WASHINGTON WATCH: December 6, 2022
THE LONG GAME: Spending bill showdown; Congress averts rail strike
With less than two weeks to go before the December 16 deadline, lawmakers are under increasing pressure to resolve differences and pass a spending bill for FY23. It is possible that negotiators will seek more time to iron out details and will pass a short-term concurrent resolution funding the government until December 23. However, a debate has now erupted within GOP ranks on how long a spending bill should last. Some Republicans are pushing to extend the deadline into the new year, so that a GOP-led House will have sway over the legislation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is among those calling for a CR to extend into “until early next year, so the newly elected Congress can enact the priorities that the voters elected them to enact.” Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin weighed in, warning about the risks of inaction. Austin wrote to Democratic leaders—Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and top appropriators Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)—claiming that failure to fund the government will “result in significant harm to our people and our programs and would cause harm to our national security and our competitiveness.”
Congress intervened in a potential rail strike that threatened to wreak havoc on the nation’s economy and add to inflation. The Senate voted 80-15 on a House-passed bill that forces the rail unions to accept a deal that was negotiated earlier this fall. The deal calls for rail workers to receive 24 percent raises over five years and makes it easier for them to miss time for medial appointments. Some lawmakers opposed the bill because it did not include more paid sick leave, which the four major rail unions demanded. President Biden, who signed the bill, said that he was reluctant to override the union ratification process, but that the risks to the economy were too great. The president said that he supports additional paid leave for rail workers, but that the issue should be addressed separately from the legislation.
Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.
Spotlight on Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s contract with LUMA gets last-minute extension
Luma Energy, the company that operates the transmission and distribution of electricity and power in Puerto Rico, has secured a last-minute extension on its contract following a 4-1 vote by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) board. The company will be paid $122 million next year, up from the $115 million Luma has received so far. Luma was initially awarded the contract in June 2021 and took over the Island’s crumbling power distribution infrastructure after decades of mismanagement under PREPA.
The approval of the temporary contract is controversial amid ongoing power outages requiring U.S. government intervention. Though Puerto Rico has been dealing with power interruptions for years, the duration of recent outages has worsened under Luma, which has been criticized for hitting customers with several rate increases despite these blackouts. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi criticized Luma in August, saying he was not satisfied with its performance, but he has also conceded that since Luma has already started rebuilding the grid, finding a different company to take over now would only make matters worse. Government officials said that canceling Luma's contract would cost as much as $600 million.
Puerto Rican towns sue major oil companies, alleging suppression of climate science
Sixteen Puerto Rican municipalities have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against many of the world’s major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Arch Coal. The lawsuit alleges that the companies coordinated a fraudulent marketing scheme to convince people around the world and policymakers that fossil fuels did not alter the climate, even though they knew that was a lie. The lawsuit alleges this conspiracy has had severe consequences for Puerto Rico as storms have worsened through the years. The defendants have been accused of knowing that their emissions would lead to stronger storms since at least 2017, though the complaint also includes an internal memo from Shell from 1998 predicting “violent” Atlantic storms hitting the east coast of the U.S. The major fossil fuel companies have denied having advance knowledge of the effects of climate change.
Governor of Puerto Rico requests Supreme Court review PROMESA budgetary power
Governor Pierluisi filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court requesting that the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (FOMB) establish rules to determine when Puerto Rico legislation is inconsistent with the fiscal plan. The governor also requests that the high court define what the standards should be for the court to review the Board’s decisions. The governor wants answers as to why and how the Board was able to invalidate four 2019 and 2020 laws without demonstrating how these laws were inconsistent with the fiscal plan. These laws were Act 82, creating an “Office of the Regulatory Commissioner of the Administrators of Pharmacy Services and Benefits Managers”; Act 138 to amend Puerto Rico’s Insurance Code, and Act 176 to amend the Puerto Rico Government Human Resources Administration and Transformation Act; and Act 27-2020 to amend Puerto Rico’s Incentives Code.
View From The White House
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CNN that the administration supports people in China protesting the country’s zero-COVID policies, and plans to raise the topic when he meets with his Chinese counterparts next year.
The White House confirmed that it is considering a proposal from Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to repeal the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for members of the U.S. military.
The Office of Personnel Management issued a rule on Thursday that would allow federal agencies to hire certain employees in STEM fields on a temporary basis for up to ten years.
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