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WASHINGTON WATCH: December 13, 2022


THE LONG GAME: House acts on defense authorization, marriage equality

The House approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, setting policy for the Pentagon and a number of unrelated initiatives. The bill passed overwhelmingly, by a vote of 350-80. The bill authorizes $858 billion in Pentagon spending and includes a 4.6% pay increase for military personnel, support for Taiwan, NATO, and $800 million for Ukraine. In a victory for the GOP, the legislation includes a provision promoted by Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), rescinding the mandate requiring that members of the armed forces receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Excluded from the House bill was a deal on energy permitting reform pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), despite indications that the proposal would be included in the bill in exchange for Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act. The Senate is expected to act on the bill this week.

In what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called a “glorious triumph for love and freedom,” lawmakers approved the Respect for Marriage Act by a 258-169 vote. The bill enshrines into law protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. All House Democrats supported the bill, as did 39 Republicans. The Senate passed the bill by a 61-36 vote late last month, with a so-called “religious liberty” amendment that states that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.” It also clarifies that the federal government would not authorize polygamous marriages. The bill was championed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) among others. President Biden said that “Congress has restored a measure of security to millions of marriages and families.”

Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

President Biden hosts economic development dialogue with Puerto Rico

President Biden last week held the first Puerto Rican Economic Dialogue with officials of the Puerto Rican government to discuss how resources from the Federal and local governments are invested across the Island. During the meeting, officials announced several actions and partnerships they plan to implement during 2023, including: strengthening workforce development programs, investing in infrastructure and energy programs, diversifying the economy, and improving data collection and analysis. Additionally, the Puerto Rican government pledged to expand Americorps programs, connect NAP food assistance block grants to job opportunities, and expand access to the Child Tax Credit, among other things.

Puerto Rico water crisis continues

Since Hurricane Maria made landfall in 2017, Puerto Ricans have suffered from a drinking water crisis. Water pumps are powered by electricity, but, due to the instability in the Island’s energy sector, dozens of communities have struggled to secure reliable access to clean water. Since 2017, thousands have died from waterborne disease outbreaks and there are real concerns thousands more will die of preventable deaths. When Fiona knocked out power across the Island earlier this year, approximately three-fourths of the 917 pumping stations and 227 wells operated by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) stopped working, leaving thousands without water, some for weeks. Although FEMA offered funds to buy generators, Puerto Rican officials say the process for getting those dollars is inefficient. For example, PRASA submitted a $50 million request in 2020 to purchase generators through HUD but the Island’s Housing Department, which administers the federal funds, rejected it. PRASA officials said they later tried to purchase generators again through a newer HUD funding stream. That request to buy 589 generators remains in limbo because the program has not officially begun.

President Biden appoints Max Trujillo as Director of Rural Development in Puerto Rico

President Joe Biden appointed Boricua Maximiliano Trujillo as director of the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Rural Development in Puerto Rico. The USDA’s Puerto Rico office is part of an expansion by the administration to make federal funding more accessible. Trujillo is a former policy aide for Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez. Prior to that, he worked closely with former Governor Sila María Calderón and as Legislative Counsel for Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, where he advised on economic development.


View From The White House

  • The Biden administration awarded $36 billion to the Central States Pension Fund on Thursday, preventing cuts to the pensions of approximately 357,000 union workers and retirees.

  • The White House is seeking more than $3 billion to deal with the surge of migrants at the southern border, which is expected to increase when COVID restrictions end this month.

  • President Biden will host officials from more than a dozen African countries this week at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to be held in Washington.

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