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WASHINGTON WATCH: September 19, 2023


THE LONG GAME: Zelensky to visit Capitol Hill; House GOP prepares 10-year budget

While Congress continues to debate President Biden’s request for an additional $24 billion in military and humanitarian for Ukraine, lawmakers are expected to receive a visit from the nation’s president. Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, confirmed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would visit the White House and meet with key members of Congress this week. Unlike his previous visit to the Capitol, Zelensky is not expected to address a joint session, however. The trip comes at a perilous moment. While there is some support among GOP Senators for the administration’s request, it is encountering stiff opposition from conservative lawmakers in the House who are pushing for broad spending cuts ahead of the looming September 30 appropriations deadline and see funding for Ukraine as a ripe target.  According to the New York Times, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has sent signals that he will consider a supplemental spending bill that would focus exclusively on domestic matters, such as disaster relief and border security.

The House Budget Committee will mark up a Republican-authored 10-year budget plan this week.  The Hill reports that budget leaders say the resolution—which has no chance of becoming law—will address “mandatory spending” as well as “the need” for reforms to entitlement programs, which are not subject to the annual appropriations process. However, the plan will not call for changes to Social Security or Medicare. Those two programs are “very politically sensitive” said committee chairman Jodey Arrington (R-TX), according to Politico. “Medicare benefits and Social Security — we don't address that in our long-term budget resolution,” he said. Instead, Republicans plan to call for the establishment of a bipartisan commission to shore up the two programs. Overall, the plan reportedly would reduce spending by an estimated $16 trillion over a decade.

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


Spotlight on Puerto Rico

FEMA awards $646 million in Hurricane Fiona relief 

FEMA announced last week that it has awarded over $646 million in Individual Assistance (IA) grants to people impacted by Hurricane Fiona since it made landfall in Puerto Rico nearly a year ago. More than 740,000 households have received this funding to repair and rebuild their homes. Included in this funding was an outreach program called “Enhanced Applicant Services” to assist people who otherwise may have been found ineligible because they lacked necessary documentation, such as ownership documents or income information. 

Puerto Rico economy expected to grow 1.8% over next decade 

The Puerto Rican economy is expected to grow by 1.8% over the next ten years according to 2023-2033 projections released by the Puerto Rico Planning Board. The projections use information from Puerto Rico’s revised fiscal plan released this past April and considers federal funds like FEMA grants, Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), work credits, and revenue collections by the Treasury Department. The projection anticipates shrinking inflation and unemployment rates.

LUMA announces vegetation clearing program

LUMA, Puerto Rico’s power company, announced a vegetation clearing initiative last week that leverages federal funding to address overgrowth over 16,000 miles of transmission and distribution power lines and critical substations and telecom sites. The initiative will begin in Q4 2023 and is expected to last three years. The program is expected to improve power system reliability and resiliency, while making it easier to rebuild the grid in the future. It is estimated that vegetation is the leading cause of power outages on the Island, responsible for over half of all incidents. 

Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico announces new lab in Central Florida 

An Orlando satellite campus of the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico has broken ground on a new aerospace lab for engineering students. The lab will provide specialized tracks for advanced technology, including unmanned aerial systems design and propulsion system design. Central Florida is home to a competitive and growing aerospace industry, which includes NASA, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, among other major organizations. The lab is expected to open for students in the Fall of 2024. 


View From The White House

  • President Biden announced Monday that five Americans held by Iran would be freed in exchange for the U.S. dismissing federal charges against five Iranians and unfreezing $6 billion in oil revenue.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily paused a lower court order that would have blocked administration officials from contacting social media sites to urge them to remove false and dangerous information.  

  • The Office of Personnel Management proposed a new rule Friday bolstering protections for federal workers, including the right to due process and the ability to appeal a firing or demotion.



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