Capitol Hill Update: April 24, 2017
The House and Senate are in session this week.
It will be a busy week in the House, with government funding and, possibly, the American Health Care Act, H.R. 1628, on the agenda.
The House will meet in pro forma session on Monday. Legislative action begins on Tuesday, with several bills on the suspension calendar. As is usually the case, the bills on the suspension calendar aren’t controversial and are expected to pass by the three-fifths majority required to suspend the rules.
On Wednesday, the House will consider the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, H.R. 1695, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). Though the bill is subject to a rule limiting or preventing amendments, it does have bipartisan support in both chambers. The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act would make the head of the U.S. Copyright Office, officially known as the Register of Copyrights, a presidential appointment subject to Senate confirmation. The term would be limited to ten years, though it is renewable through another nomination and Senate confirmation.
On Thursday, the House will take up the Fannie and Freddie Open Records Act, H.R. 1694, sponsored by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). The bill would make Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for as long as they are federal conservatorship or receivership.
The existing continuing resolution (CR) expires on Friday, April 28. Congress must pass a new CR to keep the government open. Initially, it seemed as though Congress would pass a CR that would run through September 30, the end of FY 2017. In recent days, there has been more discussion of a short-term CR, perhaps a week long, so Congress can work through any remaining issues to ensure passage. The White House has requested funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico in exchange for the funding of ObamaCare’s cost-sharing subsidies, which were illegally funded by the Obama administration. Democrats, however, are balking at funding for the border wall.
To be clear, there isn’t much of an appetite in the House for a fight over the CR. It’s likely that most House conservatives would prefer to have a debate over government funding, priorities, and fiscal responsibility when the lower chamber begins legislative action on the FY 2018 budget, which is expected to begin in the Budget Committee in mid-May.
Finally, House Republican leaders could bring the American Health Care Act (AHCA), H.R. 1628, off the shelf for action this week, though that’s unlikely. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, have reached a tentative agreement to the AHCA that could provide a path forward for a floor vote.
While the text of the MacArthur amendment hasn’t been released, a summary obtained by Politico explained what it would entail. States will be able to apply for limited waivers from the Department of Health and Human Services for aspects of community rating and the essential health benefits as long as certain criteria are met. States would be required to show that they’re seeking a waiver to reduce insurance premiums or increase the number of insured individuals.
Community rating rules for gender and age can’t be waived. Basically, an insurer cannot charge women more than men for coverage and they cannot charge older people more than five times more than younger people. They can increase the ratio, however, which would make coverage more expensive for younger people. The ratio under ObamaCare is 3:1.
A requirement that has to be met for a state to receive a waiver for pricing health status is the state must have an established high-risk pool or participate in the federal high-risk pool.
Rep. MacArthur, who was already supportive of the AHCA, may not be able to deliver members of the Tuesday Group who either weren’t already on board the bill. It’s likely, assuming the text of the amendment provides states with enough flexibility, that most of the members of the House Freedom Caucus will support the AHCA when it comes to the floor.
Like the House, the Senate will have to quickly act on a CR to keep the government open past April 28. Unlike the budget, a CR is subject to a filibuster, which means that a policy rider desired by the White House for border wall funding could be an obstacle to passage. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-N.Y.) has already publicly objected to the rider, indicating that he will block passage. Assuming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn’t lose anyone in his conference, Republicans need eight Democrats to pass the CR.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will consider the nomination of Dr. Scott Gottlieb to serve as the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A physician and economist, Gottlieb has an impressive résumé. He is also a cancer survivor, giving him a unique perspective on the FDA’s responsibilities.
We’re also watching the nomination of Neomi Rao, who has been appointed to serve as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is housed inside the White House Office of Management and Budget. Among other responsibilities, OIRA is responsible for the review and implementation of federal regulations. In case one needs validation of this choice, ThinkProgress has labeled Rao as an "anti-government extremist." The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over the nomination. No hearings have been scheduled as of this time.
There are several remaining nominees that the Senate will likely consider or move through committee this week. Remaining cabinet nominees are Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-Ga.) to serve as secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Alexander Acosta to serve as the secretary of the Department of Labor. Perdue and Acosta have already cleared committee. Several other subcabinet nominees who are subject to Senate confirmation may also come to the floor this week.
Assuming the House does act, it’s unlikely that the Senate will take any action this week on the American Health Care Act.