What to Know in Washington: Border Plan Release Brings Optimism

Got feedback or a tip? Email me at zsherwood@bgov.com

Cautious optimism abounds in Washington at midweek, with the full picture of the border security spending deal emerging ahead of a Friday night deadline to keep the government running.

President Donald Trump is eyeing a path to avoid another government shutdown where he would reluctantly accept the congressional border-security deal and attempt to tap other funds for his wall.

Trump is likely to grudgingly sign the legislation and then immediately use his executive authority to fund additional border measures, said a person who talked to the president Tuesday and asked not to be identified to discuss private conversations.

Late yesterday, Trump tweeted that he was getting details of the plan from the lead Republican negotiator, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and suggested he would pair money from the deal with money he would find elsewhere in the federal budget.

“Was just presented the concept and parameters of the Border Security Deal by hard working Senator Richard Shelby. Looking over all aspects knowing that this will be hooked up with lots of money from other sources….” Trump wrote. “….Will be getting almost $23 BILLION for Border Security. Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!,” he added.

The president’s campaign for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is entering a new phase after his quest to get $5.7 billion in the agreement to keep the government operating fell far short. A tentative accord reached Monday night provides just $1.375 billion for 55 new miles of fencing in Texas. It’s not clear how Trump arrived at the $23 billion figure.

The full text of the legislation was still being worked yesterday, though a vote could be held as soon as today in the House. It would have to pass both chambers of Congress and get the president’s signature before midnight Friday to keep the government open. Read more from Laura Litvan, Erik Wasson and Billy House

Fight for Riders: A last-minute lobbying blitz is underway to get non-spending items into the seven-bill omnibus appropriation package before it’s filed in the House. Lawmakers and aides said they’re trying to get a list of add-ons finalized by noon. Tax-break extensions and a reauthorization of intelligence programs could make the cut, along with a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. Senators said they won’t be able to include a disaster aid package of more than $12 billion to help areas hit by hurricanes , typhoons, and wildfires. Nancy Ognanovich has more.

Workers Hurt by Last Shutdown: Unpaid mortgages, burned savings, food bank visits — those were some of the consequences for workers during the longest U.S. government shutdown that ended last month, according to Prudential Financial. More than a quarter of federal employees missed a mortgage or rent payment during the shutdown, while 49 percent fell behind on bills in general, according to the Prudential survey of 352 federal workers, contractors and spouses. Even though government workers are more likely to have emergency s avings compared with the general public, many depleted most or all of that cushion, the poll showed. Read more from Lananh Nguyen.

Movers & Shakeups

Barr Poised for AG Confirmation: The Senate yesterday advanced Trump’s nomination of William Barr to be the next attorney general, setting up a final confirmation vote today. The Senate voted 55-44 to advance the nomination of Barr, who would oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation. Barr has told senators he would resign if the president ordered him to fire Mueller without good cause or claimed executive privilege to cover up a crime.

ICE Chief Confirmation Chilled: Trump’s nomination to lead the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hit another speed bump as the agency’s own union said it officially opposed the pick. The National ICE Council criticized nominee Ronald Vitiello yesterday in a letter sent to Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The panel is scheduled to vote on his nomination today.

The agency already faces intense scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers, several of whom have called for it to be abolished. ICE has been at the center of carrying out several of Trump’s most controversial policies that have led to overseeing thousands more immigrants in federal detention centers. Johnson said yesterday he was unsure if the nomination would move forward. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Fannie-Freddie in Focus: Trump’s pick to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is likely to face questions on the fate of the two companies as well as controversial comments he’s made about the future of U.S. housing finance when he appears at a confirmation hearing tomorrow.

Federal Housing Finance Agency nominee Mark Calabria is expected is deliver remarks to the Senate Banking Committee that take a measured approach in reiterating the Trump administration’s goal of ending the U.S. conservatorships of Fannie and Freddie. But his testimony will come on the heels of suggestions that FHFA and the Treasury Department might act without Congress to free the companies, news that spurred hedge-fund investors’ hopes that their big bets on the companies would finally pay off . Read more from Elizabeth Dexheimer.

Received the newsletter from a colleague?

Also Happening on the Hill

Conservation Fund and Lands Package: The Senate passed a combined conservation and public lands package yesterday that would revive the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund and prevent the kind of funding lapses that since the fall have put efforts to add to wildlife refuges, national parks, and local biking and hiking trails on hold.

The bill would renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which authorizes $900 million a year—though Congress has in recent years appropriated only half that amount—to add parcels to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, wildlife refuges, and local hiking and biking trails. The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 92-8, sending it to the House, where it is likely to be brought directly to the floor in the weeks ahead. Read more from Dean Scott.

Green New Deal Strategy: A plan by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold a vote on the Green New Deal will almost surely expose divisions among Senate Democrats still wrestling with whether to back the ambitious 10-year plan to combat climate change.

Still, Democrats who back the measure and those who may not united to call McConnell’s move political posturing. “We have a lot of really important things to do” to combat climate change, Murphy said. “Political stunts are not one of them.” Democrats also sought to use McConnell’s move as an opportunity to counterattack Senate Republicans, whom they say have no plan of their own to deal with climate change. Read more from Dean Scott.

T-Mobile CEO Testimony: T-Mobile CEO John Legere said his company doesn’t use equipment from Huawei, and won’t after buying Sprint Corp. to form a bigger No. 3 in the U.S. wireless market.
“Let me be clear –- we do not use Huawei or ZTE network equipment in any area of our network. Period. And we will never use it in our 5G network,” Legere said in written testimony prepared for a hearing today before the House communications subcommittee. The statement is in response to critics who’ve raised the issue of the Chinese equipment maker as a risk to national security to build opposition to the proposed $26.5 billion merger.

But Sprint parent SoftBank has “significant ties” to Huawei, as does T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom, according to Carri Bennet, general counsel for the Rural Wireless Association that represents smaller competitors to the merging parties. Read more from Todd Shields.

Smaller Tax Refunds: House Democrats are expected to criticize the 2017 tax law, including the smaller refunds many are receiving this year, during a hearing today focused on the middle class. The hearing, to be held by the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, is the opening act of a House Democratic effort to re-examine aspects of the new tax law and ultimately build a case for why provisions in the new code need to be tweaked or changed. Read more from Kaustuv Basu and Allyson Versprille.

Rubio Wants to Curb Buybacks: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is taking on the GOP’s 2017 tax law by saying it’s encouraging companies’ rush to buy back stock, hurting the economy. Rubio, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, released a plan yesterday that would curb incentives for companies to use excess capital to buy back shares, a move that investors like because it can increase the stock price. Buybacks should be taxed the same as dividends and companies should be able to immediately write off the costs of more capital assets and research and development expenses, according to the plan. Read more from Laura Davison.

Paid Family Leave Finds New Life: Lawmakers see renewed opportunity to pass a national paid family leave plan to cover new parents, caretakers, and workers with health problems. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) unveiled the latest version of the FAMILY Act yesterday, which would create a national insurance fund paid for by both employers and employees. The fund would be used to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to workers across the country. Read more from Genevieve Douglas.

Pot Lobbying: The cannabis industry and others who stand to benefit from pot legalization have been boosting their lobbying presence on Capitol Hill. Banks, marijuana delivery services, and veterans groups helped drive cannabis-related lobbying revenues to $2.5 million in 2018, according to lobbying disclosure filings. The stepped-up efforts came as more states legalized marijuana, creating a disconnect with federal law, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance. Cannabis is legal in some form — from limited medical use to full recreational use — in more than 30 states. Read more from Megan R. Wilson.

GOP’s Surveillance Abuse Claims: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say they’re willing to look into potential abuses by the Justice Department and FBI in obtaining approval for sensitive surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The acquiescence to a limited exploration of the topic was disclosed in the release yesterday of a transcript from the committee’s first meeting, held behind closed doors last week. When Republicans controlled the committee last year, they contended that bias against Trum p led some Justice Department officials to abuse surveillance authority.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who heads the cybersecurity subcommittee, said Republicans and Democrats should work together in “getting to the bottom” of whether there might have been some abuse of the process under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “It has borders, though,” Himes said, according to the transcript. “I am not sure there is anything any of us can do, if the president honestly believes, as he tweeted, that the Obama administration eavesdropped on his campaign. I am not sure we are going to change that sentiment.” Read more from Billy House.

What Else to Know Today

China Tariff Deadline: Trump said he’s open to extending a March 1 deadline to raise tariffs on Chinese products if the two sides are near an agreement, sending a conciliatory signal amid talks to resolve the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. “If we’re close to a deal where we think we can make a real deal and it’s going to get done, I could see myself letting that slide for a little while,” Trump told reporters during a cabinet meeting yesterday. “But generally speaking I’m not inclined” to delay r aising tariffs, he added.

Negotiators from the two countries began their latest round of talks this week ahead of the March 1 deadline for additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. Trump has threatened to more than double the rate of duties on $200 billion in Chinese imports. Trump’s comments are the strongest indication that he’s willing to give the Chinese more time to firm up a deal to head off the bruising trade conflict, which has cast a cloud over the global economy. Read more from Saleha Mohsin, Andrew Mayeda and Margaret Talev.

SALT Deduction Dispute: Trump offered no assurances that he’d address complaints about a new limit on federal deductions for state and local tax payments after meeting yesterday with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), a fierce critic of the cap. The president “listened to the governor’s concerns,” Trump spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement following the White House meeting. He added that the session “demonstrates the president’s willingness to meet regularly with our nation’s governors.” The statement didn’t promise a ny action. Read more from Laura Davison, Lynnley Browning and Alyza Sebenius.

Greenspan’s Deficit Warning: While American politicians on both sides of the aisle have been mostly silent as the U.S. deficit swells toward $1 trillion and beyond, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says the lack of attention won’t last. “This is an extremely imbalanced situation,” Greenspan, who led the Fed from 1987 to 2006, said in a phone interview. “Politically, budget deficits really don’t matter. What matters is the consequences.”

For Greenspan, the ultimate concern is inflation. The last time the nation had to plug a shortfall this large was in the wake of the recession that ended in 2009. Now the economy is in its 10th year of expansion, with the tightest job market since the 1960s. Read more from Liz Capo McCormick.

Nuclear Plant Sales: U.S. nuclear energy developers yesterday met with Trump and asked for help winning contracts to build power plants in the Middle East and elsewhere overseas. “There is competition around the globe, and we want to be part of it,” said Chris Crane, the CEO of Exelon, the largest U.S. operator of nuclear plants, following the meeting at the White House.

The push comes as developers seek U.S. government approval of next-generation advanced and small modular nuclear reactors — and the administration’s help in selling their products to the world. The International Atomic Energy Agency predicts that some 554 gigawatts of nuclear electric generating capacity will come online by 2030, a 42 percent increase over current levels Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Ari Natter and Jennifer Jacobs.

EU Blacklist: Saudi Arabia, Panama and the U.S. Virgin Islands were included on a blacklist adopted by European Union regulators amid efforts to stem the risks of money-laundering and terrorist financing in business deals or transactions. The European Commission today identified 23 countries as posing a higher risk for illicit financial flows, adding hurdles for banks in Europe in the future when dealing with clients from countries in these nations. Read more from Stephanie Bodoni.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

Coming up at BGOV


Getting ‘Smart’ About Government Cloud
February 28, 2019
Register Now