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Capitol Hill Update: March 20, 2017

03/20/2017

Schedule:

The House and Senate are in session this week.

House:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has nearly a dozen bills on the suspension calendar for Monday. As noted before, bills consider on the suspension calendar need a three-fifth majority to passed and typically aren't controversial. Several of the bills on the suspension calendar deal with the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, mostly for purposes of acquisition and cost control.

On Tuesday, the House will consider H.R. 372, the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). The bill, which is part of Republicans' three phase approach to health care reform, would repeal the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies under the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945.

Rep. Gosar has called Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act "a critical first step to establishing the proper foundation for a competitive and consumer-driven health insurance marketplace," adding that "[e]nding this special-interest exemption is an integral piece of any ObamaCare repeal effort and is the only reform that will actually rein in insurance company practices, increase competition and lower prices for consumers." Many of the bill's 20 cosponsors are members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Legislation similar to the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act passed the House in February 2010, by a vote of 406 to 19 in a Democrat-controlled House, and by voice vote in March 2012.

No votes are scheduled for Wednesday. The House Rules Committee will, however, take up the American Health Care Act at 10:00 am, possibly limiting or shutting down the amendment process.

Thursday will be the most interesting day of the week and the most interesting of this current Congress. The House will consider H.R. 1101, the Small Business Health Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas). The bill would allow small businesses to band together through association health plans (AHPs) to offer group health insurance coverage to employees. This would give small businesses more negotiating power and help lower health insurance costs.

The main event for the day is the American Health Care Act, House Republican leadership's alternative for ObamaCare. There will be a manager's amendment to the bill, which will make some minor concessions to conservatives in the Republican Study Committee. Those changes include optional Medicaid work requirements for states and ending the ability of states that haven't expanded Medicaid to do during the transition period to January 1, 2020.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has indicated that he wants changes to increase the value of the tax subsidies for older Americans. According to the current text of the bill, Americans between the ages of 50 and 59 would be eligible for an annual tax credit of $3,500 purchase coverage on the individual health insurance market and those 60 or older are eligible $4,000 tax credit.

The American Health Care Act is subject to a rule, which could either limit or prevent amendments from the floor. It remains to be seen if House Republican leaders have the votes to pass the bill. If they lose more than 21 members of the House Republican Conference, House Republicans will fall short of the 216 votes needed for passage. (There are currently five vacancies in the House, making a majority 216 votes.) It's possible, though far from guaranteed, that the Congressional Budget Office will produce a new score of the bill to reflect the changes.

Senate:

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first of four hearings on the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court. The first hearing will begin at 11:00 am in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building. The committee has made Judge Gorsuch's responses to questionnaires available to the public for review.

Far-left activists are prodding Senate Democrats to fight Judge Gorsuch's nomination, but they are unlikely to change the likely outcome. While there will almost certainly be hostile questions in the committee and a significant number of Senate Democrats who vote against his confirmation, there don't appear to be any significant hurdles for Judge Gorsuch.

On Tuesday, the Senate will consider the nominations of Judge Charles R. Breyer and Judge Danny C. Reeves to serve on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Breyer is being reappointed to the commission, having served through 2016. Reeves, a federal district court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, was nominated for a seat on the commission by President Barack Obama, but he wasn't confirmed.