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

Both the House and the Senate are in session for the week ahead as they look to wrap-up by Friday in time for a two-week recess period.  On Monday, the Senate will begin the week by considering legislation (S. 89) related to fire safety requirements of boats operating exclusively along inland waterways.  A vote on S. 89 will occur Monday evening.  The Senate will then turn to the nomination of Elaine Duke to be Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security with a vote expected on Tuesday.  Also, the Senate will consider the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court during the week ahead, culminating in a vote on the nomination by Friday.  It is not clear yet if a threatened filibuster on this nomination will materialize, however such a filibuster ultimately could prompt Senate Republicans to "go nuclear" and eliminate the filibuster option for votes related to Supreme Court justices.   

On Monday, the House is scheduled to take up three bills from its suspension calendar, two dealing with North Korea and one related to partnerships with Argentina.  On Tuesday, the House will take up one bill from the suspension calendar, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 353).  Afterward, the House is scheduled to debate H.R. 1343, the Encouraging Employee Ownership Act.  On Wednesday, the House will take up one bill from the suspension calendar, H.R. 369, which would eliminate the sunset of the Veterans Choice program.  Upon disposition of that bill, the House will turn to H.R. 1304, the Self-Insurance Protection Act.  On Thursday, the House plans to take up H.R. 1219, the Supporting America's Innovators Act of 2017.  The House plans to adjourn by Friday, and has no votes currently scheduled.

Hearings and Markups of Interest

The House Rules Committee on Monday is scheduled to hold a mark-up related to H.R. 1343, the Encouraging Employee Ownership Act; H.R. 1219, the Supporting America's Innovators Act of 2017; and H.R. 1304, the Self-Insurance Protection Act in order to determine how much floor time to approve for debate and potential amendments. 

On Monday in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee has scheduled a mark-up on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  An effort to hold this mark-up last week was postponed, and "held over" one week at the request of Committee Democrats for action today. 

On Tuesday in the House, the Committee on Agriculture's Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management will hold a Farm Bill hearing in the morning on commodity policy, while the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit will hold a hearing in the afternoon on credit programs.  In addition, the Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade in the Committee on Financial Services will hold a morning hearing on the Federal Reserve's mandate and governance structure, and in the afternoon the Subcommittees on Terrorism and Illicit Finance and Monetary Policy and Trade will hold a joint hearing on increasing the effectiveness of non-nuclear sanctions against Iran.  In the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Aviation Subcommittee will hold a hearing on enabling innovation in the national airspace in the morning, while the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation reviews the authorization of Coast Guard and maritime transportation programs in the afternoon.  Other hearings include a discussion of brownfields reauthorization legislation in the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on the Environment, and a look at strengthening public-private partnerships related to cybersecurity in the health care sector in the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee; an examination of federal support for job training programs in the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; and a review of First Amendment protections on public college and university campuses in the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.

On Tuesday, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a markup on the nomination of Jay Clayton to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  For hearings, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the cybersecurity of energy delivery systems; the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on FDA user agreements; the Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Cybersecurity will look at cybersecurity threats to the U.S.; and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security will review America's multimodal freight transportation network.

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Health in the Committee on Veterans' Affairs will mark up pending legislation.  For hearings on the day, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit will review the implementation of the FAST Act to get State and Local perspectives; the Education and the Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections will review H.R. 1180, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017; and the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will look at legislation to facilitate the 21st century wireless economy.  In addition, the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of the Committee on Appropriations will review the federal response to the opioid crisis; the Armed Services Committee will look at the potential damage a continuing resolution could bring to the military community; and the Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the 2016 Semi-Annual Reports of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a full committee markup on eight separate bills.  As for hearings for the day, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on how to improve border security and improve public safety; the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Policy will look at the state of retirement security in the United States; and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will conduct a hearing to discuss the nomination of Dr. Scott Gottlieb to head up the Food and Drug Administration.

On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Southern and Northern Commands; the Finance Committee will review IRS operations and the 2017 tax filing season; and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security will hold a hearing on rural air service and the general aviation community.

On Thursday in the House, the Subcommittee on Health in the Committee on Veterans' Affairs is scheduled to continue its mark-up of pending legislation.  As for hearings, the Armed Forces Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will evaluate the defense contract auditing process; the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit in the Committee on Financial Services will hold a hearing on the federal financial regulatory system and opportunities for reform; the Committee on Small Business will look at ways the IRS can help protect the information of small businesses.

There are currently no hearings scheduled for Friday in the House or the Senate.



Budget/Appropriations

Long Term Debt Projected to Rise Significantly Says CBO - On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its long-term budget outlook for the United States.  Currently, the CBO says "at 77 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), federal debt held by the public is now at its highest level since shortly after World War II."  The CBO indicates that if current law does not substantially change over the next 30 years, the percent of publicly-held debt would nearly double, to 150 percent of GDP by 2047.  Further, the CBO projects an increase in deficits of 2.9 percent of GDP today, to 9.8 percent of GDP in 2047 driven mainly by Social Security, Medicare and similar programs, and interest payments on the debt.  To get the debt level down to its 50-year average of 40 percent of GDP, federal policymakers would need to contemplate cutting spending and/or increasing taxes, the CBO indicated.  This new report also reconfigures CBO's estimates from 2016, and their new assessment for 2046 has the CBO adjusting the debt to GDP ratio up by 5 percent.

CBO Determines Impact New Laws Have on Revenues & Spending - On Friday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) unveiled a document showing what the overall impact is related to mandatory spending and revenues based on legislation that was signed into law during the 114th Congress (2015 and 2016).  The CBO's analysts determined that in 2015 alone, legislation signed into law caused an increase in outlays of $244 billion over ten years, while revenues decrease over same ten-year period by $419 billion, raising the deficit by a total of $663 billion.  For 2016, the impact is far less, with a growth in the deficit of just $7 billion based on legislation signed into law last year.  

Sanders Wants Hearings on Trump Budget - On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee's Ranking Member, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), wrote a formal letter to his majority counterpart, Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY), requesting that there be hearings on President Trump's budget blueprint, which he called "morally obscene and bad economic policy."  In his letter, Senator Sanders indicates that the budget blueprint submitted by President Trump contains "unacceptably painful cuts to programs that senior citizens, children, persons with disabilities and working people rely on to feed their families, heat their homes, put food on the table and educate their children." Senator Sanders is troubled that "the Budget Committee has not scheduled a single hearing on the president's preliminary budget request for fiscal year 2018."  Senator Sanders also noted in his letter that the Budget Committee had scheduled hearings on the first budget submissions presented by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama within days of being submitted.  Under current law, Congress is supposed to finish its budget by April 15th, a deadline Senator Sanders was skeptical Congress would meet.


Energy & Environment

Trump Starts Roll-Back of Obama Environmental Regulations - On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that will begin the process of likely cancelling-out much of former President Barack Obama's signature climate change agenda.  Under the Executive Order, the various departments and agencies that had been tasked with implementing regulations on "domestic energy production" will be required to "submit plans to the White House, which will identify, and propose measures to revise or rescind, regulatory barriers that impede progress towards energy independence."  The Order also cancels "several Obama executive orders and policies related to climate change."  Further, the order requires a review of regulations "that may place unnecessary, costly burdens on coal-fired electric utilities, coal miners, and oil and gas producers" and based on the results of the review, either revise the regulations, or rescind them.  Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), outlined the particular items that would be addressed by the Executive Order, while he praised the President "for taking action on behalf of America's families and energy workers."  Barrasso said the Order would give federal agencies "the opportunity to identify ways to improve the environment without hurting job growth."  Congressional Democrats cried out in opposition to the move by the President, with Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and other EPW members participating in a mid-day news conference.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) stated that "President Trump is ignoring the mountain of evidence on climate change and plowing ahead with a dangerous agenda that threatens the health and well-being of New Hampshire."  Thirty senators, including 10 from New England, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would rescind the Executive Order, however it is unlikely to see any consideration.  In the House, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) called the President's Executive Order "a shortsighted and negligent attack on the health and safety of our communities," adding that it "breaks our commitments to nearly 200 nations within the Paris Agreement to address the global problem that we helped to create."  Other reactions included Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) who said of the reversal of the Clean Power Plan, "a confident nation faces its problems - it doesn't deny them," Representative Ann M. Kuster (D-NH) who said the decision was "disappointing but not surprising," and Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA) who said the Executive Order "prevents our country from taking necessary steps to safeguard our future."  On Thursday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sent letters to the various governors formally advising them that they did not have to follow the Clean Power Plan rule.

House Passes Bill to Revamp EPA Science Advisory Board - On Thursday, the House of Representatives adopted legislation that would make changes to the current member make-up of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Board.  The legislation, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 1431), would require the EPA to "open up" panel membership to the general public as well as persons from additional federal agencies.  The bill also requires greater disclosure requirements among board members.  The vote on the measure was 229 to 193, and broke primarily along party lines.  Generally, those opposed to the measure raised concern that the bill would allow industry representatives and climate change non-believers to exert their influence on the panel and detract from true science.  The bill now goes to the Senate for further action.

House Passes Bill Requiring Publicly Available Data for EPA Regulations - On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1430, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act of 2017 which requires any actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be accomplished with readily available data.  Particularly, the bill would require the EPA to refrain from "proposing, finalizing, or disseminating" an action unless the information used is "the best available science, specifically identified, and publicly available" for anyone wishing to view it.  The vote on the measure was 228 to 194 and broke mainly along party lines.  House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said that "the days of 'trust me' science are over," adding that "allowing EPA's data to be independently reviewed promotes sound science that will restore confidence in the EPA decision-making process."  Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) led the opposition to the measure, saying "any effort to limit the scope of science that can be considered by EPA does not strengthen scientific integrity, but undermines it."  The bill now goes to the Senate for further action.

Senate Energy Committee Reports Out Sixty-five Bills; Includes Shaheen-Portman - On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considered and adopted sixty-five separate measures related to such topics as research and development of advanced nuclear energy technologies (S. 97), sportsmen's access to federal lands (S. 733), volcano monitoring and warning systems (S. 346), and a variety of public lands measures.  Included in the bills passed by the Committee was the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 385), more colloquially known as Shaheen-Portman after the two sponsors of the bill, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH).  The two have championed this legislation for several years and the New England Council has been a strong supporter of the bill.  As passed, the Shaheen-Portman bill has "energy efficiency policy reforms that will strengthen the economy and reduce pollution."  The elements of this bill complement provisions of earlier energy efficiency efforts by the two Senators that were signed into law in 2015.  When combined with the provisions of S. 385, it is estimated that these initiatives "will create nearly 200,000 new jobs and help the economy by saving consumers $16.2 billion annually in reduced energy costs by 2030."  In addition, Senators Shaheen and Portman collaborated on two other bills passed by the Committee.  The first, the Energy Savings Through Public-Private Partnerships Act of 2017 (S. 239), encourages the use of energy savings performance contracts in federal facilities, and the second bill (S. 226) clarifies "energy efficiency rules for solid state lighting products such as LEDs and ceiling fans utilizing DC motors."  With Committee passage, the bills may now be considered by the full Senate.

Energy and Commerce Committee Leaders Seek GAO Review of DoE Clean-ups - On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), Subcommittee on Energy Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and Subcommittee on Environment Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asking that they participate in "the Committee's review of the Department of Energy's (DoE) environmental cleanup operations and its use of modeling and assessments to ensure the most cost-effective reduction of public health risks."  The Energy and Commerce Committee is currently looking into "DoE's management and execution of its cleanup responsibilities," and these Committee leaders noted that the GAO had given DoE a "high-risk designation last month for federal environmental liabilities" in requesting their participation.

Nearly Half of House Members Support LWCF Funding - On Thursday, some 206 members of the House of Representatives joined on a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee urging that they "allocate robust funding" to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for fiscal year 2018.  Nearly every member of the New England House delegation signed the letter.  Funding for the LWCF is unique, in that it is almost entirely derived via oil and gas royalties from extraction operations on the Outer Continental Shelf.  Although the lawmakers did not outright ask for a permanent authorization of the LWCF, the letter did state that the members looked forward to "working quickly on a more permanent solution."

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



Financial Services/Fiscal Policy

Crapo, Cordray Speak at Capital Markets Summit - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness held its 11th Annual Capital Markets Summit in Washington, D.C. last week.  Attendees heard from several speakers, including Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray over the course of the daylong event.  Crapo used his remarks to position himself as a bipartisan dealmaker between Committee Republicans and Democrats, as well as the House Financial Services Committee and the Trump Administration.  Crapo said he is looking to promote "economic growth" proposals, rather than referring to legislation as regulatory reform or Dodd-Frank reform, "because it's broader than any of those other issues - it is looking at our legal and regulatory structure in the United States as we deal with our economy."  For his part, Cordray focused on "how regulation affects the consumer financial marketplace," saying his philosophy on regulation is that it is a "very good tool, a powerful tool, but a sobering tool and one that should be used very carefully," and one that requires "a lot of data, a lot of thought, a lot of input."

Senate Passes Resolution to Strike Obama DOL Retirement Rule - The Senate passed a resolution (H. J. Res. 67) on Thursday by a vote of 50 to 49 that would nullify the Municipality-Mandated Retirement Savings rule issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) late last year.  Proponents of the rolling back the rule argue that by encouraging cities and counties to require businesses to enroll employees in these government-run plans, those employees would not have access to the protections offered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  As the House passed the resolution in mid-February, the measure heads to President Trump's desk for signature.

Republicans Shine Spotlight on FSOC's Nonbank SIFI Designation Process - In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, ten of the Senate Banking Committee's 12 members urged him to review the "policies and procedures" behind the Financial Stability Oversight Council's (FSOC) designation of nonbanks as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs).  The Senators, led by Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), argue that the current process "lacks transparency and accountability, insufficiently tracks data, and does not have a consistent methodology for determinations."  Separately, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing Tuesday to review the FSOC's "arbitrary and inconsistent" designation process.  Chair Ann Wagner (R-MO) said that the committee is "considering broad reforms to the power of the FSOC" as part of the House GOP's revisions to the Financial CHOICE Act, and that ending nonbank designations "should be, at the very least, where we start" the process of changing the procedures of the FSOC.

Warren, Brown Seek Review of SEC Acting Chairman's Actions - On Wednesday, Senate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) led a letter to the Inspector General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asking him to "conduct an investigation into recent actions taken by" Acting Chairman Michael Piwowar.  The Senators cite Piwowar's instructing SEC staff to examine whether the agency's guidance on its conflict minerals rule requires modification, as well as his decision to seek additional public input on the SEC's final pay ratio rule.  In the letter, the Senators expressed concern that these actions "may lack adequate justification, undermine the SEC's mission, exceed his authority as Acting Chairman, violate other procedural requirements, and could potentially prove to be a waste of the SEC staff's precious time and resources."

Democrats File Brief Supporting CFPB Structure - A group of nearly 40 current and former Democratic elected officials on Friday filed an amicus brief in the D.C. Court of Appeals in support of the current management structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The members either serve or have served in leadership or on relevant banking related committees, and argue that, as a result, they are "particularly well situated to provide the Court with insight into why Congress chose the leadership structure it did." 

Committee Hearings Planned This Week - The financial services and banking related committees will hold the following hearings this week in Washington, D.C.:

Tuesday

  • 10:00 a.m. - House Financial Services Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee, "Examining the Federal Reserve's Mandate and Governance Structure" 

Wednesday

  • 10:00 a.m. - House Financial Services Committee, "The 2016 Semi-Annual Reports of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection" 
  • 3:00 p.m. - Senate Banking Economic Policy Subcommittee, The Current State of Retirement Security in the United States" 

Thursday

  • 9:15 a.m. - House Financial Services Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee, "Examination of the Federal Financial Regulatory System and Opportunities for Reform" 

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



Healthcare

Legislation to Make More Hearing Aids Available Over the Counter - On March 21, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) reintroduced legislation to make certain hearing aids available over the counter (OTC), following calls from the Obama White House and the National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. FDA has also indicated it is considering the idea of an OTC hearing aid, and recently loosened restrictions on dispensing hearing aids. The bill would make certain air-conduction hearing aids available over the counter for patients 18 years and older to treat mild to moderate hearing impairment. The bill would also direct HHS to circulate regulations within three years to establish such a category and codify requirements to "provide reasonable assurances of safety and efficacy." It would also task HHS with determining whether over-the-counter hearing aids would require 510(k) submissions. FDA issued guidance on Dec. 7 waiving the recordkeeping and medical evaluation requirements for the dispensing of class I and II air-conduction hearing aids for patients older than 18. FDA also said it would consider making hearing aids available over the counter. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

HHS Updates Website to Explain ACA Regulatory Overhaul - HHS recently updated its website to explain the regulatory changes it is making to overhaul the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and stabilize the marketplace. The agency announced it is working through all of the ACA's regulations and guidance to determine their success. HHS's page "Providing Relief Right Now for Patients" lays out concerns with rising premiums and limited coverage choices. "The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to doing everything in our power to provide relief immediately. Within what the law allows, HHS is taking action to stabilize the individual and small group insurance markets (the markets most affected by the ACA) so that they work better for everyone," the new page says.

FDA Extends Comment Period on Biosimilar Interchangeability Guidance - FDA is extending the public comment period for its draft guidance outlining how biosimilar sponsors can demonstrate that their products are interchangeable with other biologics, following extension requests from top trade associations. The agency laid out in a January 2017 draft guidance its first attempt at codifying the requirements that sponsors must satisfy to demonstrate interchangeability. The agency said it would make case-by-case determinations of interchangeability, but indicated it would require studies measuring the impact of switching on clinical pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Covington & Burling all requested comment period extensions, according to documents posted on Regulations.gov. The comment period, which was set to close on March 20, will be extended 60 days until May 19.

Examining FDA's Medical Device User Fee Program - The Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), today held a hearing examining the medical device user fee program. As reauthorized by the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) of 2012, the Medical Device User Fee Amendments (MDUFA) support the review and regulation of medical devices. "In 2009, it took an average of 427 days before FDA even reached a decision on a premarket approval application (PMA). As of 2015, the average review time was down to 276 days - a 35 percent decrease. More work lies ahead, but great strides have been made," stated full committee Chairman Walden (R-OR).

"FDASIA included meaningful regulatory reforms, improved communication between industry and FDA, and increased accountability at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). It is important that the next medical device user fee agreement continue to build upon the progress made in FDASIA, as well as the good policies members of this subcommittee championed in the 21st Century Cures Act," said Chairman Burgess. "I am encouraged that the proposed agreement transmitted to Congress in January contains many promising elements that will be good for FDA, industry, and most importantly, patients."

Ms. Diane Wurzburger, Executive of Regulatory Affairs for GE Healthcare, spoke as member of the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance (MITA), saying, "Advancements in medical imaging are transforming health care through earlier disease detection, less invasive procedures and more effective treatments. ...This agreement, negotiated between FDA and the medical device industry, advances our shared goals of ensuring that patients have timely access to the most innovative devices and diagnostics necessary for the public health."

HHS Appropriator Questions Administrative Costs in NIH Grants - On March 29, Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., the House appropriator who oversees the National Institutes of Health's budget said in a hearing on the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services that he expects further debate on administrative expenses at universities and other organizations that are funded through federal medical research grants and that the committee  would examine these so-called indirect costs funded by NIH grants. " Cole expects to have a hearing on the NIH budget around May.

Democrats on the committee used the hearing to question Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price over the Trump administration's calls to reduce spending for the NIH. The White House fiscal 2018 budget plan called for a nearly $6 billion cut in research spending. Since then, an Office of Management and Budget spreadsheet that was circulating in Washington this week suggests a $1.2 billion reduction for the NIH.

Congress increased NIH's annual budget by about $2 billion to $32 billion in fiscal 2016 and according to Chairman Cole both House and Senate appropriators are scheduled to give the agency another $2 billion for fiscal 2017.

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



Higher Education

President Signs Law Reversing Teacher Prep Regulations - Last Monday, President Trump signed into law legislation overturning a regulation put in place by the Obama Administration that would have rated the effectiveness teacher training programs. It also prevents the Education Department from creating a substantially similar rule or regulation in the future.  The rules, released by the Department of Education in October, would have required states to annually evaluate and publicly report the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions. The Senate passed a resolution (HJ Res 58) in early March.

ED and IRS Say FAFSA Tool will be Offline Until the Fall - On Thursday,the Education Department and Internal Revenue Service announced in a statement that the online tool that helps students apply for federal financial aid, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, will remain unavailable until later this year. The tool allows students to automatically input their income information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The tool was suspended over concerns that identity thieves could use it to access student tax information and ED and the IRS said they are working to improve security protections. The announcement warned that the tool would be down "until the start of the next FAFSA season," which begins on Oct. 1. The leaders of the Congressional education committees and the House Oversight Committee sent letters to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demanding more information about the problems. Education Department officials briefed some Congressional staffers this week about the problems but the committees are still waiting on more information from the department, the Chronicle of Higher Ed reports.  On Monday, the Republican and Democratic leadership of the Congressional education committees, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), and a bipartisan group of 39 other lawmakers sent a letter urging DeVos to take steps to alleviate the problems.

Lawmakers Concerned about CyberSecurity at ED - On Thursday, the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Secretary DeVos that questions the Education Department's overall handling of cybersecurity issues. The letter, signed by Republicans and Democrats on the panel, says that "cybersecurity at the department is far short of where it should be," citing Government Accountability Office and Inspector General reviews that found gaps in the agency's information technology security. The lawmakers asked the department to provide a plan for addressing the cybersecurity issues and a range of related documents by April 13.

Lawmakers Plan to Introduce Perkins CTE Bill - A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate hopes to move legislation that aligns job training programs with the needs of employers. Legislation to update a career and technical education law will be introduced this spring by Representatives Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.). In the Senate, Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) is working on a bill that Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander has called a priority. The law expired in 2013 but has remained funded.

DeVos Meets with Brazil's Education Minister - On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with José Mendonça Bezerra Filho, the education minister of Brazil. DeVos talked to the minister about "several topics of mutual interest, including career and technical education, higher education exchanges, and education reform ideas for their respective countries," the Education Department said in a statement.

Quality of American Education - On Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said America's education system has fallen behind other countries and "can't do much worse." DeVos noted that U.S. scores on the Program for International Student Assessment are suffering and that scores have stagnated on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. On Thursday, the Census Bureau released a report saying that Americans had reached the highest level of education attainment since 1940. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen calls for better public education, workforce development programs reports The Wall Street Journal.

ED Cancels Diversity Grant Program - The Education Department has cancelled a $12 million Obama-era grant program meant to help school districts boost socio-economic diversity, the Washington Post reports.

Lawmakers Push Back on ED, NIH Cuts in Budget Proposal - On Tuesday Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that handles funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, pushed back against the Trump administration's call to cut nearly $18 billion in domestic programs in fiscal 2017, including $3 billion at the Education Department. Senator Blunt said leadership plans to keep the same spending levels. On Wednesday, Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), who chairs the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, similarly opposed cuts to NIH funding. Trump's proposed plan calls for a $5.8 billion cut from NIH, about a 20 percent decrease.Trump budget cuts could hit research universities hard, The Washington Post reports.

Report on Funding for Accreditors - A new report from the Center for American Progress finds that many college accreditors lack the budget and staffing to properly oversee colleges and universities.

Governor Mallow Criticized Desegregation Efforts - Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy says he's concerned with the state's nationally-touted school desegregation efforts, reports The Hartford Courant.

Early College Programs to be Expanded in Massachusetts - Massachusetts plans to significantly expand early college programs, The Springfield Republican reports.

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




Technology

Congress Sends CRA to Nullify FCC Broadband Privacy Rules to President's Desk - On Tuesday, the House followed the Senate and voted 215 to 205 to approve the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to roll back the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) broadband privacy rules. The resolution would nullify the current broadband privacy rules passed under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The current privacy rules require internet service providers to obtain customers' advance permission before selling their "sensitive" personal data and aspects of their web browsing history to third parties, including advertisers. President Trump is expected to sign the bill, which the White House has publicly supported. In reaction, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai suggested the FCC's next step following President Trump signing the bill would be to undo Title II and return broadband privacy jurisdiction to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Title II classified internet service providers as common carriers, which gave the FCC regulatory authority rather than the FTC. By revoking Title II, Chairman Pai may also choose to roll back net neutrality protections, which are tied to FCC jurisdiction under the same policy. Democrats in both the House and the Senate, who voted largely against the resolution, called on President Trump to veto the bill. The GOP is facing negative backlash from the public as well, raising the possibility of this turning into an issue to be raised during election season. ""Voters across party lines understand the importance of personal privacy and are not going to be happy as they find out that Republican senators and Senate candidates used a party-line vote to put data including health and financial information for sale to the highest bidder," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Ben Ray. Read more in USA Today and Politico.

Supreme Court Hears Case on Venue for Patent Cases - On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments on the case TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Goods Group brands LLC, which concerns the venue of patent court cases. Kraft sued TC Heartland for patent infringement in Delaware and TC Heartland sought to move the case to Indiana, which the company is based out of Indiana. TC Heartland appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court after lower courts refused to allow the case to be moved from Delaware. The case brings up a growing issue in the field of patents: forum shopping. As it stands, plaintiffs suing for patent infringement can bring a case anywhere the defendant does business. However, this has led to patent trolls to take advantage of historically plaintiff-friendly regions by suing in those regions, such as the Eastern District of Texas which has seen "as much as 44 percent" of all new U.S. patent infringement cases. Supporters of the current standing argue that there is a value in allowing cases to be heard in one single court for multiple defendants or in courts that develop patent expertise. The decision in this case could determine if the location where patents can be brought will be further restricted, such as to where a company is based or incorporated. Multiple technology companies, including Dell, Intel, Adobe, and Oracle, have filed amicus briefs supporting TC Heartland. While there is no word yet on how the Justices plan to rule on the case, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chairman of the House Intellectual Property (IP) Subcommittee Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) have both spoken out in favor of taking legislative action on the issue if the Supreme Court rules against changing the current system. Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), Vice Chairman on the IP Subcommittee, stated, "Senator Hatch has committed to correcting patent legislation in the Senate, and I am eager to continue advocating for patent litigation reform and working with Chairman Goodlatte to move legislation forward in the House."  Read more in The New York Times and The Hill.

White House Announces Creation of Innovation Office Led by Jared Kushner - On Monday, the White House announced the creation of the White House Office of American Innovation, which will work to fulfil key campaign promises by pulling ideas from the business world and potentially privatizing certain government functions. The Innovation Office will be led by Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to President Trump, who will report directly to the President. The Washington Post described the Innovation Office as a "SWAT team of strategic consultants" made up of former business leaders with the authority to overhaul aspects of the federal bureaucracy. The new office will have a focus on technology issues and is working with tech giants, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Ivanka Trump will also reportedly work with the Innovation office by helping with workforce development, but will not have an official role. "We are part of the White House team, connected with everyone here, but we are not subject to the day-to-day issues, so we can take a more strategic approach to projects," said Chris Lidell, Innovation Office team member and assistant to the president for strategic initiatives. Read more in The Washington Post and The Hill..

E.U. Commissioners Meet with U.S. Leaders in D.C. - This week, European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager as well as Justice, Consumers, and Gender Equality Commissioner Vera Jourová visited D.C. and met with U.S. officials to discuss a variety of tech related issues. The E.U Commissioners met with various U.S. leaders, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, the Information Technology Industry Council, and multiple privacy nonprofit organizations. The E.U. Commissioners reportedly discussed antitrust policy and the U.S.-E.U. Privacy Shield during their meeting with FTC Chairman Ohlhausen. Additionally, E.U. Commissioner Jourová discussed improving the process for handling international data warrants with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Commissioner Jourová stated that the E.U. nations acknowledge there is a "growing consensus for a common approach that would also provide legal certainty for business" and speed up the process. Read more in The Hill and EU Observer.

FCC Chairman Pai Discusses Rural Broadband and Takes Action on Lifeline Program - On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai met with the House Rural Telecommunications Working Group. Chairman Pai discussed ways to expand broadband service to rural communities, specifically covering with the group the Universal Service Fund, the FCC's 477 Form, and the issue of call completion. On the same day, Chairman Pai also announced he will begin allowing states to decide which companies can participate in the FCC's affordable internet for low income households program, Lifeline. The announcement drew criticism and backlash from Democrats, including Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "Americans will have less choice for Lifeline broadband, and potential providers who want to serve low-income Americans will face greater barriers to entry and regulatory uncertainty," stated Commissioner Clyburn. Read more in The Hill.

House Oversight Asks OMB for Cybersecurity Guidance - On Thursday, leaders of the House Oversight Subcommittee asked Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney for details on a guidance to help agencies improve cybersecurity efforts in federal acquisitions. Representatives Will Hurd (R-TX) and Robin Kelly (D-IL) wrote the letter to Director Mulvaney on the same day the House Oversight subcommittee held a hearing on the challenges agencies face in the federal IT acquisition system. In August 2015, the OMB released a draft guidance which was never finalized. Representatives Hurd and Kelly wrote, "if there is no specific guidance under development at this time, we ask that you provide a strategy or plan for developing guidance for agencies to improve and update cybersecurity requirements for federal acquisition. The strategy or plan should include milestones and stakeholder outreach information." Read more in The Hill and MeriTalk.

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



Trade

President Signs Executive Orders on Trade - On Friday, President Trump issued two executive orders that would seek to establish enhanced collection and enforcement of antidumping and countervailing duties and address violations of trade and customs laws, as well as require the compilation of a comprehensive report on America's significant trade deficits.  In the first executive order, the President remarked that the United States needs to "ensure that we fully collect all duties imposed on foreign importers that cheat," adding that from here forward, "those who break the rules will face the consequences."  The Executive Order noted that there is currently more than $3.3 billion in antidumping and countervailing duties that our nation is owed, "often from importers that lack assets located in the United States."  To ensure that no longer occurs, the Order states that it is "the policy of the United States to impose appropriate bonding requirements, based on risk assessments, on entries of articles subject to antidumping and countervailing duties, when necessary to protect the revenue of the United States."  In addition, the President ordered "the first-ever comprehensive review of America's trade deficits and all violations of trade rules that harm the United States and the workers of the United States."  Within 90 days, the Secretary of Commerce and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) will, among other actions, assess the major causes of America's trade deficit on a country-by-country basis and determine whether the trading partner is imposing unfair or unequal burdens on U.S. commerce.

USTR Issues 2017 National Trade Estimate - On Friday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative issued the 2017 version of the annual National Trade Estimate.  This trade estimate - covering 58 nations, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the European Union - "surveys significant barriers to American exports" and also "helps identify and address major roadblocks for American goods and services in markets around the globe."  This includes such items as tariffs, export subsidies, intellectual property rights violations, and "barriers to investment, services and digital trade."  The USTR also issued several "fact sheets" related to the estimate, among which the USTR highlighted "notable changes in the last year in U.S. export market."  This targeted a number of areas of concern, particularly related to trade with China dealing with such issues as forced technology transfer, electronic payment services, cybersecurity, online piracy, and agricultural issues.  An additional fact sheet targeted issues related to digital trade barriers, but fact sheets on sanitary and phytosanitary barriers and technical barriers showed where success stories had emerged in 2016.

Vietnam and U.S. Meet on Trade - The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) reported that the United States and Vietnam held meetings Monday and Tuesdays in Hanoi under their Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA); their first such meeting since 2011.  Similar to a meeting the United States held a week earlier with officials in Laos, Trump Administration trade leaders indicated that the White House was committed to "expanding ties with the Asia-Pacific region" along with Vietnam.  The two nations talked about the need to address such bilateral issues as food safety, intellectual property, digital trade, financial services, customs, industrial goods and transparency.  The two nations also discussed World Trade Organization (WTO) matters as well as ways to "work together to advance their common interests in building US-ASEAN ties."  Vietnam is America's 16th largest trading partner for goods, with a total of $52.3 billion in trade between the two nations in 2016.  Vietnam is our tenth largest agriculture trading partner, receiving some $2.7 billion in U.S. exports last year. 

ITA Says Eight Nations Subsidized & Dumped Steel Products - On Thursday, the International Trade Administration (ITA) of the Department of Commerce announced that a determination had been made that "steel producers in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea (Korea), and Taiwan are dumping imports of carbon and alloy steel plate (steel plate) in the United States."  The ITA determined that their dumping investigations showed a range in the margins of "between 3.62 percent to 148.02 percent."  The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) will provide injury determinations within the next 45 days.

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



Transportation

House T & I Committee Passes Coast Guard, FEMA, and MPO Bills - On Wednesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee passed a number of pieces of legislation including a bill that will improve and reform the U.S. Coast Guard, several bills related to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirements, and a repeal of a federal rule related to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).  As passed, the Coast Guard Improvement and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 1726) sets reorganization parameters "pertaining to the operation and administration of the U.S. Coast Guard" as well as setting up "standard administrative procedures for Coast Guard advisory committees."  The Committee also passed the FEMA Accountability, Modernization and Transparency Act of 2017 (H.R. 1679) which addresses management issues in FEMA's grant programs "to improve applicant accessibility and transparency" as well as legislation (H.R. 1678) that sets a time-limit on FEMA's ability to take back grant assistance from those hit by a disaster where no waste, fraud, or abuse is present.  Further, the Committee adopted H.R. 1665 to have FEMA look at "severe local impact" when they are making a determination to recommend a disaster declaration in order to "level the playing field for smaller communities."  Finally, the Committee did pass H.R. 1346, which would repeal the Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordination and Planning Area Reform rule.  In a release by the bill's sponsor, Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL), the recent rule would require Metropolitan Planning Organization's to "consolidate with nearby MPOs or develop a single, unified long-range plan."  The T&I Committee contends that by repealing this rule, H.R. 1436 "maintains MPO and state flexibility in planning and making transportation investments."  With committee passage, these legislative initiatives may now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

Committee Hears from DoT Deputy Secretary Nominee Rosen - On Wednesday, Jeffrey Rosen, the former General Counsel and current nominee to be the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Transportation (DoT) appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to provide testimony and answer questions from the members of the Committee related to his nomination.  In his statement to the Committee, Mr. Rosen recognized that safety is the DoT's "primary regulatory objective."  However, he noted that the emergence of technologies like driverless vehicles and drones, will challenge Congress and the Executive Branch to balance "enabling innovation while also protecting the public's safety."  Mr. Rosen also touched on the age and condition of America's infrastructure, saying that "the solutions will require both creativity and flexibility," and that he recognized "the importance of DoT officials having good communication and working relationships with the members of Congress" in addressing these needs.  Among those posing questions to Mr. Rosen was Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) who expressed concern over the future of the Essential Air Service (EAS) and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants among other issues.  Senator Hassan followed up the next day with a letter to Mr. Rosen seeking further information.  It is anticipated that the Commerce Committee may mark-up Mr. Rosen's nomination later this week.

Airlines Set Passenger Record for 2016 - On Monday, the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) released new data showing that airlines set a record in 2016 for the total number of passengers carried over the course of the year.  According to the BTS, domestic airlines and foreign airlines serving the U.S. market "carried an all-time high of 928.9 million system-wide (domestic and international) scheduled service passengers in 2016."  This was an increase of 3.5 percent over the amount carried in 2015 - 897.9 million - which was the record high.  System-wide, some 719 million persons flew domestically while 209.9 million flew to and from the United States in 2016.  The overall number of passengers has been steadily climbing since 2009 which saw 770.6 million total passengers.  Transportation experts contend that the airlines will reach the billion passenger mark in the not so distant future.

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