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WASHINGTON WATCH: July 18, 2023



 

THE LONG GAME: Social issues dominate NDAA debate; Biden issues new student loan plan

Although the Pentagon authorization bill is designed to help protect our nation and secure peace, several House lawmakers preferred to use the bill to fight the nation’s culture wars instead. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which in most years is approved with bipartisan support, passed the House by a 219-210 vote. Four members of each party crossed over. The legislation authorizes approximately $886 billion in Pentagon spending, including a 5.2% pay increase for members of the military and some federal workers. But, the floor debate was dominated by several politically-charged amendments proposed by conservative members. Among them was a proposal, which passed by a vote of 221-213, that would undo the DoD’s policy of reimbursing service members who must travel out-of-state to receive abortions. The House also narrowly approved an amendment that would limit gender-affirming care for service members. House Republicans also lead the charge for the elimination of Pentagon Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) within the Pentagon; it, too, passed. Debate in the Senate is expected to begin this week. The upcoming House-Senate conference committee will be especially contentious. Speaker


Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has already committed to appoint Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a leading opponent of funding for Ukraine, to the panel.

The administration followed through on President Biden’s pledge to provide student debt relief, despite a recent Supreme Court decision that struck down his plan to provide $10,000 of relief to low- and middle-income borrowers. Under a new proposal announced Friday, the administration would offer $39 billion in relief to eligible borrowers. Approximately 800,000 people would benefit, the White House estimated. The relief would apply to income-driven repayment plans, where the federal government cancels remaining balances after a borrower has made payments for about 20 to 25 years. Not all were rejoicing. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said that Biden “is dead set on ruining our postsecondary education financing system for a few votes next November, taxpayers and the rule of law be damned.” The proposal will undergo a public comment period before it is implemented.


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


 



Spotlight on Puerto Rico



Defense bill includes amendments to help Puerto Rico 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the House last week includes numerous provisions impacting Puerto Rico, starting with $144 million for military construction: $61 million for a new school at Old Remy Base, $56 million for Fort Buchanan, and $37 million for Fort Allen. An amendment by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), seeking a report on the state of the decontamination and cleanup process of former military land, was approved. On top of this, several members brought amendments before the House Rules Committee for floor consideration, all of which were denied. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) proposed compensating Vieques residents for military maneuvers conducted years ago. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) offered language aimed at the rebuilding of the electric grid, while Rep. Velazquez sought a study on ways to strengthen the federal grants Puerto Rico receives.        

IRS seeks tax cheats in Puerto Rico 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Justice have begun working together to prepare criminal and civil cases against U.S. citizens who may be illegally exploiting Puerto Rico’s tax advantages. The investigations are focused on hedge fund managers and cryptocurrency traders who allegedly lied about how much time they have spent on the Island. At least 5,000 individuals have taken advantage of Puerto Rican incentives, but the law requires people filing for these incentives to spend at least 183 days on the Island and establish it as their “tax home” and primary residence. Since 2021, IRS officials have been investigating forms filed by Puerto Rico taxpayers to establish residence in the territory and have sought additional information, such as vehicle location, voter registration, and income sources. 

Puerto Rico legislature passes increased budget

The Puerto Rican legislature recently passed the 2023 fiscal year budget, with a 12% increase relative to last year. The budget includes a $100 million increase in funding for the University of Puerto Rico and more than $90 million for direct funding to municipalities. There is significant funding intended to address the power grid and reduce outages, plus $650 million to the Island’s emergency funds and additional Medicaid dollars. Proponents argued that the budget sets the Island on the course of long-term fiscal and financial security. The budget passed the House by a vote of 44-3 and 19-7 in the Senate. 

Major upgrades coming to Puerto Rico’s sanitation system 

Following a settlement modification with the EPA and the Department of Justice, Puerto Rico’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) will make improvements and upgrades to the Island’s sanitary collection system and wastewater treatment plants. These upgrades will fund 17 new wastewater projects estimated at $534 million, and meet new schedules for wastewater infrastructure projects. There will also be increased transparency regarding the occurrence of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). Overall, the total cost is $1.2 billion.




 

View From The White House



  • About 80,000 families would benefit from new Biden administration proposals to control costs for childcare for working families, including a cap on child care co-pays at 7% of a family’s income.

  • The White House announced $20 billion in funding for communities that have faced historic underinvestment to install electric vehicle charging stations, retrofit homes to make them more energy efficient, and provide areas with battery backup power.

  • John Kerry, the president’s envoy for climate change, began three days of talks on Monday with China’s top environmental officials in Beijing. 


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