Capitol Hill Update: March 13, 2017
The House and Senate are in session this week.
All eyes this week are on the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the House Budget Committee. The CBO will release the cost estimate for the American Health Care Act this week, as early as today. No one knows for sure how the score will look, but the early indications are that it won’t be a good score, which is why House Republicans are slamming the CBO ahead of the release of the score.
Keith Hall, the director of the CBO, served on President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors and was a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank. He was named to run the CBO by House and Senate Republican leadership in February 2015.
While not on the House committee calendar yet, the House Budget Committee is expected to markup the American Health Care Act this week. The House Ways and Means Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up their respective parts of the bill Wednesday. The Budget Committee will take the recommendations from the two committees and combine them into a single legislative text. The bill is expected to go to the floor for a vote next week.
FreedomWorks has maintained that the American Health Care Act needs improvement before it goes to the House floor for a vote. The biggest concern with the bill is the advanceable, refundable tax credit, which takes the place of ObamaCare’s tax subsidies, and how the bill handles Medicaid expansion before it’s presumably repealed at the beginning of 2020.
Fixes, such as making the tax credit nonrefundable or only partially refundable and freezing enrollment under Medicaid expansion would go a long way to winning FreedomWorks’ support for the bill. These concerns have been echoed by Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and other members of the RSC, as well as members of the House Freedom Caucus.
Though ObamaCare and the American Health Care Act will dominate the week, the House will take up several bills on suspension this week. The chamber will also take up two bills related to veterans. The first is H.R. 1259, the VA Accountability First Act, introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). The bill would make it easier for the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to discipline an employee for poor performance or misconduct and improve protections for whistleblowers. The other bill, H.R. 1367, introduced by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), makes it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire and retain physicians and other employees.
The Senate will proceed to final confirmation for Seema Verma to serve as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Cloture was invoked on Verma’s nomination on Thursday by a vote of 54 to 44. The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, March 14 on the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to serve as U.S. Trade Representative. Lighthizer’s nomination could come to the full chamber this week.
There are several House-passed resolutions of disapproval to cancel the Obama administration’s midnight rules under the Congressional Review Act that could come to the Senate floor for votes. To date, the Senate has passed seven of the 14 CRAs that have already passed the House. The Senate Republican Policy Committee has a handy tracker to see which ones have passed and which ones the Senate has yet to take action.