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WASHINGTON WATCH: November 29, 2022


THE LONG GAME: McCarthy faces opposition from the right; Biden calls for gun control measures

Kevin McCarthy’s path to the Speaker’s chair might not be as smooth as he had hoped. Although McCarthy won the GOP conference’s nomination for the top job, several conservative Republicans have refused to back his bid. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), a leader of the Freedom Caucus, says McCarthy “doesn’t have the votes” to secure the gavel. This could lead to multiple ballots on the House floor—something that has not occurred in a Speaker’s election since 1923. Meanwhile, Democrats appear united behind their next leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). He formally threw his hat into the ring after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that she would step aside as leader of the House Democrats; Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) joined her in saying that he, too, would make way for members of a younger generation. Expected to join Jeffries in the party’s top leadership spots are Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA).

President Biden said on Thanksgiving morning that he would push for additional gun control measures, including a ban on assault weapons, in the weeks before the House flips to GOP control. “The idea (that) we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. It’s just sick. It has no, no social redeeming value. Zero. None,” Biden said. Biden said he was “going to try to get rid of assault weapons” during the lame duck session. Such a ban was approved by the House in July, but stood little chance of advancing in the Senate where ten Republicans would need to join all Democrats to break an expected GOP filibuster. Biden’s comments come during a week that saw three mass shootings across the country, including a shooting at an LGBT dance club in Colorado Springs; at a Walmart in Chesapeake, VA; and at the University of Virginia.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

President Biden requests $3 billion for residential solar, battery systems in Puerto Rico

President Biden has asked Congress to authorize $3 billion for energy and battery storage systems for low-income households in Puerto Rico as part of the omnibus spending package that must be passed to fund the federal government after Dec. 16. These funds would allow people on the Island to purchase energy and battery storage systems to protect themselves from blackouts and outages during natural disasters. The Puerto Rican power system has been devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes for years. The $3 billion would come from the Department of Energy and includes $35 million for technical assistance to other federal agencies, local organizations and communities to assist in grid modernization and energy recovery.

Supreme Court rejects teachers’ appeal of Puerto Rican Plan of Adjustment

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request by the teachers union of Puerto Rico which had challenged the Island's debt and pension restructuring plan. As a result of the justices' decision, the restructuring plan's provisions that change local labor law and change teacher benefits remain in place. The plan, approved by a federal judge earlier in 2022, is now free of any legal challenges from teachers fighting their cuts to pension benefits.

The plan, which became effective in March, froze future accruals under the defined benefits retirement plan held by those who signed up for the plan prior to August 2014. It also eliminated certain cost-of-living adjustments. The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico has stated the plan will save the Island at least $1 billion as the Island balances its budget and restores its finances.

Census Bureau shows 9% increase in Puerto Rico exports this year

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that total exports from Puerto Rico increased in 2021, rising from $16.6 billion in 2020 to $18.2 billion in 2021, an increase of over 9%. Most of this growth was driven by exports of pharmaceutical components. The Puerto Rico District Export Council (PR-DEC), an organization of business leaders working to educate and mentor entrepreneurs and train them on export matters, believes that this increase in outbound activity will continue as the global economy returns to normal following the initial economic shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over $1 Billion allocated for disaster mitigation in Puerto Rico

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced an allocation of over $1 billion to reduce the impact that natural disasters may have on the Island. These funds will include measures such as construction requiring the use of wind-resistant components, changes from low-water-crossings to bridges, storm runoff management on all roads, the elevation of structures in flood-prone areas, and other techniques. To date, more than 6,300 projects have benefited from mitigation funds. Approximately 87% of projects following Hurricanes Irma and María went toward mitigation. Overall, FEMA has committed nearly $28.6 billion for more than 10,200 projects that support Puerto Rico’s post-disaster recovery.


View From The White House

  • In a year-end effort to promote updated Covid-19 booster shots, the White House announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will extend some $350 million to community health centers and another $125 million to organizations that serve disabled and older adults.

  • The Department of Labor issued a rule on Tuesday that makes it easier for employers to consider environment, social and governance factors when picking investment funds for their 401(k) plans, undoing regulations put in place during the Trump administration that had been designed to stifle such “ESG” plans.

  • The Department of Energy announced that it will allocate $550 million in grants to support community-based clean energy initiatives to help state, local and tribal governments reduce fossil fuel emissions.

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