters.  When the hearing was focused on issues of importance, Mnuchin shed some light into his agency's ongoing efforts, saying that he is working through the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to find consensus on enacting fixes to the Volcker Rule, and concurred with the belief that it is warranted to increase the $50 billion asset threshold for designating financial institutions as systemically important to the $250-300 billion range.

U.S. Economy Grows at 2.6% in Second Quarter - The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) on Friday announced that the United States' real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at 2.6 percent in the second quarter of the year, slightly below expectations but more than double the downwardly revised 1.2 percent rate in the first three months of 2017.  The figure was bolstered by positive news in consumer spending, which rose at a 2.8% pace, far outpacing the first quarter's 1.9% reading.

Treasury Announces Plans to End myRA - The myRA program, engineered by the Obama Administration, is being wound down by the Trump Administration, the Treasury Department announced Friday.  In a press release, the department said that an extensive review found the program was not "cost effective," citing low demand and participation vis-à-vis cost to taxpayers.

 

For more information on the Council's work on financial services issues, please contact Chris Averill


Healthcare

Senate Health Care Bill Fails - After a procedural vote to allow debate on an undefined healthcare bill narrowly passed by a vote of 51-50 on Tuesday, a vote which included Senator John McCain returning to Washington after being diagnosed with brain cancer last week, the Senate kicked off a week long series of votes on various healthcare bills. Among those bills were the Better Care Reconciliation Act as well as an amendment from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky bill that sought to repeal the majority of the Affordable Care Act without issuing a replacement plan. Both measures were voted down late Tuesday evening by margins of 43-57 and 45-55 respectively. A scaled-down repeal of the ACA, nicknamed the "skinny" bill, started gaining momentum among Senate Republicans as the week continued. Language of the bill, officially named the Health Care Freedom Act, would have effectively ended the individual and employer mandate, delayed the medical device tax, made changes to the waivers that states can use to change how they comply with insurance regulations, and defund Planned Parenthood for a year. The Congressional Budget Office previously found that repealing the individual mandate would lead to 16 million additional Americans uninsured over the next ten years, and an increase in premiums by approximately 20 percent. The Health Care Freedom Act failed to pass by a margin of 49-51 with Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John McCain (R-AZ) voting against the bill in the early hours of Friday morning.  Next steps for a healthcare bill remain unclear.  GOP leadership in the Senate has indicated they may seek a bipartisan approach future legislation, or abandon a healthcare bill altogether.

House Health Subcommittee Holds Hearing On Special Needs Plans - The house Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on Wednesday titled, "Examining the Extension of Special Needs Plans". The focus of the hearing was to examine and discuss legislation extending Medicare Advantage's Special Needs Plans (SNPs), and to improve and integrate Medicare and Medicaid systems for dual eligible beneficiaries. SNPs are specifically designed to provide targeted and coordinated care to special needs individuals. The vast majority of SNP recipients are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, which frequently requires beneficiaries to navigate two government programs with differing benefit structures and rules. There is bipartisan support for the draft legislation discussed at the hearing. Current estimates suggest that SNPs currently provide coverage for approximately two million beneficiaries.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Advance Five Bills - The Energy and Commerce Committee marked up five bipartisan health bills on Thursday. Four of those bills were passed by voice vote: H.R. 767, co-sponsored by Congresswoman Ann Kuster (D-NH), would provide health care professionals training on how to identify and appropriately treat human trafficking victims; H.R. 880, co-sponsored by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), which would establish a grant program for military-civilian partnerships in trauma care; the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and maintain a registry to collect data regarding the incidence of cancer in firefighters; and the Action for Dental Health Act, which would amend the Public Health Service Act to reauthorize oral health promotion and disease prevention programs through 2022. The final bill advanced, H.R. 772, passed by a vote of 39-14 and seeks to amend disclosure requirements for restaurants.

House Committee Approves Drinking Water System Improvement Act - The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 3387 by voice vote on Thursday. The bipartisan legislation seeks to bring greater investment in the country's aging drinking water infrastructure as well as facilitate compliance by drinking water delivery systems by authorizing $8 billion over 5 years for the drinking water revolving loan fund program, expanding the use of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to cover costs associated with preconstruction activities and replacing or rehabilitating facilities, and by creating a plan to have an electronic system that allows water utilities to send their compliance data to states and the EPA.


For more information on the Council's work on healthcare issues, please contact David O'Donnell.



Higher Education

Forever GI Bill Passes House - On Monday, the House of Representatives passed the Forever GI Bill (H.R. 3218) with overwhelming bipartisan support, 405-0. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee passed the bill the previous Wednesday and it moved quickly through the House. A companion Bill has been introduced in the Senate and moved through Committee last week. The legislation, a rare bipartisan response to veterans' recent challenges in utilizing GI benefits, looks likely to reach the President soon.  

Forever GI Bill Advances Through Senate Committee - On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved their companion Forever GI legislation by voice vote in a markup lasting less than a minute. The bill (S. 1598) now heads to the Senate floor. The legislation would allow veterans to access education benefits from the GI Bill for their entire lives, removing the previous 15 year limit. It also would restore benefits to veterans whose for-profit colleges closed before they obtained their degree. The legislation would also increase funding for veterans studying science, technology, engineering or math programs and allow all Purple Heart recipients to receive full benefits, regardless of the length of time they served on active duty. The legislation would create a pilot program focusing on technology and computer programs, expanding funding for veterans to enroll in non-traditional education providers like coding boot camps. It would also boost veterans' educational assistance for National Guard and Reserve troops and for the dependents of fallen troops.

ED Planning Single Student Loan Servicer Plan Despite Congressional Opposition - Since the Department of Education announced its intention to service student loans through a single servicer, a plan that has bipartisan opposition in Congress, servicers are pushing back.

House Subcommittee on Research and Technology Holds Hearing on STEM and Computer Science Education - On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Research and Technology of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on STEM and Computer Science Education. The committee heard testimony from James Brown, Executive Director of the STEM Education Coalition, of which the New England Council is a member.

Senator Warren Wants ED to Respond to Requests for Information - On Thursday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to nominee Peter Oppenheim regarding a lack of response from the department of Education to requests from congress, specifically the Senate HELP Committee on which Senator Warren sits. Senator Warren suggested she might hold up the Mr. Oppenheim's  confirmation over the Department's lack of response to requests. On Wednesday, more than 60 Democratic lawmakers in Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos requesting more information about how she plans to support reductions in school discipline policies.

ED Announces ESSA Response Changes - The Department of Education is changing the process by which it responds to States' ESSA plans. The department will now have a two-hour phone conversation with states and go over any the issues identified by the peer reviewers before sending a response letter. States and educators had criticized the Department's responses to their ESSA proposed plans, say the Department was inconsistent and was applying too much federal direction, Edweek reports. On Friday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House education committees, responded with a letter to Secretary DeVos voicing concern that the Department's plans to begin conducting two-hour phone calls with states would limit the public's access to the process. They raised concerns about whether the Department is equally handling feedback across all states. Nine of the 17 states that have already submitted plans have gotten their feedback and another 33 are submitting theirs in the fall.

President Donates Salary to STEM Ed - On Wednesday, President Trump donated his second quarter salary, totaling $100,000, to the Department of Education to help fund a STEM-focused camp for students, according to an Education Department release. Trump donated his first-quarter salary to the National Park Service, the Washington Post reports.


For more information on the Council's work on higher education issues, please contact Taylor Pichette.




Technology

President Trump Announces Foxconn Will Open a New Plant in Wisconsin - In a press conference on Wednesday, the President announced that Wisconsin would be home to a new 20 million square-foot Foxconn plant. The electronics manufacturer will be investing $10 billion to build the plant in the southeast corner of the state - House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R- WI) district. Speaker Ryan was present at Trump's White House announcement along with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Foxconn chairman, Terry Gou. Although the exact location of the plant remains unknown, Foxconn promises that it will create at least 3,000 jobs in the region. At the press conference, President Trump touted the accomplishment as a major step in his efforts to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, "This is a great day today for American manufacturing and American workers and for everybody who believes in the concept, in the label, Made in the U.S.A." reported The New York Times. The president added that Chairman Gou, "joins a growing list of industry leaders who understand America's capabilities are limitless."  Read more in Politico, and The Hill.

Republicans Look to CEOs for Technology Expertise - Both House Republicans and the Trump administration are tapping technology experts for their input on possible new legislation that would impact the industry.  With the net neutrality debate looming over Congress and the FCC, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Greg Walden (R-OR)invited the CEOs of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google parent company Alphabet, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter Communications to testify before the panel on September 7th.  While tech and telecom companies may differ in their support of the FCC's net neutrality rules, both have expressed approval for creation of legislation on the issue.  As the committee awaits responses to their invitations, Democrats criticized the move, faulting the chairman for not inviting stakeholders other than major executives to testify to the panel.  Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, members of the Trump administration participated in an hour long conference call with representatives from Stanford and MIT, in addition to a number of technology executives including Apple's Tim Cook, Microsoft President Brad Smith, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson and Accenture North America's CEO Julie Sweet. The administration is planning to use information gained from this call to shape their funding plans for STEM education.  Read more in The Hill.

House and Senate Hold FCC Nomination and Reauthorization Hearings -  The Senate Commerce Committee will hold confirmation votes for FCC nominees, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, and Republicans Brendan Carr, and Ajit Pai, on Wednesday, August 2nd.  All have previous experience with the FCC - Pai is the current chairman, Car serves as the general counsel for the commission, and Rosenworcel served for five years under the Obama Administration. This past Tuesday the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the Oversight and Reauthorization of the FCC.  Chairman Ajit Pai, and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O'Reilly testified.

Homeland Security Cyber Reorganization Bill Advanced by House Panel - On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee held a markup and passed legislation (H.R. 3359) that would reorganize the Department of Homeland Security's main cybersecurity wing. The legislation, introduced by Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), would replace the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), which currently handles cyber and physical infrastructure protection at DHS, with a new, operational agency called the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Hill reports. The agency would have three divisions focused on cybersecurity, infrastructure security and emergency communications.

Senate Plans to Launch Bipartisan Email Privacy Legislation - On Thursday,  Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the ECPA Modernization Act, a bill that would update federal statutes to force the government to obtain warrants to look at Americans' emails. The bill has passed the House twice before with broad support. The bill aims to update the Email Communications Privacy Act of 1986. Currently, law enforcement can obtain Americans' email correspondence with a written statement saying the emails are necessary to an investigation. The bill would also require that real-time location data be protected by warrants, the VT Digger reports.


For more information on the Council's work on technology issues, please contact Emily Heisig or Taylor Pichette.



Trade

USDA's Perdue Expresses Concern With Japan Beef Tariffs - On Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue responded to reports that the nation of Japan would be increasing tariffs on U.S. beef due to a rise in the volume of imports of frozen beef from America.  According to a statement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the tariff will rise from 38.5 percent to 50 percent for the next eight months, and would only affect nations with which Japan does not have a free trade agreement in place.  Secretary Perdue expressed concern that "an increase in Japan's tariff on frozen beef imports will impede U.S. beef sales and is likely to increase the United States' overall trade deficit with Japan" adding that the action "would harm our important bilateral trade relationship with Japan on agricultural products."

Pressure Builds on Garrett as Ex-Im Nominee - On Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) joined with Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Denny Heck (D-WA) in sending a letter to President Trump urging that he remove former Representative Scott Garrett from consideration as the next Chairman of the Export Import Bank.  The three lawmakers said that it "makes no sense" to put in place as the chair of Ex-Im, someone who while a Member of Congress "was a leading critic of the Bank's operations and a vocal opponent of the Bank's reauthorization, voting against its reauthorization."  Also on Tuesday, it was reported via Twitter that Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) would oppose Mr. Garrett's nomination unless there was "a clear, public statement that ensures he will not dismantle the bank."  Senator Scott sits on the Senate Banking Committee, which will have the nomination up for consideration.  Pressure is also building on Nevada's two Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV) to oppose the nominee, and reports are that Senator Cortez-Masto will vote against the nomination.  Both also serve on the Senate Banking Committee.  On Thursday, the same three House members who wrote the President sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Michael Crapo (R-ID) to similarly express their concern with Mr. Garrett's nomination.  On this letter, they were joined by Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), who serves as the Ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.

House Freshmen Republicans Urge Strong Trade and Enforcement in NAFTA - In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent on Thursday, all thirty-two House Republican freshmen recognized the "desire to make improvements and ensure strict enforcement" as the Trump Administration seeks to renegotiate the twenty-three-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but also recognized the importance of maintaining trade relations with Mexico and Canada.  The first-term lawmakers expressed their awareness "of the potential for damage to U.S. farmers, businesses, manufacturers, service providers and workers if longstanding agreements are suddenly vacated."  The new members expressed their support for "leveling the playing field, providing new market access for our American businesses, and capturing the security and foreign policy benefits trade agreements can provide."  They further urged the Administration to use the Trade Promotion Authority they had been granted, and work with Congress on trade matters going forward.

International Trade Commission Releases 2016 Year in Trade Report - On Tuesday, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) released its annual report in which the agency highlights "developments regarding the administration of U.S. trade laws and trade agreements" in the federal government's most comprehensive fashion.  Among the items reviewed in the nearly 300-page report are trade laws and actions, World Trade Organization (WTO) activities, along with "developments regarding U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs), FTA negotiations, and U.S. bilateral trade relations with major trading partners" over the course of the past year.


For more information on the Council's Trade Working Group, please contact Peter Phipps or Taylor Pichette.



Transportation

House Committee Unanimously Passes Driverless Car Bill - On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a markup of seven separate pieces of legislation, including the Designating Each Car's Automation Level (DECAL) Act (H.R. 3388), which passed the Committee by a vote of 54 to 0.  As amended and passed by the Committee, the bill sets forth a number of guidelines and parameters related to the establishment of safety standards for autonomous vehicles.  One provision establishes the federal government as the lead entity in regulating standards related to "design, construction, or performance" of autonomous vehicles except where state standards are "identical."  State and local governments would be able to continue their existing oversight of such items as "registration, licensing, driving education and training, insurance, law enforcement, crash investigations, safety and emissions inspections, [and] congestion management of vehicles."  Other items of interest in the bill include the establishment of a panel to assess mobility access issues for seniors and disabled individuals, passenger safety, environmental impacts, privacy and security, and rural usage.  The bill also charges NHTSA with developing a standard to alert "drivers" to check around the vehicle's interior for other passengers when exiting the vehicle, and a standard related to headlamp improvements.  As passed by the Committee, the bill may now be considered by the full House.

CRS Hints Elements of House FAA Bill Maybe Unconstitutional; Shuster Reacts - On Wednesday, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report released by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) raised into question whether a section of H.R. 2997, the 21st Century Aviation, Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (21st Century AIRR Act), was unconstitutional.  Mr. DeFazio, the Ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had requested that the CRS do an analysis as to whether Title II of the bill could stand constitutional muster.  Title II of H.R. 2997 would set up a "federally chartered, not-for-profit entity to monitor, direct, and control aircraft services, including safe navigation, communications, and surveillance," i.e., privatize the current air traffic control system.  Mr. DeFazio keyed-in on three areas as expressed by the CRS analysis where he interpreted potential violations of the Constitution's non-delegation doctrine, the Due Process Clause, and the Appointment Clause.  In light of the interpretation of the CRS findings, Representative DeFazio and Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-WA) sent a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) urging that he not bring H.R. 2997 up for floor consideration.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) disagreed with the assessment of Representative DeFazio, releasing a statement in which he thanked Mr. DeFazio for looking into the constitutionality of his bill, but noting that "the CRS report clearly states 'various provisions proposed in Title II to establish and transfer air traffic services to the Corporation appear to respect the boundaries of the three constitutional doctrines analyzed.'"

NHTSA Files to Possibly Amend CAFÉ Standards for Autos and Trucks - On Wednesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published in the Federal Register the agency's intent to "prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to analyze the potential environmental impacts of new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards" for passenger cars and light trucks covering model year (MY) 2022 to 2025.  Based on joint NHTSA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filings during the Obama Administration, MY 2017 to 2021 cars and light trucks under a first phase of reductions were projected to meet fuel economy standards "on an average industry fleet wide basis, a range from 40.3-41.0 mpg in MY 2021."  Standards for MY 2022 to 2025 cars and light trucks for the second stage were not finalized "due to the statutory requirement that NHTSA set average fuel economy standards not more than five model years at a time."  Based on extrapolations and estimates at the time, "NHTSA projected that those standards could require, on an average industry fleet wide basis, a range from 48.7-49.7 mpg in model year 2025."  The final rulemaking at the time called for a "mid-term evaluation," but because "NHTSA did not issue final CAFE standards for MYs 2022 to 2025 in its 2012 final rule, it does not have any standards for those MYs to be evaluated" which NHTSA interprets to require the agency "to conduct a de novo rulemaking."  When NHTSA does conduct its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), it intends to propose "separate attribute-based standards for passenger cars and light trucks for each of MYs 2022 to 2025" that will be based on the vehicle's footprint.  Based on those footprints, cars and light trucks will "have specific fuel economy targets, with larger vehicles (and light trucks) generally having lower fuel economy targets than smaller vehicles (and passenger cars), reflecting their fuel economy capabilities."

House Committee Passes Cuba Airport Security Measure - On Wednesday, the members of the House Homeland Security Committee passed by voice vote legislation designed to heighten safety and security standards at Cuban airports.  The bill as passed, the Cuban Airport Security Act of 2017 (H.R. 3328), seeks to address concerns that the loosening of air travel restrictions with Cuba has not seen a tightening of airport and passenger screening for flights going to the United States. The bill calls for an assessment of Cuban airports' safety and security measures and a report to the Congress on their capabilities.  In addition to raising international aviation security standards, the bill will also require "the standardization of Federal Air Marshal Service agreements."  The bill now goes to the full House for further consideration.

GAO Issues Study on Overcoming Large Bridge Project Challenges - On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report outlining the challenges that state departments of transportation have in addressing large bridge projects, and the means by which these departments and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) were able to overcome them.  For the report, the GAO focused on projects encompassing a certain size (those in the top 1 percent nationwide as defined by bridge-deck area) or cost (over $500 million).  The GAO reported that "state respondents rated four factors - public opposition, availability of funding, right-of-way acquisition, and obtaining environmental permits - as the most challenging," but that the states and the FHWA ultimately were able to find means to address each challenge. 

DC Court Says EPA Must Re-Visit Renewable Fuel Standard Targets - On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had not properly interpreted the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) regarding the "inadequate domestic supply" waiver provision as to the amount of ethanol, cellulose, etc. that must be included in blends of motor fuel.  In Americans for Clean Energy v. EPA, the Court ruled that this particular provision "authorizes EPA to consider supply-side factors affecting the volume of renewable fuel that is available to refiners, blenders, and importers to meet the statutory volume requirements."  However, the Court ruled that the EPA is not allowed to "consider the volume of renewable fuel that is available to ultimate consumers or the demand-side constraints that affect the consumption of renewable fuel by consumers."  As such, the Court ruled to "vacate EPA's decision to reduce the total renewable fuel volume requirements for 2016" via its waiver authority and "remand[ed] the rule to EPA for further consideration."


For more information on the Council's work on transportation issues, please contact Peter Phipps.