For the week ending June 16, 2017
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The sense of how well Congress is moving forward with the Republican Leadership agenda, at least in the media, is that things are stalled and that that is curious because Republicans control both bodies and the White House. To some degree the assessment is true. True when weighed against actions taken to implement Trump campaign promises and the establishment of the Republican Better Way agenda developed over the past year but not yet acted on. Not true when you weigh in behind doors negotiations in the Senate over the American Healthcare Act and legislation in the House this week aiming to bend the AHCA bill, HR 1628, in advance of the Senate amending the bill.
An industrious agenda proposed by Republicans includes significant tax breaks in a tax reform package. Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA – Obamacare) is essential to moving forward because the repeal would free up nearly $1 trillion in taxes on individuals, insurers, and medical device manufacturers designed to pay for the ACA and would cut about $800 billion for the Medicaid expansions that helped pay insurance premiums for the poor. Without those changes in revenues and spending future bills cannot be brought forward.
Weeks back the House passed HR 1628, the American Healthcare Act quickly declared dead on arrival in the Senate and Senate Leadership waffled on diving into their own version signaling the bill might not be debated this year. Now about 12 Republican Senators are reportedly crafting their version with the possibility it will be sufficient to attract 50 votes and be passed before the July 4th break. The content of the proposed bill that is likely to replace the text of HR 1628 but the search for 50 votes indicates it would be unpalatable to Democrats because of Americans who would lose or not be able to afford insurance coverage and two Republican Senators (Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska) who would also object to those provisions because their states would lose, over three years’ time, Medicaid funds.
The House passed four bills aiming to modify the AHCA; HR 2581 would allow the Treasury to make tax credit payments to insurers in advance on behalf of those enrolled in a healthcare insurance plan but before Treasury can make those payments Treasury must have received confirmation from health and Human Services the person is a US citizen or an alien lawfully present in the US. HR 1215 imposes limits on medical malpractice litigation in state and federal courts ‘by capping awards and attorney fees, modifying the statute of limitations, and eliminating joint and several liability on suits involving federal involvement such as Obamacare. HR 2372 would codify regulations that allow veterans who are eligible for, but do not elect to be covered by, certain Veterans Affairs health programs to qualify for premium assistance tax credits. And HR 2579 would amend provisions of AHCA and previous law whereby someone losing their job would be allowed to continue to pay out of pocket for their employee sponsored health insurance. The bill allows unsubsidized continuation coverage but under a new definition of qualified health plans and receiving new credits. All four bills would have no impact until HR 1628 is enacted.
Those investigations –
The Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions questioning him first about a third meeting with the Russian Ambassador which Sessions said was not a meeting but acknowledgement in passing when he gave a lecture at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C..
Sessions was also asked about his role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, Jr. and any discussion he may have had with the president about that matter. Sessions did not agree to discuss the content of such matters because he believed they are protected as private discussions with the President and not to be discussed publicly. He said he was not authorized by the White House to invoke executive privilege to not respond.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating Trump about any actions he may have taken that could be seen as an attempt to obstruct justice governing the investigation into any possible collusion Trump staff may have had with Russians during the 2016 campaign. Despite assertions from the White House and its surrogates that this constitutes an illegal FBI leak, the Post stated that it drew its conclusion after finding out that several Trump Administration officials have been asked by Mueller and agreed to testify. Among the sources are Homeland Security Director Dan Coats and National Security Agency head Adm. Mike Rogers.
The House Intelligence Committee investigation into the possible collusion had nothing to report this week. The House government Oversight Committee chaired by retiring Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will be chaired by Rep. Tray Gowdy (R-SC) formerly chair of the fruitless Benghazi investigation also reported no activities this week.
The House agreed with the Senate on S 1094, a bill giving VA heads the ability to quickly fire errant managers and protect whistleblowers; and passed 6 bills extending authority of 6 hydro-electric projects.
Other energy bills that passed were HR 338, prioritizing education and training for energy and manufacturing-related jobs in order to increase the number of skilled workers; HR 627 regarding available programs and financing mechanisms that may be used to help initiate, develop, and finance energy efficiency, distributed generation, and energy retrofitting projects for schools; HR 1109 requiring any merger or consolidation of a public utility whose value exceeds $10 million first be authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The House also passed 6 bills extending contracts for hydroelectric projects.
The Senate quickly amended and passed S 722 specifying sanctions the president can impose on Iran. A significant amendment significantly increased sanctions on Russia.
Senate Joint Resolution 42 proposed by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) stating disapproval of the proposed export to the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of certain defense articles resulting from the ‘deal’ cut recently with that country and Trump failed to gain sufficient votes to discharge the bill from committee for a floor vote. The effort failed 47–53.
Statements warning against repeal of Obamacare
Magic Mondays (Video)
Political Education (Video)
The Senate and House are adjourning and will return to work on Monday, June 19th. The next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published Thursday evening, June 22nd.
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