5 min read

What Washington did this week

The bills and regulations that made their way through Washington this week.
What Washington did this week

Good morning! It’s Friday, December 1, 2023. The 2024 elections are 340 days away. The Iowa caucuses are 45 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

I recently read the book “Recoding America” by Jennifer Pahlka, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in policy and bureaucracy.

Every Friday in this newsletter, I fill you in on the laws that Congress passed in the week before. In her book, Pahlka focuses on an underrated part of that legislative process: what comes after it. She details the slow and messy process by which the laws passed by Congress are implemented by the executive branch, often in ways that prevent the benefits imagined by the law’s authors from actually reaching American citizens.

Pahlka proposes a more user-focused implementation process, in which government agencies — borrowing lessons from the tech world — spend less time trying to comply with every possible requirement, rendering government forms and applications completely unreadable, and more time focusing on whether their outputs are accessible to the average American.

According to Pahlka, any time the government releases anything, the main question should be: “Will this make sense to a person?” If the answer is “no,” it’s probably best to start over.

That idea isn’t always at the heart of government policies, but it was embedded in at least one piece of legislation this week: the POST IT Act, which was passed unanimously by the House.

The bill would require the government to create an online portal where agencies will have to post links to all regulations that impact small businesses, as well as guidance documents for how to comply with them.

There are a lot of federal regulations that impact small businesses (see below), and these firms often lack the resources that larger corporations can spend ensuring compliance with them. “As it stands, there is no single place where the public can access guidance documents and other forms of regulatory dark matter,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out.

(Competitive Enterprise Institute)

This isn’t about supporting or opposing regulations on the merits. You can be for regulations or against them — but there’s no reason that, once a regulation is in place, a small business shouldn’t be able to easily access the documents that will help them understand the rules they have to follow. As Pahlka would say, this is about making sure government policy will “make sense to a person.”

The House unanimously passed several other small business bills this week, including the Small Business Contracting Transparency Act, which aims to increase the number of government contracts awarded to small businesses located in economically disadvantaged areas, or owned by women or disabled veterans. (Currently, the government aims to provide 5% of contracts to women-owned small businesses, 3% to disabled veteran-owned small businesses, and 3% to small businesses in poorer areas — but agencies routinely miss these targets, which this bill seeks to address.)

Other House bills approved without objection this week aim to address the shocking level of fraud — as much as $200 billion worth — that stemmed from Covid relief programs. H.R.5427, for example, would prohibit individuals convicted of such fraud from receiving future small business loans.

The House also passed the No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act, ensuring that $6 billion from a recent prisoner swap does not reach Iran, in a 307-119 vote. The chamber unanimously passed a resolution calling on Hamas to release the Israeli hostages; a resolution affirming Israel’s right to exist passed 412-1, with one member abstaining.

Finally, the House approved the Protecting our Communities from Failure to Secure the Border Act, prohibiting the use of federal funds to provide housing for undocumented immigrants on land owned by the National Park Service or related agencies. The bill passed 224-203, with six Democrats joining all Republicans in support.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate mainly focused on nominations this week, confirming five new U.S. district judges. The chamber also unanimously passed the American Law Enforcement SAVER Act, which would establish standards for the trauma kits that law enforcement agencies purchase under a federal grant program, and S.1278, which would name a federal building in Detroit for Rosa Parks.

Meanwhile, in the executive branch, the headline news this week was a flurry of actions by President Biden to ease supply chain issues, including invoking the Defense Production Act to spur domestic drug manufacturing. The Korean War-era law allows the president to direct private companies to manufacture certain materials when needed for national defense; in this case, the need stemmed from an urgent shortage of essential medications.

Elsewhere in the administration, the EPA announced a proposed regulation that would require U.S. cities to remove nearly all of the nation’s lead water pipes within 10 years. The strictest-ever limits on lead in American drinking water, the new rule would call for the replacement of about 9.2 million lead pipes across the country.

The Treasury Department announced guidance that will prevent tax credits for the production of electric vehicles from going to Chinese companies. HHS began allowing schools to order free COVID tests from the federal government. A drug to extend canine lifespans moved closer to FDA approval.

More news to know.

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, has died at 93 / AP

Scores reported killed in Gaza after Israel-Hamas truce collapses / Reuters

Israel Knew Hamas’s Attack Plan More Than a Year Ago / NYT

Trump doesn’t have presidential immunity from lawsuits over January 6, appeals court rules / CNN

New York judge brings back gag order on Donald Trump in civil fraud trial / NPR

The day ahead.

President Biden has nothing on his public schedule. Vice President Harris is on her way to Dubai, where she will attend the COP28 climate conference.

The Senate is out for the weekend.

The House will vote on a resolution to expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY), which will require two-thirds support to pass.

Thanks for reading.

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— Gabe