Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Pelosi, Mnuchin Engage In Budget Talks

Washington, D.C.—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) laid out a potential schedule for voting on a budget agreement that would revive a stalled appropriations process for fiscal year 2020, avoid a government shutdown in the fall and protect agencies from dramatic spending cuts later in the year.

Resulting from talks with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the agreement also covers an increase in the debt limit.

“So, when we have an agreement, we’ll write it up, and we have to do all of that by Friday evening,” she told reporters.

That would allow for a vote on the House floor by Thursday, July 25, and a subsequent Senate vote.

Pelosi and Mnuchin have been speaking regularly about such a deal.

A few days before Pelosi’s press event, Mnuchin also shared his optimism about the outcome of the talks with reporters.

“I expect the debt ceiling to be raised on time,” he said, adding there is no “uncertainty” when it comes to putting the nation’s credit at risk because neither party wants that.

Mnuchin also expressed confidence when pressed on the possibility of a government shutdown on October 1.

“I don’t see a government shutdown looming,” he said.

With both the House and Senate scheduled to stick to the tradition of leaving Washington for most of August, the clock clearly was becoming more of a factor.

Defense Authorization

The House approved its version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act with language important to the maritime industry, but a number of provisions favored by Democrats resulted in a largely party-line vote and an unusual partisan battle with the Senate that passed its version with overwhelming bipartisan support.

On the 220–197 House vote, not one Republican voted for H.R. 2500 and eight Democrats broke with their leadership to oppose the bill, which already had drawn a veto threat from the Trump administration.

Issues expected to be taken up during what could be a contentious conference on the two versions range from a topline authorized figure for fiscal year 2020 to requiring congressional authority to use military force.

Maritime provisions in the House version include an amendment by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) to ensure those leaving the military can credit sea service toward earning a Merchant Mariner Credential needed to sail U.S.-flagged vessels.

“Merchant mariners provide a vital service to our nation’s economy and national security,” Garamendi said.

“This amendment will help increase the number of eligible merchant mariners and provide service members and veterans with a strong career path to pursue after their military service.”

Language on that issue also was included in the Senate’s version as part of the Maritime Administration Authorization and Enhancement Act by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Other provisions singled out by Wicker include a 10-year reauthorization of the Maritime Security Program critical to national defense sealift operations, authorization of increased funding for the Small Shipyard Grant Program, and grants for port and intermodal infrastructure projects under the Port Operations, Research and Technology (PORT) Act.

In contrast to the House vote, the Senate approved its version by a vote of 86 to 8.

Lawmakers from both parties lamented the loss of the bipartisan support historically generated by the annual defense bills.

WOTUS Repeal

The Trump administration’s years-long effort to repeal the controversial Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule of 2015 marked another milestone when two key agencies transmitted to the Office of Management and Budget the first of a two-step process.

“The agencies (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army) are committed to moving as expeditiously as possible to provide regulatory certainty to states, tribes, the regulated community and the public,” an EPA spokesperson said, referencing “a confusing patchwork” of regulations left in the wake of multiple court actions on the WOTUS rule.

Top Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee lashed out at the development.

“It is absolutely outrageous that the Trump administration is pushing ahead with a gift to special interests by pursuing the largest-ever rollback of clean water standards despite what it will mean for tens of millions of regular Americans,” stated Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House panel, and Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

“In the not so distant past, American rivers were so polluted they caught fire and couldn’t sustain marine life. Thanks to decades of hard work and collaboration at the local, state and federal levels, our rivers, lakes and streams are healthier than they’ve been in generations.”

They warned that progress would be put at risk under the administration’s proposed WOTUS rule that would eliminate bedrock Clean Water Act protections.

China Trade Talks

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said trade talks continue to be held with China, explaining those negotiations include not only himself but Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and their Chinese counterparts.

“And to the extent we make significant progress, I think there’s a good chance we’ll go there a bit later,” he said.

In separate remarks at a Cabinet meeting, President Trump again blamed China for breaking the deal it had agreed to several months ago with the U.S.

He suggested that he remained open to levying more tariffs if the trade talks fail.

Inspection Update

The Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance updated work instruction CVC-WI-013(3), “Towing Vessel COI Inspections under TSMS Option.”

Updates include adding annual and renewal Certificate of Inspection guidance for Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option vessels inspected under 46 CFR Subchapter M, according to a posting on a Coast Guard blog.

For additional information, contact the Office of Domestic Commercial Vessel Compliance at CG-CVC-1@uscg.mil.

Corps Monetary Penalties

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is issuing its final rule to adjust civil monetary penalties with an initial “catch-up” adjustment followed by annual adjustments for inflation.

Unless adverse comment is received by August 1 to prompt the Corps to publish a timely withdrawal, the rule takes effect September 3.

For additional information, contact Dr. Forrest Vanderbilt at 703-428-6288.