Overnight Regulation: Groups sue over decision to end pay-data rule | EU proposes tax on tech companies | Sessions issues memo on death penalty for drug cases | Pruitt spent $105K on first class flights

Overnight Regulation: Groups sue over decision to end pay-data rule | EU proposes tax on tech companies | Sessions issues memo on death penalty for drug cases | Pruitt spent $105K on first class flights
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Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Wednesday night in Washington, and like David Byrne, we're still waiting ... on Congress to unveil the omnibus spending bill, which needs to be passed by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

  

THE BIG STORY

Civil rights groups are suing the Trump administration for documents detailing its decision to halt an Obama-era rule that would have required businesses to track how much they pay employees of different races and genders.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) filed a lawsuit against the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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The 15-page complaint alleges OMB violated the Freedom of Information Act when it failed to respond to five requests the groups sent in September for records on the agency's decision to shut down the pay data collection rule.

What's the rule? The 2016 rule would have required companies with 100 or more employees, including federal contractors and subcontractors, to report pay data by sex and race starting in March on the annual Employer Information Report, or EEO-1 form.

The goal was to collect information to further advance equal pay for women and minorities in the workplace.

In August, however, administration officials announced they were staying the rule.

The administration's stance... Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told The Wall Street Journal at the time the rule was "enormously burdensome."

"We don't believe it would actually help us gather information about wage and employment discrimination," she said.

Lydia Wheeler has the full report here.

 

Also, all eyes are on the House, where lawmakers are hoping to pass "right to try" legislation on their second try.

The vote was delayed multiple times throughout the day as lawmakers negotiated the particulars of the omnibus spending bill.

Last week, House Republican leaders put the bill on the floor under suspension of the rules. Democrats objected, expressing safety concerns over how the measure would bypass the Food and Drug Administration, and it fell short of the necessary two-thirds support it needed.

But leaders made clear the House would take up the bill again. On the second try, the House only needs a simple majority to pass the bill.

What's right to try? The bill lets terminally ill patients request access to drugs the FDA hasn't yet approved without going through the agency. Patients can request the drugs from manufacturers if the medicine has gone through a small-scale clinical trial and is still under FDA consideration.

Why do people object? Democrats, as well as more than 75 patient advocacy groups, have voiced several different concerns, and patient safety was chief among them.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneDem: Trump ‘placing politics over our national security’ by revoking Brennan’s clearance House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim House Dems call for new FCC probe into Sinclair MORE (N.J.),  the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was worried patients will be exposed to treatments with no or relatively little data that they are actually effective.

Opponents of the bill also point to the FDA's compassionate use program, saying the agency approves 99 percent of requests to let a patient use an experimental drug. They argue the legislation provides "false hope," as drug manufacturers aren't required to provide the drug to patients who ask.

 

 ON TAP FOR THURSDAY:

The Senate Banking Committee holds an oversight hearing for the Department of Housing and Urban Development with Housing Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonThe queen, Aretha Franklin, is dead Ben Carson makes the right move rolling back Obama-era housing policy NYT columnist: A tape of Trump saying N-word could make his supporters like him more MORE.

The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on President Trump's trade agenda with U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerMcConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs Companies brace for trade war MORE testifying.

A Senate Commerce subcommittee holds a hearing on ways to enhance the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

 

REGULATORY ROUNDUP

Guns: There's no bill text yet, but congressional leaders have agreed to strengthen background checks for gun purchases as part of a must-pass government funding package, according to a senior GOP source.

The bipartisan Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background System) Act, which would encourage states to report more frequently to the current criminal database, will be attached to the omnibus spending bill.

The funding measure will also include money for a House-passed school safety measure designed to help train personnel to spot signs of potential gun violence and to beef up school security.

Democrats made an eleventh-hour push on Wednesday to get more gun provisions included in the spending package, and Republicans agreed to clarify that the so-called Dickey Amendment does not prevent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from examining gun violence as a public health issue. But the massive spending bill is not expected to have any new gun control measures.

Melanie Zanona has more here

 

Technology: The European Commission proposed new rules on Wednesday that would have major technology firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon fork over a larger share of their revenues to the European Union.

The newly proposed tax would impose a 3 percent rate on parts of their online revenue, in what is seen as a significant departure from how taxes are normally collected.

The European Commission said it wants the change to "ensure that digital business activities are taxed in a fair and growth-friendly way." The commission argued that current tax rules "were not designed to cater for those companies that are global, virtual or have little or no physical presence."

Many countries are frustrated that major technology firms operate within their borders, but then log their taxes elsewhere at much lower rates.

The American technology industry criticized the new proposal.

Read Ali Breland's story here.

 

Energy: Offshore drilling companies submitted slightly higher bids in a Wednesday auction for oil and natural gas drilling rights leases in the Gulf of Mexico when compared with the last sale, in August 2017.

The 33 companies participating in the Trump administration's auction in New Orleans put in $124.8 million worth of winning bids, said Barry Obiol, deputy Gulf of Mexico regional director for the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The Wednesday sale offered all potentially available drilling tracts in the Gulf -- 77.3 million acres, making it the biggest offshore lease sale in United States history. August's sale offered 76 million acres.

In total, 14,474 tracts were available for bidding. But only 148 tracts had any bids, just over 1 percent.

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Interior drilling auction sees few bids | Big oil targets Florida in offshore drilling fight | Puerto Rico utility says all customers now have power Oil industry targets Florida in new offshore drilling advocacy push Fewer than 1 percent of offshore drilling tracts auctioned by Trump receive bids MORE had set high expectations for the auction, saying it would be a major indicator of oil industry interest in a time when oil prices are still significantly lower than they were four years ago and onshore drilling is booming.

Timothy Cama has the details here

 

Environment: The Trump administration successfully sold off all available drilling plots in Utah, including areas near the original Bears Ears National Monument.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sold all 43 plots it made available during its online auction Tuesday, bringing in more than $1.5 million in projected revenues. The more than 51,000 acres of land in Utah were snapped up by a handful of oil companies.

The revenue is a boost to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's push to raise more money off public land lease sales.

None of the lands that recently lost their monument status at Bears Ears were on the auction block, but the environmental groups fear drilling is moving too close to the now smaller park. President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE in December announced plans to shrink the size of Bears Ears and another national monument in Utah.

Miranda Green has more on the sales here.

 

Health care: Information about LGBT health was removed from a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website last fall, according to new reports from a watchdog group.

The HHS Office of Women's Health (OWH) removed a webpage with extensive information about lesbian and bisexual health, and links that correspond to that webpage, according to reports the Sunlight Foundation released Wednesday.

The group found that some resources have gone missing and that other similar remaining content relating to lesbian and bisexual health, which was last updated in 2009, has been rendered difficult to access.

According to an HHS spokesperson, the information was simply sent elsewhere as part of an effort to make the website mobile-ready that began in 2016.

"As OWH updates its site, the outdated lesbian and bisexual health pages were removed and the health content was integrated into the relevant health topics pages across the website," the spokesperson said. "You can now find lesbian and bisexual health content by searching for relevant health topics on the womenshealth.gov website."

I have the full story here

 

Health care: Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Health Care: Supreme Court nomination reignites abortion fight in states | Trump urges Sessions to sue opioid makers | FDA approves first generic version of EpiPen Connect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints MORE on Wednesday issued a memo to U.S. attorneys about seeking the death penalty for some drug traffickers, which was part of President Trump's plan to combat the opioid epidemic released earlier this week.

"I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes, when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes in our nation," Sessions wrote.

The memo points to statutes where the death penalty can be used, including certain racketeering activities, the use of a gun that resulted in a death during a drug trafficking crime, murder in advancing a criminal enterprise and dealing in "extremely large" quantities of drugs.

Trump has consistently advocated for the idea in recent weeks, and he said while unveiling his plan in New Hampshire Monday that "if we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time."

The death penalty has never been sought before for those dealing large quantities of drugs, according to a Justice Department official.

It's possible the move could face legal hurdles.

Rachel Roubein has more here.

 

Environment: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittJudge rules against Trump attempt to delay Obama water rule Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler, please listen to your boss and approve year-round E15 Reforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain MORE spent more than $105,000 on first-class airline travel in his first year on the job, Politico reported.

The total came from documents the EPA sent to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyFBI chief: I'm trying to bring 'normalcy' in 'turbulent times' Jim Carrey targets McCarthy, Nunes ahead of midterms House GOP prepares to grill DOJ official linked to Steele dossier MORE (R-S.C.) as part of an investigation into Pruitt's high-profile premium travel.

Pruitt has flown mostly first class since shortly after taking office in February 2017. The agency has said that Pruitt's security detail made the decision to put him in first class to better protect him, due to confrontations in airports and on airplanes.

Among the expenses revealed in the documents were a $16,217 short trip in December to Morocco, where Pruitt was promoting American liquefied natural gas exports to the nation's leaders, Politico said. Based on the same records, The Washington Post found that Pruitt has spent $68,000 on travel just in the last seven months.

The totals don't include Pruitt's staff or security detail accompanying him.

Timothy Cama has the story here.

 

Elsewhere in the news:

Senate to House: Don't risk upending deal on Dodd-Frank rollback -- The Wall Street Journal

Has the cryptocoin market met its match in the SEC -- The Wall Street Journal

Arizona governor helped make state 'Wild West' for driverless cars -- NPR

US highway safety chief grilled over air bag repairs -- Detroit News

Fertility clinic failures raise question of regulation in industry -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

Bayer wins EU approval of $62.5B Monsanto buy -- Reuters

UBS in $230M settlement of NY mortgage securities probe -- Reuters