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Capitol Hill Update: February 6, 2017

02/06/2017

Schedule:

The House and Senate are in session this week.

House:

It'll be a light week in the House. The schedule shows votes only on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, the House will take up the Email Privacy Act, H.R. 387. The bill, which has passed in previous Congresses, would protect Americans' emails, data, and digital communications by requiring authorities to obtain a search warrant before gaining access to such forms of communication. FreedomWorks has long supported the Email Privacy Act and will key vote in favor of passage.

The House will also consider another round of resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to cancel rules promulgated and finalized in the final days of the Obama administration. The resolutions of disapproval that will be considered by the House include:

  • H.J.Res. 57 - Department of Education's Accountability and State Plans Rule: FreedomWorks Foundation drove more than 21,000 responses in opposition to this rule to the Department of Education during the comment period, which ended on August 1. The rule implements part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and leaves open a loophole that federal bureaucrats could exploit to force Common Core on states that haven't implemented the standards. By further involving the federal government in the classroom, the rule ignores the intent of ESSA and interferes with what should be a state or local issue, requiring states to provide evidence of curriculum standards and bringing back federal test-based accountability, which ESSA was supposed to end.

  • H.J.Res. 58 - Department of Education's Teacher Preparation Rule: This rule requires states to submit annual ratings for teacher preparation programs. Teachers unions pushed back against the rules, arguing that the metrics may not present the full picture of whether a teacher is effectively educating students. While the Department of Education claims the rule will cost $28 million over ten years, states have estimated significantly higher costs. California, for example, estimated that the rule will cost the state $485 million annually.

House committees of jurisdiction will also continue their work on ObamaCare repeal. The Ways and Means Committee has already held a hearing on the effectiveness of the individual mandate. The Energy and Commerce Committee has two hearings on Medicaid, one of January 31 and the other on February 1. The committee held a hearing on February 2 on the current problems facing health markets.

During a colloquy with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that the House will begin to move on ObamaCare repeal in March.

Senate:

The Senate will spend part of its week confirming President Trump's cabinet nominees. On Monday, the Senate will take up the nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of the Department of Education. The Senate invoked cloture in a 52 to 48 vote on her nomination Friday in a rare early morning vote. While the Senate is moving on DeVos' nomination, Vice President Mike Pence may need to vote to break a tie should Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) follow through on their threats to vote against her confirmation.

The Senate is expected to move on the nominations of Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.) for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Steve Mnuchin to serve as the secretary of the Treasury Department. The Senate will have to invoke cloture on a nominee and run out the 30 hours of limited debate before voting on confirmation. As previously noted, FreedomWorks has released a key vote for Rep. Price's nomination.

It's possible the Senate will move on remaining House-passed resolutions of disapproval through the Congressional Review Act. The House passed five resolutions last week to cancel rules promulgated and finalized in the final days of the Obama administration. While waiting for the clock to run out to bring President Trump's cabinet nominees, the Senate took positive action on two of the resolutions, sending them to President Trump's desk.

There are other issues that are on senators' minds. Judge Neil Gorsuch began making the rounds to Senate offices after President Trump announced his nomination Tuesday. In a Facebook Live with FreedomWorks, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said that he has already met with Judge Gorsuch and praised him as an originalist who will uphold the Constitution. Still, confirmation could be a challenge, though some Democrats have softened their tone since the announcement of the nomination.

Like their House counterparts, Senate committees of jurisdiction will continue piecing together their recommendations for ObamaCare repeal. There were, however, some mixed messages last week that muddy the water. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a speech last week that "[a]ll of the ObamaCare taxes need to go as part of the repeal process."

HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) suggested that Congress should only "repair" ObamaCare rather than repeal the law. Despite saying that all of ObamaCare taxes should be repealed, Chairman Hatch further confused the situation by telling reporters that he "could stand either" repeal or repair.