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White House delays Keystone XL 

The Obama administration announced another delay in the decision over whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The administration made the surprise announcement right before the Easter weekend, saying the decision would be delayed until a Nebraska court case about the location of the proposed pipeline was completed. This announcement all but guarantees the politically charged issue will be on hold until after the November mid-terms.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil from Western Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The project requires State Department approval because it crosses an international border.

The project has been a political lightning rod – environmental activists oppose its construction, while advocates for the project point to the potential for job creation. The issue has been a particularly thorny one for red state Democrats. Indeed, the administration’s decision was quickly criticized by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who is one of the most endangered Democratic Senators up in November.

FDA issues e-cigarette regulations

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules that will cover electronic cigarettes, more commonly known as e-cigarettes.

These new regulations will impact not only e-cigarettes, but cover pipe tobacco and cigars, products that have, up until now, been largely unregulated by the FDA. The new regulations would ban the sale of e-cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco to Americans under 18, and would require that people buying them show photo identification to prove their age, measures already mandated in a number of states.

Interestingly enough, the tobacco companies haven’t opposed all new regulations. Indeed, as tobacco companies jockey to expand their e-cigarette business, they're using an updated lobbying playbook that drops opposition to regulations and embraces the prohibition of sales to minors, industry lobbyists say.

While it might sound counterintuitive for a company to embrace regulations, it may help the bottom line by protecting existing markets.

"Essentially this is a big victory for the big tobacco companies," said Boston University School of Public Health professor Michael Siegel, speaking of tobacco regulation. "They can claim correctly that they comply with FDA standards. And it also detracts Congress from passing real regulation that would deal with tobacco."

Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, Congress Returns from Recess.

No breakthrough in Japan trade talks

During President Obama’s visit to Japan, there was some hope that a two-way trade deal between the U.S. and Japan could have been reached – an agreement that could help spur agreement on a broader Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Unfortunately, for proponents of expanding trade, no such deal was reached.

While trade talks between the U.S. and Japan will continue at the ministerial level, the talks have stalled over Japan’s reluctance to open up farm sectors like beef.

In a press conference this week, President Obama sounded encouraged despite the lack of an agreement, saying that the U.S. and Japan were actually close on issues such as automobiles and agriculture.

Administration once again issuing green energy loan guarantees

The Obama Administration’s Energy Department is getting closer to issuing loan guarantees for green energy projects for the first time since 2011. The Department of Energy recently issued a call for applications for up to $4 billion in new loans.

The last round of renewable energy project loans in 2009-2011 included big solar and wind power-generating projects (not to mention a half-billion for the infamous Solyndra).

That failure, alongside a few other high-profile bankruptcies, made the program a Republican punching bag for years, but overall, the program yielded a high rate of success.

As of September, of the $34 billion loan portfolio for low-carbon energy and green automobiles, only about 2 percent had been lost; the other 98 percent had either been repaid or was on track toward repayment, according to the department.

The department is focusing on projects that integrate renewable power into the grid and help store it; next-wave biofuels; projects to "enhance" various existing facilities (think, for instance, adding power production to a dam that doesn't do it); waste-to-energy projects; and energy-efficiency proposals.

With the clock winding down on the Obama administration, Energy Department officials have been moving more aggressively to use their remaining lending authority in the financing program, which was born in a bipartisan set of energy bills in 2005 and 2007 but has fallen out of favor with Republicans.

Transportation in focus

New rail regulations in Canada will impact U.S.

Thousands of older model tanker cars operating in Canada, which are used to haul oil and other dangerous liquids, will have to be retrofitted or phased out in the next three years.

New regulations will also create an emergency response task force that includes local authorities, railways and shippers and lower allowable “speed of trains carrying dangerous goods and implement other key operating practices.”

Given the nature of rail transport, the changes made by the Canadian regulators will also affect oil, ethanol and hazardous chemical shippers in the U.S.

It will also spread heavy costs for new tank cars or extensive refits to car leasing firms as well as oil firms and other shippers that either own those cars or pay for their use. And Canada’s action can increase pressure on U.S. agencies to toughen their own response to a series of fuel train accidents.

Key dates loom

MAP-21 expires and Department of Transportation funding runs out in 160 days. The deadline for a new Federal Aviation Administration bill is a little longer – it is up in 525 days.

Charts and graphs

Unresolved issues under Dodd-Frank:






 CFPB Authority

 The newly-created consumer-focused agency is attempting to promulgate regulations, but opponents have claimed the agency is exceeding its legal mandate.  Republicans remain largely reconciled to the CFPB; should the GOP take the Senate in 2014, the agency could face serious legislative challenges    

 Collins Amendment

 The so-called Collins Amendment imposes minimum capital standards on non-bank financial firms (e.g.: certain insurers); firms affected strongly oppose      Both the House and Senate continue to debate potential changes to the requirements

 Government Sponsored Entities

 Dodd-Frank required Treasury to issue a report on options for the futures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, hoping to spark future Congressional debate.  The Treasury issued its study in 2011, and several GSE reform bills have been proposed in the 113th Congress, but passage is unlikely this session.

 Minerals Rights Disclosure

 An obscure provision of Dodd-Frank requires mining and oil companies to disclose payments to foreign countries for mineral rights.  Firms are currently challenging the SEC's attempts to write a regulation; litigation may be likely

 Volcker Rule

 In response to the 2008 financial crisis, Dodd-Frank includes a provision, proposed by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, to prohibit banks from making speculative investment in securities  Federal regulators have promulgated a final version of the rule, but financial institutions remain uncertain how regulators will allow firms to prove compliance


Political bits


National: The National Republican Congressional Committee announced it raised $9.9 million in the first quarter and has $31.1 million cash hand. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it raised $10.3 million in the same period and has $40.2 million cash on hand.

California 4th Congressional District: Former National Guard officer Art Moore (R-CA) is challenging Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) in a rare case in which a moderate Republican challenges a tea party-affiliated Republican incumbent in a primary. Moore has criticized McClintock for his rigid stances, including his votes during the October 2013 government shutdown, and his vote against the recent farm bill.

Florida 19th Congressional District: Businessman Curt Clawson (R-FL), the 'outsider' candidate who invested millions of dollars in his campaign, won the Republican nomination to replace former Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) in the FL-19 Special. Clawson will be the favorite over public-relations firm owner April Freeman (D-FL) in a June 24 special election in a district that heavily favors Republicans.

Iowa 3rd Congressional District: State Sen. Brad Zaun (R-IA) is the favorite among six Republicans in the race for retiring Rep. Tom Latham's (R-IA) seat, according to a new poll. Zaun received 17 percent of the vote in the poll; Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R-IA) received 8 percent; civil engineer Robert Cramer (R-IA) received 7 percent; "agriculture advocate" and political consultant Monte Shaw (R-IA) received 5 percent; congressional aide David Young (R-IA) received 3 percent; and teacher Joe Grandanette (R-IA) received 2 percent. Most respondents, 58 percent, were undecided.

Virginia 10th Congressional District: Republicans in the 10th Congressional District are having a so-called firehouse primary in which polling will take place at a handful of polling places around the district. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is expected to win the nomination on Saturday.           


Georgia: Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) was endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce in his bid to win the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).

Kansas: Outgoing HHS Secretary and former Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) will reportedly pass on a potential Senate run in her home state.

Kentucky: Matt Bevin (R-KY), who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the GOP primary, has hired Amy Kremer, the former Chair of the Tea Party Express.

Montana: Rancher and attorney Dirk Adams (D-MT), a Democratic primary challenger for Sen. John Walsh (D-MT), has loaned his campaign $276,000 so far, bringing his overall campaign-funding total to $367,000. Adams is not accepting PAC money, and had $77,700 cash on hand at the end of the first quarter. He's the third-most funded candidate in the race, well behind Walsh, who raised just under $1 million this quarter, and presumptive GOP nominee Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) who raised $1.2 million this quarter.


Delaware: Attorney General Beau Biden (D-DE), son of Vice President Joe Biden, announced that he'll run for governor in 2016 when the state's current Gov. Jack Markell (D-DE) is termed out.

Maryland: A new poll has former Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R-MD) aide Larry Hogan (R-MD) and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D-MD) as the frontrunners in their respective primaries. In the Democratic primary, Brown leads Attorney General Doug Gansler (D-MD) 27 to 11 percent and Del. Heather Mizeur (D-MD) follows with 8 percent. In the GOP primary Hogan leads with 16 percent followed by Harford County Executive David Craig (R-MD) at 8 percent and all others trailing. A majority of voters remain undecided in both races: 54 percent in the Democratic primary and 69 percent in the Republican primary.

A look ahead


Tuesday, April 29 – The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission's rulemaking agenda at 10:00 a.m. in 2128 Rayburn.

Tuesday, April 29 – The House Natural Resource Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight will hold a hearing on American Energy Jobs: Opportunities for Skilled Trades Workers at 10:00 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.

Thursday, April 24 – The House Veterans' Affairs Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a field hearing on Access to Mental Health Care and Traumatic Brain-Injury Services: Addressing the Challenges and Barriers for Veterans at 3:00 p.m. at 3601 South Sixth Ave. in Tucson, Arizona.

Friday, April 25 – The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee will hold a discussion on Revising the Electronic Communications Privacy Act: Should Congress Require a Warrant? at noon in 2228 Rayburn.


Tuesday, April 29 – The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on Driving Innovation Through Federal Investments at 2:30 p.m. in G-50 Dirksen.

Washington by the numbers                        

25 – Number of grandchildren William Henry Harrison had when elected president.

1.2 million – Number of votes Gary Johnson received in the 2012 presidential election; Johnson hopes to run again in 2016.

They said what?

“I’m going to be around for the 2016 election. And if not, I’m going to vote absentee.” -- Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. (Washington Post)

Washington humor

"Yesterday, North Korea held its annual marathon. Congratulations to first, second and third place winner, Kim Jong Un." –Conan O'Brien






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