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WASHINGTON WATCH: March 21, 2023



 

THE LONG GAME: Banking fixes floated; Repeal of AUMF moves forward

The recent collapses of two U.S. banks have predictably led to a good deal of finger-pointing on Capitol Hill, but not much agreement on which steps to take next. Several Republicans have blamed everything from higher inflation under President Biden (claiming that spikes in interest rates reduced the value of banks’ assets) to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) standards. Democrats have targeted steps taken during the Trump administration to ease regulations on banks. In response, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) are promoting a bill, the Secure Viable Banking (or SVB) Act, that would repeal steps that Republicans took in 2018 to roll back elements of the Dodd-Frank Act that required all banks with assets of $50 billion or more to undergo so-called stress tests. A second bill, the Deliver Executive Profits on Seized Institutions to Taxpayers (or “DEPOSIT”) Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Reps. Adam Schiff and Mike Levin (both D-CA), takes aim at bank executives’ compensation; it would recoup any bonuses and profits that these individuals receive from stock sales made within 60 days prior to a bank’s failure. Likewise, President Biden called on Congress Friday to pass legislation to impose fines on certain executives of failed banks, claw back their gains, and prohibit them from working elsewhere in the financial sector. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, was not optimistic about passing major reforms. “I cannot imagine that, with the hold banks have on Republican members of Congress, that we can pass anything significant,” he said. The House Financial Services Committee will hold its first hearing on the issue on March 29.

In a rare act of bipartisanship, the Senate advanced a bill by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) to repeal two congressional resolutions-- one from 1991 and another from 2002-- that authorized the use of military force (AUMF) in Iraq. The bill passed a legislative hurdle in the Senate by a 68-27 vote; a final vote is expected this week. The bill to end the AUMF comes on the 20th anniversary of the war launched by then-President George W. Bush. Supporters said it was necessary for Congress to reassert its authority regarding matters of war and peace; the AUMF gave presidents open-ended justification to use military action in Iraq. The House passed similar legislation in 2021. At the time, 49 House Republicans supported it. However, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has opposed the bill in the past, leaving its prospects uncertain.


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


 



Spotlight on Puerto Rico




Marisol Malaret,73, Puerto Rico’s first Miss Universe, dies

An inspirational figure to Puerto Ricans for more than 50 years, Marisol Malaret passed away Sunday at the age of 73. She captured the affection of people across the Island when she was named Miss Universe in 1970, becoming the first Caribbean woman to win the pageant. Upon her return to Puerto Rico after the contest, an estimated 50,000 people turned out at San Juan’s airport to greet her. Malaret went on to have a stellar career as a model, television personality and business woman. Another Puerto Rican woman who became a Miss Universe, Dayanara Torres, paid tribute to Malaret saying: "Puerto Rico today loses one of its great treasures, but its legacy and the glory it gave us will last forever."

On a personal note: "I had the honor of working with her in the late ‘90s when I was able to fully appreciate her spot-on business instincts. As we stayed in touch over the years, what stood out most of all was her compassion, empathy, and authenticity, which seem so lacking in the world today. Marisol, te voy a extranar..." -- Jennice


Department of Energy to hold webinar on Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund

On March 23, the Grid Deployment Office of the US Department of Energy will hold an overview of the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund (PR-ERF) Request for Information (RFI). This follows the February 21, 2023 launch of the PR-ERF to support programs that ensure vulnerable communities and households on the Island have access to energy resilient solutions like solar and battery power. This RFI will give stakeholders the opportunity to inform the implementation strategy of the PR-ERF. The webinar will be conducted in both English and Spanish. The English-language webinar will be available on the 23rd from 1-2 PM ET/AT; the registration link is here. The Spanish-language webinar will be available on the 23rd from 2:30-3:30 and registration can be found here.


Puerto Rico receives new generators for electrical stability during upcoming hurricane season

On March 17, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Nancy Casper and representatives from the government of Puerto Rico announced the arrival of the first generators that will provide approximately 150 megawatts of additional power to support the grid during hurricane season. The generators will be installed at the Palo Seco Thermal Power Plant. The arrival of these generators is made available through FEMA’s Working Group for the Stabilization of the Puerto Rico Electrical, created after Hurricane Fiona and made up of FEMA, the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the EPA. The generators will ultimately provide an additional 350 megawatts of energy for the Island, reducing the number of blackouts and ensuring that electricity remains reliable after a storm. They are also integral to Puerto Rico’s continuing plan to repair the grid while the Island transitions to 100% renewable energy in the coming decades.


San Juan Mayor announces new equipment, salary increases for emergency management

San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero announced on Sunday that the Municipal Office of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration will be investing $4.3 million in new equipment, including the purchase of ten new ambulances, as part of the recently passed Municipal Ordinance 38 (2022-2023). Additionally, the 105 department employees will receive raises beginning in April. In addition to the ambulances, the city will be establishing the Island’s first telemedicine system and a sea rescue system called “Dolphin One” that will allow rescuers to better handle emergencies and rescues on the coasts.




 

View From The White House


  • President Biden will visit Ottawa on March 23 and 24, a trip that will include an address to the Canadian parliament and meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau focusing on the war in Ukraine, supply chain issues and climate change.

  • During a visit to Monterey Park, California, where a mass shooting in January claimed the lives of eleven people, Biden signed a new executive order strengthening background checks prior to gun sales.

  • The Department of Homeland Security announced that approximately 20,000 Ukrainians who fled their country will be allowed to extend their original one-year authorization to remain in the U.S.


 


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