What to Know in Washington: Stopgap Spending Bill Set for Vote

Congressional Democrats and Republicans reached a deal yesterday on a stopgap spending bill to avert a U.S. government shutdown on Oct. 1, even as the threat of a closure later in the year continues to build.

The short-term measure would keep the government open through Nov. 21 while lawmakers work out details for $1.3 trillion in spending for the 2020 fiscal year under a budget deal reached in July by Congress and President Donald Trump.

The temporary agreement was sealed when Democrats — under pressure from rural members — agreed to fund the administration’s emergency trade aid to farmers to offset retaliation by China and other countries against Trump’s tariff policies. The farm aid would continue through Nov. 21 while the administration would be required to provide data on which farmers have been harmed by trade retaliation.

The spending bill also would temporarily extend the National Flood Insurance Program, the Export-Import Bank and a number of health programs. The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Democratic and Republican aides said the plan was a bipartisan deal. The House plans to vote today, and the Senate next week.

The government still faces the possibility of a shutdown after Nov. 21 as lawmakers battle over Trump’s drive to fund a wall on the border with Mexico. The Senate is deadlocked over the issue, which led to a 35-day partial shutdown at the beginning of this year. Read more from Erik Wasson.

What’s in the Bill: The bill would extend funding for federal agencies through Nov. 21. Funding would generally be at levels provided under fiscal 2019 appropriations laws, with some activities receiving additional amounts for the start of fiscal 2020.

The measure doesn’t include language the White House requested in its anomalies list to allow the Homeland Security Department to use money provided for border barriers in the Rio Grande Valley, which it said is already fully funded, for border construction in other areas. The measure also wouldn’t cancel a rescission scheduled to cut more than $7 billion from federally funded highway projects.

Sarah Babbage, Naoreen Chowdhury, Michael Smallberg and Adam M. Taylor break down the full bill in this BGOV Bill Summary.

The U.S. Capitol building.
Happening on the Hill

Pelosi Pushes Quick Timeline for Drug Bill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders in the House are stepping up their efforts to empower the government to negotiate prices of certain medicines, with the goal of passing legislation before the end of the year. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health panel will hold a hearing Sept. 25, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the subcommittee, said. Two other House committees, Ways and Means and Education and Labor, will also hold hearings on the proposal this fall with an eye on passage before the end of the year. Pelosi and Democrats will hold a press conference on their drug pricing proposals this morning. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Zuckerberg Visits Washington Amid Scrutiny: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is visiting Washington as the company confronts growing scrutiny over privacy and marketplace practices. Zuckerberg will meet with lawmakers and “talk about future internet regulation,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. Zuckerberg is scheduled to meet with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), according to a person familiar with the plans. Cantwell is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee that regulates several tech issues and is weighing privacy legislation. Read more from Naomi Nix and Rebecca Kern.

Whistleblower Briefing: U.S. intelligence officials have agreed to meet with the House Intelligence Committee, apparently ending a standoff over a still-mysterious whistleblower’s report. The agreement was announced on Wednesday evening, hours before the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed sources, that the complaint involved communications between Trump and a foreign leader. The intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, will appear at a closed briefing this morning to discuss “the handling of the whistleblower complaint,” the committee said in a statement. Read more from Billy House.

Reboot of Congress’s Tech Squad Proposed: The effort to revive the long-dormant Office of Technology Assessment picked up momentum today as lawmakers unveiled a plan to boost Congress’s arsenal for maneuvering complex technology issues. A bipartisan, bicameral bill from Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) would restart the office of technology experts, which has been defunct for more than 20 years, renaming it the Congressional Office of Technology and making other changes. Read more from Rebecca Kern.

USMCA Should Hinge on Paris Climate Deal, Democrats Say: More than 100 House Democrats told Trump that a new NAFTA deal should include “binding climate standards” and be paired with a decision for the U.S. to remain part of the global Paris Climate Agreement. The letter to Trump was organized by Rep. Katie Hill (Calif.) and signed by fellow Democrats including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Elijah Cummings (Md.), Erik Wasson and Kim Chipman report.

Centrists Call for Bipartisan Climate Approach: A coalition of centrist House Democrats are seeking bipartisanship in the climate debate, as Republicans question whether the majority’s proposals will achieve reasonable results and left-leaning groups criticize the approach as weak. The New Democrat Coalition unveiled a statement of principles yesterday along with a list of 12 bills—seven of them bipartisan—they believe will offer concrete solutions to climate change. The policy recommendations set a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, a target that is in line with House Democratic leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Tiffany Stecker has more.

Farmers Group Backs Green New Deal: A coalition of farmers and ranchers is asking lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, but it’s unclear if the aims of the group extend to farmers nationwide. The group, which says it represents 10,000 of the millions of farmers and ranchers nationwide, held a joint press conference with lawmakers and climate activists at the Capitol yesterday. The coalition argues both farmers and citizens would benefit if Congress adopted aspects of “regenerative agriculture,” which avoids pesticides and fertilizers in favor of tilling less and grazing animals on multiple fields as a way to replenish soil naturally with manure. Read more from Adam Allington.

Pelosi Plans Fix to Female Circumcision Law: House Democrats plan to revise a 1996 law outlawing female genital mutilation to fix a constitutional defect a federal judge found when dismissing the first federal criminal prosecution brought under the statute. “The House Democratic Majority intends to advance legislation to prohibit FGM,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said in an email that used a common abbreviation for female genital mutilation. Read more from James Rowley.

Foreign Affairs

Trump-Rouhani Summit Hopes Wither: Trump wanted to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani badly enough to break with his national security adviser, entertain a French initiative that would undercut U.S. oil sanctions on Tehran and defy the wishes of a stalwart ally, Israel. But in the span of ten days that saw John Bolton’s ouster and a brazen drone and cruise missile assault on key Saudi oil facilities, talk of a historic meeting between the two presidents during the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week has withe red. Read more from David Wainer.

U.S. Says Saudis Must Forgo Enrichment: Saudi Arabia will be required to forgo enriching or reprocessing spent uranium if it wants to secure a nuclear-technology-sharing deal with the U.S. that addresses bi-partisan non-proliferation concerns about the proposal. The U.S. has been in negotiations with the Saudis for an agreement that could benefit Westinghouse Electric and other American companies that want to construct or sell nuclear reactor technology to the kingdom. But that prospect has been met with increasing alarm by Congress and others concerned that the Saudis could enrich nuclear fuel into weapons-grade material. Those concerns were heightened after the Trump administration said it might not insist on the so-called “Gold Standard” barring such activities. Read more from Ari Natter.

Rushed Afghan Deal Could Aid Terror Groups: A rushed peace deal in Afghanistan could leave millions of unemployed men at risk of being recruited by terrorist groups and criminal gangs, according to a Pentagon watchdog who’s been tracking the war 18 years after the U.S. invaded to oust the Taliban. Any effort to reach a peace deal between the government in Kabul and the Taliban must include a plan to reintegrate fighters into civilian life after decades of war, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said in a report published late yesterday. Read more from Glen Carey.

Security Adviser Seen as Arbiter, Not Ideologue: Trump’s selection of top hostage-affairs official Robert O’Brien as his new national security adviser sends a clear signal the president is seeking to turn the page from the confrontation and controversy that defined John Bolton’s tenure in the job. Bolton regularly picked ideological fights with cabinet secretaries and the president over the approach to hotspots such as Afghanistan and Iraq. O’Brien, meanwhile, is a former corporate litigator and lawyer with the military’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps who is seen as an ally of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. People who know both men say O’Brien will help mediate disputes, not create them. Read more from Nick Wadhams, Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink.

Trump Looking at Guantanamo Options: Trump said he was unhappy with the cost of operating the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and that he was exploring options on what to do about it. “It costs a fortune to operate it and I think it’s crazy,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One last night. The president declined to say whether he was considering closing down the prison, which opened shortly after the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

Politics & Influence

Win or Lose, Trump Will Still Have Grip on Republican Party: Whether or not Trump wins re-election, his hold on the Republican Party will endure for years to come, supporters and opponents within the GOP agree. Trump has led grassroots opinion on several hot-button issues, turned even elected officials who recoiled from him in 2016 into faithful supporters in 2019 and sidelined influential conservative critics.

He owes part of his success to his ingrained popularity among Republican voters, whose fervent loyalty hasn’t flagged, even as his actions and behavior shock the Washington establishment. A mid-August poll from Gallup put his approval among Republican voters at 88%, essentially unchanged since Inauguration Day. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

Kennedy to Challenge Markey: Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) plans to announce that he will challenge Sen. Edward Markey in the 2020 Massachusetts Democratic primary, according to a person familiar with his plans. The decision sets up a clash between the scion of one of the most storied political families in American history and an incumbent who has spent more than 40 years in Congress. It would pit two of the party’s leading liberal voices in a stark generational fight; Kennedy, 38, was born nearly four years after Markey, 73, was first elected to Congress. Read more from Steven T. Dennis and Erik Wasson.

Wealth Tax Could be Pain to Implement: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) campaign promise to fund social programs by making America’s wealthiest pay a small percentage of their fortune every year could create a costly and difficult compliance system for both the taxpayers and the IRS. A wealth tax affecting the country’s 75,000 richest households could raise $2.75 trillion over the next decade, according to Warren’s plan. This proposal is her answer when asked how she plans to play for expanded child care and debt-free college — assuming it could actually be implemented. Read more from Laura Davison.

Crowell Hires Ex-DOJ Litigator: Crowell & Moring hired S. Starling Marshall, a former Covington & Burling and Justice Department litigator, as a partner in its tax and litigation groups in New York. Marshall is the firm’s first tax partner to be based outside of Washington, where the firm is headquartered. In her new role, she will help expand the firm’s tax and litigation practices in the Big Apple, as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where many of her clients are based. Her hire marks the continued expansion of Crowell ’s New York footprint. Read more from Stephanie Russell-Kraft.

Around the Administration

Trump Revs Up Battle With California: Trump brought his fight with California to a boil during a two-day visit, casting the state as a cautionary tale for Democratic rule ahead of the 2020 election. In less than 48 hours, he singled out California over its burgeoning homeless problems, moved to eviscerate its authority to regulate auto emissions, and stopped at the border wall, highlighting his disdain of its policy of offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. It is unusual for a president to wage a pitched battled with a single American state. But California’s liberal leaders have emerged as a favorite foil for the president, and he has sought to exploit the state’s struggles with homelessness and housing for his own political benefit. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Ryan Beene.

For example, Trump said last night the Environmental Protection Agency would issue a notice of violation within a week to San Francisco, alleging that the city’s homeless population had increased ocean pollution, including needles washed out to sea from sewers, Alex Wayne reports.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

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

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