Tai calls for “holistic” approach to trade, legislators urge renewal of TPA, GSP
US Trade Representative Katherine C. Tai spent about eight hours before the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways & Means Committee last week, answering questions about the Biden administration’s “worker-centric” trade policy, the status of 301 tariff exemptions (under review), the need to reauthorize the Trade Promotion Authority and the Generalized System of Preferences, and how the administration plans to respond to Chinese forced labor practices and trade abuses. Tai said that her office is conducting a “top to bottom” review of the China-US relationship, separate from but in communication with a similar review happening at the Department of Defense. She emphasized the need to use tariffs not as punishment but as encouragement to bring trade partners to the negotiating table, and said she was working hard to reestablish trade relationships with longstanding partners such as the UK and the European Union. She will meet this week with her Canadian and Mexican counterparts to review the implementation of the USMCA, which House Ways and Means members said should be a model for future trade agreements.
Senate HELP Committee explores options for increased participation in defined contribution plans
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held its first hearing on retirement issues since 2013, inviting witnesses to testify on how Congress can encourage Americans to save for retirement and for emergency expenses, and incentivize employers to provide access to savings plans. The 2019 SECURE Act created pooled employer plans (PEPs) that allow firms to join a plan run by a single administrator who also serves as the plan’s fiduciary. Participation in PEPs has been encouraging, but not as strong as hoped; witnesses said that streamlining legal and compliance obligations, including non-essential reporting and auditing, could boost participation. Witnesses also suggested that Congress could create emergency savings plans similar to employer-sponsored 401(k)s, and make those available to small businesses in pooled plans as well.
Treasury launches state and local recovery funds, distributes housing assistance
The US Treasury released details last Monday about how it will distribute $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments, as directed by the American Rescue Plan. The recovery funds are available for a wide range of pandemic-related needs, including public health expenditures, community assistance, premium pay for essential worker, and investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. Eligible governments may request funds through a portal on Treasury’s website. Separately, Treasury announced that it had distributed $742 million to 42 states and three territories through the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF). Last week Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it had allocated $21.6 billion for Emergency Rental Assistance.
Acting Comptroller announces review of regulatory standards
In a letter to OCC staff last week, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu said that the country’s 1,200 national banks and federal savings associations were “facing more change now than at any point in recent memory,” and that they would need to “adapt to today’s challenges and a rapidly changing environment.” He said he would be undertaking “a review of key regulatory standards,” as well as matters currently pending, in light of how the pandemic has changed circumstances.
Senate votes to overturn OCC “true lender” rule
The Senate voted 52-47 last Wednesday to overturn the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s October 2020 rule that designates banks that fund loans made by third parties as the “true lender” for purposes of state law. S.J.Res.15, introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), would void 85 Fed. Reg. 68742, which seeks to resolve judicial conflicts over when and how state laws should apply to loans national banks make in partnership with nonbank third parties. Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) has introduced companion legislation in the House (H.J.Res.35), but no action has been scheduled on it.
House approves debt collection reform bill
Last week the House of Representatives approved HR 2547, the Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act introduced by House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA). The bill combines several debt collection-related measures, including a prohibition on credit bureaus reporting certain medical debt, restrictions on debt collection practices for debt collectors hired by federal agencies, and a change to federal law that would discharge private student loan debt upon the debtor’s death or disability. The bill does not yet have a Senate counterpart.
Confirmations, Nominations, Departures
- The Senate confirmed the nominations of Ronald Stroman and Amber McReynolds to be Governors of the United States Postal Service. These are two of President Biden’s three nominations to the USPS Board of Governors; the Senate has yet to vote on the third nominee, Anton Hajjar.
- The House Republican Conference elected Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) as Conference Chair, replacing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY).
The Week Ahead in Washington
May 18 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs holds a hearing on “Reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.”
May 18 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Finance holds a hearing on “Funding and Financing Options to Bolster American Infrastructure.”
May 18 at 10:00 a.m. House Committee on Financial Services holds a hearing on “Examining Belt and Road: the Lending Practices of the People’s Republic of China and Impact on the International Debt Architecture.”
May 18 at 10:00 a.m. House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access holds a hearing on “Examining the Role of Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions in Small Business Lending.”
May 18 at 3:00 p.m. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion holds a hearing on “Reviving International Travel and Tourism to Create and Restore Jobs.”
May 19 at 10:00 a.m. House Financial Services Committee holds a hearing on “Oversight of Prudential Regulators: Ensuring the Safety, Soundness, Diversity, and Accountability of Depository Institutions.”
May 19 at 10:00 a.m. House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs holds a hearing on “Global Climate Finance.”
May 20 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Banking Committee holds a hearing on “21st Century Communities: Expanding Opportunity through Infrastructure Investments.”
The Ellis Insight
Jim Ellis reports on political news
Arizona: Phoenix-based pollster OH Predictive Insights went into the field to test the Arizona electorate regarding Sen. Mark Kelly’s (D) standing when paired against several prominent Republicans. The freshman Senator must stand for a full six-year term next year because the 2020 special election only filled the balance of the late Sen. John McCain’s (R) final term.
According to OHPI (5/3-5; 935 AZ registered voters; online opt-in panel), Sen. Kelly would claim approximately at least a nine-point lead against any Republican candidate, though he fails to reach 50% support against any. He fares best, 44-29%, against Jack McCain (R), the late Senator’s son, and worst, 44-35%, against retired Major General Michael McGuire (R), who is the former head of the Arizona National Guard. There is no indication that Jack McCain has any plans to enter the Senate race. The poll also found Sen. Kelly holding a 45:38% approval ratio.
Florida: Early last week, the Axios news website published a snippet saying US Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) has made the decision to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R) next year and will formally announce her intentions next month. Contradicting the Axios news bullet, Congresswoman Murphy let it be known that no final resolution about her entering the Senate campaign has yet been made.
Pennsylvania: Sean Parnell (R), the military veteran who came close to winning a Pittsburgh area congressional seat in 2020 (falling 51-49% to Rep. Conor Lamb), announced his campaign for the state’s open 2022 US Senate seat. Eleven other Republicans are already in the race, but none is particularly well known statewide with the possible exception of 2018 Lt. Governor nominee Jeff Bartos.
The Democrats also have a crowded field with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman as the early leader. His chief opponents appear to be state Sen. Sharief Street (D-Philadelphia), the son of former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), and Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh.
CA-21: Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio (D) announced that he intends to become a congressional candidate next year for the seat that incumbent David Valadao (R-Hanford/Bakersfield) represents. Also in the race is former state Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D).
Originally, former Rep. T.J. Cox (D), almost immediately after his defeat in November, said he would return for a re-match only to recant weeks later. Now, Mr. Cox says he wants to see what happens in redistricting before making a final decision about running next year, but he has already converted his congressional campaign entity into a political action committee.
FL-13: State Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) announced his congressional campaign for the open 13th Congressional District this week now that Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) is officially a candidate in the Florida Governor’s race. Already in the Democratic primary is former Obama Administration Defense Department official Eric Lynn. In 2016, the two men opposed each other for a seat in the state House of Representatives.
Anna Paulina Luna, the Republican 2020 nominee who held Rep. Crist to a 53-47% re-election victory, has already announced that she will return for the open seat campaign. Tough primaries are expected in both parties.
GA-10: Georgia Rep. Jody Hice (R-Greensboro) is running for Secretary of State, so his safely Republican 10th District will host an open seat election in 2022. So far four Republicans have announced their candidacies including former US Rep. Paul Broun, and the latest entry carries a familiar name. Mike Collins, son of former Georgia Congressman Mac Collins (R), declared his candidacy last week.
NH-1: Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns (R) announced that he will challenge New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) next year in the congressional district that has defeated more incumbents than any other since the turn of the century. To win the Treasurer’s position, Mr. Burns defeated none other than Rep. Pappas in the 2010 election.
OK-5: President Biden announced that former Oklahoma Congresswoman Kendra Horn (D) is being appointed as the new chair of the National Space Council. This likely means Ms. Horn will not return to Oklahoma City to compete for the congressional seat she lost in 2020 to freshman Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City). This development puts Rep. Bice in strong position for re-election.
OH-15: Declaring that they will join the August 3rd partisan special primary are former state Representative and marketing consultant Ron Hood (R), state Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), and Franklin County Auditor Michael Stinziano (D). Opting not to enter is the potential contender who many believed would be the Democrats’ most viable nominee, state Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Whitehall). The November 2nd special general winner then serves that balance of the term from which Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) is resigning.
TX-6: Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has scheduled the double Republican runoff to fill the vacant north Texas congressional district for Tuesday, July 27th. Early voting will begin July 19th. The late Congressman Ron Wright’s (R-Arlington) widow, Susan Wright (R), faces freshman state Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Waxahachie) with the winner serving the balance of the present congressional term.
TX-30: Two years ago, Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas) said that the 2020 election would be her last. She has yet to confirm her retirement, so others are putting forth a bit of pressure. Early last week, Jane Hamilton, the 2020 Biden Campaign’s Texas Director filed a congressional committee with the Federal Election Commission. She stated, however, that she would not run if Rep. Johnson returns to seek another term.
California: The University of California at Berkeley through its Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies went back into the field with one of their periodic statewide surveys, this version for the Los Angeles Times (4/29-5/5; 10,289 CA registered voters; online). Virtually half of the registered voter polling sample, 49%, said they would vote to retain Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in the upcoming recall election. A 36% subset said they would vote to remove him from office. Among likely voters, the Governor’s numbers dip slightly, however, with 50% saying retain and 42% opting for removal.
Florida: Cherry Communications, polling for the Florida Chamber of Commerce (4/30-5/8; 602 FL likely general election voters; live interview), finds Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in strong political position. The Governor scores a 55:40% overall job approval rating with 70% expressing positive reviews of his managing the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process.
In ballot test pairings with potential 2022 Democratic opponents, Gov. DeSantis would lead Congressman and former Governor Charlie Crist, 51-41%. If state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried were his opponent, the Governor’s advantage would be 51-39%. For her part, Ms. Fried said she is planning a June 1st announcement for her gubernatorial effort. Finally, if Orlando Congresswoman Val Demings became the Democratic nominee, Gov. DeSantis would top her, 53-38 percent.
Georgia: The Remington Research Group, polling for the Vernon Jones gubernatorial campaign (5/1-3; 1,040 likely Republican primary voters; interactive voice response system), sees a tight Georgia Republican primary race forming. The polling organization finds Gov. Brian Kemp leading Mr. Jones, a former DeKalb County Executive and state Representative, with a small 39-35% edge. Mr. Jones served in his elected positions as a Democrat, but then jumped to the Republicans during the Trump years and became a frequent television spokesman for the former President.
Maryland: Almost immediately after Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski (D) said he wouldn’t run for the open Governor’s position, US Rep. David Trone (D-Potomac) also declined to run. Like Mr. Olszewski, Rep. Trone says he will seek re-election to his current position. The surprising announcements leave state Comptroller Peter Franchot, ex-Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker, and former US Education Secretary John King as the top Democratic candidates. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is ineligible to seek a third term.
Michigan: James Craig, an African American Republican who is retiring as the Detroit Police Chief, is reportedly preparing to launch a gubernatorial campaign against incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmire (D). Should Chief Craig be nominated, his law-and-order message statewide compared to Gov. Whitmire’s stands and her controversial COVID shutdown orders, would make this a clear contrast statewide campaign. With Mr. Craig likely to poll better in Detroit and Wayne County than a typical Republican, his potential to attract non-traditional votes makes him a very credible statewide candidate.
New York: Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who was the Republican nominee for Governor in 2014 and lost 53-39% to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), announced that he will again enter the budding campaign for the state’s chief executive office. He will have to run this time, however, against a party endorsed candidate in the primary, US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley/East Long Island).
Texas: Don Huffines, a former state Senator, wealthy auto dealer, and frequent critic of the Governor’s original COVID shutdown policies yesterday, as expected, announced that he will challenge Gov. Greg Abbott for next year’s Republican Party gubernatorial nomination. It’s possible that two more contenders may follow, state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, and Texas Republican Party chairman and former Florida US Congressman Allen West.
Virginia: Virginia Republicans held their “drive-thru” ranked choice nominating convention and investment company executive Glenn Youngkin topped businessman Pete Snyder and five others to win the 2021 GOP gubernatorial nomination. The ranked choice voting system whittled the field of seven to Youngkin and Snyder in six rounds, but the latter man conceded when third place finisher Amanda Chase, a Richmond area state Senator, was eliminated and her second choice votes began to be dispersed.
Former state Delegate Winsome Sears, emphasizing her strong 2nd Amendment protection position, defeated former Delegate Tim Hugo and four others to win the party’s Lt. Governor nomination. State Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), a former prosecutor, was declared the Attorney General nominee after defeating attorney Chuck Smith, 52-48%, once three rounds of ranked choice counting were completed.
Anchorage: With thousands of ballots remaining to be counted from last Tuesday’s non-partisan mayoral contest, conservative Dave Bronson leads liberal Forest Dunbar by only 278 votes of more than 76,000 votes so far tabulated in what is a very high turnout for the open seat campaign. Postmarked and overseas ballots still have time to be received. Therefore, seeing the final result is still almost two weeks away.
Cleveland: Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (D), first elected in 2005, announced that he will not seek a fifth term next year. Showing little campaign activity so far this year, his retirement decision is not surprising. City Council President Kevin Kelley (D) is an announced mayoral candidate. Former Mayor, Congressman, and state Senator Dennis Kucinich (D) filed a mayoral campaign committee late last year but has yet to formally announce his intentions. It is likely that he will again adorn the ballot later this year.
Omaha: The Omaha mayoral runoff election was held last Tuesday, and incumbent Mayor Jean Stothert (R) easily defeated developer R.J. Neary (D) with a whopping 67% of the vote. Mayor Stothert winning the third term will make her Omaha’s longest serving chief executive when completing the next four years.