December National Business Topics Preview

QUICK FIX

— Democrats dash toward impeachment vote: House Democrats this week are sprinting to the next stage of the impeachment process that could lead to a vote by the end of the year. The House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing Wednesday focusing on the definition of an impeachable offense. Judiciary is expected to hold at least one more hearing allowing Democrats to present their case against Trump before approving articles of impeachment, both of which could come the second week of December. That means the full House could vote on impeachment the following week, just before lawmakers leave town for the holiday break.

— Year-end funding push: December will be another doozy for congressional appropriators trying to keep the government funded. The latest spending bill expires at midnight on Dec. 20, but it's still unclear whether the House and Senate will have locked down a bicameral compromise on new funding levels for any of the dozen annual appropriations bills by that date. If a deal remains elusive once the deadline is upon them, congressional leaders will need to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government funded. But don't bet on a holiday shutdown like last year — neither party wants that this time around.

— Tariffs loom over holiday shopping season: President Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on nearly $160 billion in Chinese imports after Dec. 15 unless the U.S. and China agree on a mini trade deal that forces China to buy more U.S. agricultural goods, provide new openings to its financial services market and implement certain intellectual property protections. If the tariffs take effect, nearly everything the U.S. imports from China, including hundreds of consumer items, will be subject to some duties. People close to the negotiations say an agreement between Washington and Beijing is largely complete, as long as Trump agrees to roll back tariffs substantially.

GLOBAL TRADE ON THE BRINK

All eyes on Geneva: A key date to watch this month is Dec. 10, when the WTO Appellate Body will cease to function unless member countries agree on a solution. For years, the U.S. has blocked the reappointment of judges to the dispute settlement body over concerns it has overstepped its mandate. The WTO's General Council, composed of senior representatives from all governments, is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10-11, so expect the Appellate Body issue to be at the top of the agenda.

Holding out hope for a new NAFTA: In Washington, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer remains still negotiating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) to try to reach an agreement on the USMCA for a vote this year. The two sides appear close, and Mexico and Canada are days away from signing off on any of the changes — a necessary move before the USMCA can get a vote in Congress. — Megan Cassella

Trade aid deadline approaches: Farmers have until Dec. 6 to apply for direct payments from this year's trade aid package from USDA. The Trump administration has already paid farmers at least $9 billion for their 2019 production, on top of $8.6 billion provided for last year. A potential third round of assistance could be announced in January, the USDA has said. — Liz Crampton

DEMOCRATS LEAD CLIMATE CONFERENCE

Climate conference kicks off: Diplomats from around the world will iron out the final details for rules guiding the Paris climate agreement in Madrid beginning Dec. 2. Pelosi will lead a delegation of Democratic lawmakers to the COP25 climate conference in an effort to show there is still support for the Paris deal in the U.S. even though President Donald Trump officially started the withdrawal process. The Trump administration won't send high-level political appointees but career State Department officials will participate. The main goal at the conference will be to establish an accounting system for carbon offsets and deciding how to link carbon emissions pricing schemes across borders. — Zack Colman

DRUG PRICING

Pelosi keeps progressive provision in drug pricing bill: Pelosi will push ahead with a sweeping plan to lower the cost of some medicines when a drug pricing bill H.R. 3 (116), heads to the floor as soon as the first week in December.

Pelosi included a provision preferred by progressives that would require the government to examine the possibility of rebates for employer-sponsored health plans when a drug company raises the price of a medicine faster than the rate of inflation. House leadership has expressed concern about losing moderate Democrats if the bill moves too far to the left. And Democrats still must decide how to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars in anticipated savings from Pelosi's plan, a politically tricky process that could fracture the caucus and further delay a final vote.

The Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to take up Pelosi's plan. Leaders there also haven't committed to a bipartisan drug pricing proposal crafted in the Senate Finance Committee. — Sarah Karlin-Smith

BORDER WALL FRICTION

Clock is running down on NDAA: House and Senate leaders enter December with only a handful of working days left to hammer out a compromise National Defense Authorization Act, S. 1790, before the end of the year. After expressing optimism that a deal was at hand, House Democrats and Senate Republicans are still at odds over a handful of issues, including the president's border wall with Mexico, creation of a Space Force, paid family leave for federal workers and protections against toxic PFAS chemicals. — Connor O'Brien

PRIVACY BILLS GET A SHOT

Federal privacy legislation may see its last stand (for now): A Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday could preview the ultimate fate of data privacy legislation in the 116th Congress, as panel members and witnesses get a chance to talk through sticking points that have led to an impasse despite early bipartisan zeal to deliver a consensus bill. Privacy legislation has been the subject of closed-door talks on Capitol Hill since early this year, but Democrats and Republicans have remained at loggerheads over specific provisions — namely, Democrats want to let states pass and enforce their own privacy laws and consumers to be able to sue companies over lapses, and Republicans don't. The legislative hearing may offer hints as to whether the parties can resolve their differences — or whether federal privacy legislation is doomed for the time being. — Kyle Daly

'JOINT EMPLOYER' RULE LOOMS

Movement on joint employer: The Trump administration will publish two major rules by the end of 2019, according to the latest version of the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

The joint employer proposal would make it harder for companies to be held liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act for violations committed by their franchisees and contractors. A Labor Department proposed rule concerning retirement advice, known as the "fiduciary rule," is also due by the end of 2019. The regulation will revise an Obama-era rule that required brokers to consider only the best interests of the client, irrespective of commissions or fees, when providing retirement advice. — Ian Kullgren

FED UNDER PRESSURE

Fed's dilemma: Federal Reserve policymakers will meet Dec. 10-11 to determine their next move on interest rates, and it may be a hard call. While Fed officials have indicated that further moves to reduce rates — there have been three cuts this year — are now on pause, trade tensions continue to weigh on manufacturing and investment, and concern over a dramatic global economic slowdown persists.

Scrutinizing the regulators: Fed regulatory chief Randal Quarles, FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams and National Credit Union Administration Chairman Rodney Hood will testify on Dec. 4-5 before House and Senate committees. They'll face questions on the potential danger of rule rollbacks, whether capital and liquidity rules are hurting the functioning of short-term funding markets, and about the recently approved merger between BB&T and SunTrust, the largest since the financial crisis.

Libra showdown: The House Financial Services Committee is considering a vote this month on legislation to rein in Facebook's Libra digital currency and others like it. A bill listed on a tentative agenda for a Dec. 10-11 meeting would block major tech companies from developing digital currencies. Two other bills listed would also subject Libra and other so-called stablecoins — cryptocurrencies that are backed by a reserve asset — to securities regulation and limit the ability of companies to offer shares on public exchanges if their executives are compensated in stablecoin. — Mark McQuillan

TAX EXTENDERS

Stretching for extenders at year's end: A possible year-end tax bill is the last, best hope to revive the nearly three dozen expired temporary tax extenders, which ran out at the end of 2017. It's not yet clear if Congress will vote on any wide-ranging tax legislation this month, but the lapsed extenders are considered leverage for creating a bill that would include a far broader raft of tax provisions.

The expired provisions include popular credits for biodiesel fuel and maintaining tracks for short-line railroads. Among efforts to go beyond them, some advocates are fighting to extend tax breaks scheduled to run out at the end of this year, including the New Markets Tax Credit for economic development and a tax benefit for intercompany payments between related controlled foreign corporations. Other add-ons could include incentives for the alternative energy sector; prolonging the life of credits for wind and solar production that are scheduled to start phasing out next year; and expanding the credit for electric vehicle purchases.

The latest on SALT: Ways and Means Democrats are expected to finally unveil legislation this month taking aim at the $10,000 limit on the federal deduction for state and local taxes. It's still unclear what that bill will look like, though Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), a senior member of the committee, said in November it would include a temporary repeal of the cap. The legislation has little hope of making it through the Senate. — Aaron Lorenzo

HEMP RULES DEADLINE

MJBizCon draws cannabis bigwigs to Vegas: All eyes will be on Las Vegas this month for the biggest cannabis industry event of the year: MJBizCon from Dec. 11 to 13. Among this year's scheduled participants: Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steven Hawkins, 4Front Ventures President Kris Krane, former Sen. Tom Daschle, California Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Lindsay Robinson and Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine. POLITICO's Mona Zhang will be in Vegas for the MJBizDaily-hosted convention, filing daily dispatches for Pro Cannabis subscribers.

Hemp comments due: The deadline for filing comments on the USDA's controversial proposed regulations for hemp cultivation is Dec. 30. The interim final rule will have huge ramifications for the burgeoning industry, following hemp's legalization under the 2018 farm bill. But many industry officials, as well as some members of Congress, are worried that the proposed regulations could harm struggling farmers trying to take advantage of this new market. Under the 2018 farm bill, hemp that tests higher than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive component, must be disposed of — a requirement that has hemp farmers anxious about the risk of losing their crops. — Paul Demko and Liz Crampton

737 MAX FIXES?

Boeing 737 MAX drama continues: December is the month in which Boeing would like to see the FAA certify software changes to its 737 MAX, which has been grounded for almost nine months. In November, Boeing indicated that it is planning for the software to be certified in December, which prompted a swift statement from FAA Administrator Steve Dickson saying his agency will take whatever time is necessary to examine Boeing's fixes. In addition, lawmakers have said they want to hold more hearings on the MAX. The House and Senate panels with aviation jurisdiction could slate those hearings for this month, though nothing has been announced yet. — Brianna Gurciullo

EDUCATION

Final countdown for Title IX regulations: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' proposed regulations governing how colleges and universities must handle campus sexual assault are in the final step of approval at the White House OMB. The office has meetings set through January to talk about the rules with education, civil rights and law groups, and individual parties but could finalize the rule before then. The final rules aim to curb Obama-era Title IX policies. — Bianca Quilantan

EHEALTH

Looking for all the feedback: Final ONC and CMS rules to establish the framework for health care data sharing may or may not be released in December. In the meantime, health IT sages and other interested parties have only a few weeks left to submit their wisdom to various federal agencies and congressional committees on important topics.

Reps. Fred Upton and Diana DeGette are asking for suggestions by Dec. 16 on the next chapter of their 21st Century Cures Act. In last month's "vision document", they suggested digital health reimbursement and technology for caregivers were key interests. HHS's chief data officer, Mona Siddiqui, is seeking input on rethinking preventive care through tech and data by Dec. 20. The HHS inspector general and CMS are accepting comments on their rules to advance value-based care until Dec. 31. — Arthur Allen

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