for the week ending September 8, 2017
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Set aside any thoughts that Congress returning from the August break has an unobstructed path to finally accomplish some significant legislative advances….
A last ditch effort to pass legislation to repeal might be brought up and pass the House but Senate has shown no stomach to revisit the matter. After the July bloodbath over the repeal effort two Senators teamed up to create a bipartisan bill to reform American healthcare. They are Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA). They will begin holding hearings in September (something not done before any of McConnell’s bills came to the floor). The simple version is to produce a temporary bill that would aim to stabilize the insurance markets and then revisit the full bill next year. Insurers have been or have been threatening to exit several markets due to uncertainty of Obamacare’s future what with the ongoing efforts in July and before to end the law and Trump’s threats to withhold cost-sharing payments made to insurers to help cover premiums not otherwise affordable to the purchaser.
Both Senators are known for finding bipartisan solutions to political gridlock. Murray in particular was part of the team that got a budget resolution passed several years back that avoided another government shutdown. It is unclear if McConnell will bring such a bill to the floor or allow the matter to drift into the 2018 legislative year. The importance of such a legislative solution is emphasized by the need of insurers to set premium rates for the coming year and decide to vacate or stay in current markets around the country.
Finally the effort to cripple and / or dismantle Obamacare continues in the appropriation bills considered currently; HR 3110 appropriating funds for financial services and general government, including the IRS, would limit the IRS ability to enforce the provision that requires all to purchase health insurance. Called the individual mandate, the provision was set up to provide revenue to the insurers from those likely to be young and healthy and thereby offsets to some degree the increased cost of insuring less healthy people as the law requires.
In the real world there are must-pass matters that could be open to political efforts –
Raising the debt limit. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has asked for a ‘clean’ debt limit bill meaning the bill should not be without riders that would force Democrats or errant Republicans to support an unacceptable bill or be seen as causing a government shutdown. Even there Trump threatened to veto the borrowing bill if funding for his southern border wall is not provided.
A development this week changed the game; Trump agreed with Republicans to an 18 month extension to deal with the debt limit increase but then cut a deal with Senate and House Democrat leaders to give Congress until December 15th. The deal rests on Trump agreeing to support the December 15th effort by signing that bill. The effort then requires Congress to pass a continuing resolution that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought to the floor. His bill, HR 601, provides the $450 million the House intended for Small Business Administration grants to help businesses in Texas and Louisiana but in lieu of Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida bumped the House and Trump request of $7.4 billion to $15 billion. McConnell amended HR 601 to also include delaying the debt increase until December 9th. He gathered 76 votes to invoke cloture and move forward to vote on the bill. McConnell’s bill garnered a 79-18vote to proceed.
The FY 2018 budget. While no budget resolution has been agreed to in the House or Senate the House has moved from the Budget Committee to the floor an omnibus bill containing appropriations for 8 government agencies. Last month the House passed the ‘Minibus’ containing several policy and spending provisions including the $1.6 billion intended to expand the wall which reportedly would cost from $20 billion to $40 billion. In the House appropriation bill for Homeland Security approximately $400 million is provided for adding to or supplementing the existing wall in several California counties. In addition to Trump’s threat House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) has stated publicly that such a wall is necessary…but that was before Hurricane Harvey…and then Irma.
That bill at this time has strong political undertones; The September 30 end of the fiscal year is traditionally when budgets are completed but that has not happened for several years. Rather a continuing resolution was passed to fund the government at current spending levels with some tweaks and increases usually for Defense and Homeland Security. This year heads into the 2018 campaign year for the congressional elections in November. Republicans without at least a budget are facing constituents without having passed any substantial and necessary legislation. Trump produced his budget outline in a timely fashion but Congress is most certain to go its own way as evidenced by the proposed funding in the 8 appropriations bills most of which are below Trump’s request.
Those investigations. The plot thickens as Special Counsel Robert Mueller III sent out subpoenas and used grand juries to gather the evidence supporting or disputing the allegations of potential collusion between Trump campaign staff and other associated with the campaign and Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But such investigations can wander into other territory if they turn up other matters that may be illegal. Mueller’s focus on Paul Manafort, a Trump campaign manager for a time, appears to have more to do with the possibility of money laundering but his interest in an unsent letter created by Trump and his aid Steven Miller to then FBI Director James Comey, Jr explaining Trump’s reasons for firing Comey is under scrutiny and would appear to be connected to the collusion allegations.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6th) has introduced a measure that would end Mueller’s investigation in 180 days after passage by cutting funds to the investigations. The bill would also prohibit Mueller from investigating any matters before June 2015. The date is when Trump announced his candidacy and so would protect him from any inquiries into Trump and company involvement with Russia before that date.
DeSantis’ brazen attempt to upend Mueller’s investigation may not be supported by many Republicans but the House Appropriations Committee decided to reject an amendment from Rep. Nita Lowey (R-NY) aiming to ensure the integrity of Mueller’s investigation 23 to 29 with one Republican supporting Lowey’s amendment.
The plot thickens and then gets weird –
Donald Trump Jr testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he attended the 2015 meeting at Trump towers with Trump son-in-law Jared Kutcher, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and about 6 Russians with the idea he would get some damning information on candidate Hillary Clinton but was then going to check with counsel to see if it was proper to use that information in the campaign.
A recent media report explained that Facebook earned around $100,000 in 2016 campaign ad revenue that it later realized was paid by a Russian propaganda organization.
So much for recusing one’s self –
The mysterious Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) known for his midnight meeting on White House grounds when he received information from an unidentified source possibly exonerating Trump involvement in the Russian election meddling is again acting mysterious. Nunes chairs the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections but has shown more interest in investigation Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. After recusing himself from the Russia investigation Nunes has now gone out on his own sending a request to the Justice Department asking them to turn over information they have on dossier compiled by a British spy to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. Nunes signed off on a subpoena demanding the Justice Department deliver the goods but Justice did not respond as requested by September 1st. Nunes now threatens to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Chris Wray in contempt of Congress.
What exactly are congressional Republicans trying to do and why isn’t it working?
North Korea / ISIS / Iran
Magic Mondays Highlights (Video)
Political Satire Defined (Video)
The Senate and House are adjourning and will return to work on Monday, September 11th. The next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published Thursday evening September 14th.
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