House Continues Search for Speaker as Consequences of Vacancy Grow: The House has been without a speaker for just over two weeks following Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) removal from the position on Oct. 3. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is serving as speaker pro tempore, a limited role in which he has sufficient power to facilitate the election of a new speaker but not to advance legislation. Speaker Pro Tempore McHenry was designated for the role by Rep. McCarthy shortly after his January election, pursuant to a post-9/11 rule that requires the speaker to provide the clerk of the House a confidential list of individuals who can fill the post in case of a vacancy, but the appointment only lasts until another speaker is elected.
Senate HELP Committee Considers President Biden’s Pick for NIH Director: On Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing to consider President Biden’s nominee for the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Monica Bertagnolli, after Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held up the nomination for months until more action was taken to reduce drug costs. At the hearing, Chair Sanders continued to question Bertagnolli about reinstating and expanding the reasonable pricing clause in NIH contracts. Bertagnolli broadly assured Sanders that the benefits of NIH research would be affordable and available but did not fully make any specific commitments. Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA) spoke against reasonable pricing clauses and noted that the measures could lower drug costs but stifle innovation and scientific developments in the industry. Besides drug costs, the conversation also focused heavily on Bertagnolli’s commitment to improve clinical trials to be faster and more inclusive to the needs of patients. However, many Republicans continued to press the nominee on whether she would continue research into care for transgender youth and questioned her on fetal tissue research. Broad bipartisan support was also given to advance pediatric cancer research. The committee plans to vote on Oct. 25 on whether to send Bertagnolli’s nomination to the Senate floor.
IRS Issues Guidance on Transferability of EV Credit: On Oct 6, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2023-33 concerning the transfer of tax credits for new and used electric vehicles (EVs) and other clean vehicles from the taxpayer to eligible entities. The credit, enacted in the IRA, allows taxpayers who received credits for placing clean vehicles into service to transfer their credit to an eligible entity, starting Jan. 1, 2024. This means that consumers who purchase eligible EVs after Jan. 1 would be able to claim their Section 30D or Section 25E credit immediately, as they could transfer their credit to the dealer they purchase their vehicle from at the point of purchase. The ability to transfer the credit is subject to rules and restrictions for both the dealer and the purchaser.
USCIS Hits H-2B Cap for First Half of FY24: On Oct. 13, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that employers’ H-2B applications as of Oct. 11 have hit the congressionally mandated cap for the first half of FY24. The annual cap for the temporary non-agricultural visa is 66,000—split between 33,000 over the first half of the fiscal year and another 33,000 for the second half. USCIS noted it will continue to accept petitions to fill slots exempt from the cap, including workers already in the United States under the visa, workers in fish roe occupations, and for jobs based in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. While there have been a series of efforts on Capitol Hill to raise the cap amid increased demand for the visa, such initiatives have been unsuccessful.
Biden Administration Announces Plans to Ease Venezuelan Oil Sanctions: On Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Treasury Department announced the United States would ease select sanctions on Venezuelan oil after President Nicolas Maduro signed an electoral roadmap agreement with opposition leaders. The Treasury Department will issue a general license authorizing transactions involving Venezuela’s oil and gas sector. The Treasury Department will also issue three General Licenses authorizing transactions with the Venezuelan state-owned gold mining company and secondary trading related to the debt of Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. These sanctions will be lifted for just six months to allow the Treasury Department to resume penalties if Maduro reneges on his promise to allow the independent presidential candidates and international election monitoring. Despite sanctions relief, energy experts do not believe Venezuela can increase oil exports anytime soon, citing mismanagement, underinvestment and instability within the industry. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-WV) criticized the action, saying, “It makes no sense at all to reward bad actors before they actually take the action you want.” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) commented, “America should never beg for oil from socialist dictators or terrorists.”
Israel-Hamas War: As Israel prepares for a potential ground operation in Gaza, 199 hostages, including an unknown number of Americans, remain in Gaza as Israel and Hamas continue to escalate hostilities. Qatar, where Hamas’s political leadership resides, is acting as a mediator in preliminary hostage diplomacy between Hamas, the United States and other countries. President Biden’s visit to Israel on Wednesday pushed them to announce the opening of humanitarian aid through the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt. President Biden’s planned meeting with Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority was cancelled after the bombing of a hospital in Gaza, which was marred by conflicting reports but ultimately attributed to a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The risks remain high that Hezbollah may seek to open a second front to the war on Israel’s norther border with Lebanon, a threat that would put immense strain on the Israeli Defense Forces. As a result, the United States dispatched a second aircraft carrier strike group, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the Eastern Mediterranean to bolster U.S. deterrence posture and prevent further escalations.
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