summary for the week ending March 17, 2017
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A slow week on the Hill due to winter storms and, perhaps, the behavioral dysfunction surrounding the first phase of the American Healthcare Act (AHCA). The House, losing two days of business due to snow failed to debate several bills last week of which three were carried over to this week. This week is proving to be even less productive as 12 bills were scheduled but only four or five were given the floor time.
The big issue again this week is the resistance to the AHCA from Democrats, several House Republicans and several Republican Senators. Those opponents are countered by the White House that seems to want to take the bill as is although Trump has met with opposition groups who said he seems willing to make some compromises. Also in the pro bill queue are those Senate and House Members favoring the AHCA and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price.
In a town hall meeting Wednesday Price defended the bill’s provisions that remove $880 billion in Medicaid spending first by saying that the focus should not be on how much is spent on Medicaid but how good the medical care it buys is. Price was not asked nor did he offer an explanation of how the medical care would be improved but suggested as other supporters of the bill have that there are two more phases of this process; creating a cross-state-border market to create health insurer competition and so cause prices to drop and converting Medicaid to a block grant program and a set amount per beneficiary to be spent by the States with the idea that states know better what their Medicaid population needs. Price also suggested that with the economic expansion believed to come from deregulation and other White House machinations will create jobs and Americans will find they have more money and can buy the insurances or invest in tax-free healthcare savings accounts.
The bill seems to be headed for deficit growth. While the Congressional Budget Office scored the removal of the $880 billion in Medicaid payments that the bill intends to accomplish by 2020 or, possibly, by 2018 as a $37 billion per year savings over ten years the bill also removes some $880 billion in taxes on people and businesses that funded the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is a tax break and by federal budget standards is spending. No apparent offsets have been provided so we can conclude that the $880 billion Medicaid savings are quickly spent on the $880 billion tax cuts. For the time being the bill will continue to provide the Medicaid subsidies now in place but offers no offset in the absence of the $880 billion tax revenues to be suspended.
There is a good bit of ‘trust me’ in the AHCA pitches. Will the selling insurance across state lines cause competition between insurers or will we find that the reasons insurers pulled out of some markets is because there just isn’t enough of a market to participate in so those states will still be ignored as they are under the ACA?
The AHCA bill is reportedly due for some floor time during the week of March 20th.
As mentioned above the House is only handling a limited number of bills this week. Beyond those scheduled last week and considered this week are three VA-related bills. Nine bills dealing with reorganizing Homeland Security acquisitions, transportation security and food safety will likely be debated the week of March 20th.
Senators continued the process of approving presidential nominees. The Senate approved the nomination of Daniel Coats to be Director of National Intelligence. 85-12; Seema Verma to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 55-43 and approved of H.J. Res. 42 (Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to drug testing of unemployment compensation applicants. The nullification of the rule means States can drug test anyone applying for unemployment insurance.
Time for Honesty
Hamilton on Congress
In Favor of Pragmatism
Magic Mondays with Rep. Marc Pocan (Video)
Political Humor (Video)
The Senate and House are adjourning and will return to work Monday, March 20th. He next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published Thursday evening, March 23rd.
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