for the week ending September 29, 2017
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The Heat is on as Republican leaders come up against the end of the fiscal year as of Saturday, September 30th with little to show for their efforts and significant hurdles to overcome; Healthcare reform will be tucked away until next year; raising the debt limit is set to be done by December 15th, a FY 2018 budget and resolution is pressing, tax reform won’t get necessary Democrat votes unless it focuses the tax savings on the middle class, codifying Obama’s DACA is doable but party differences may hold it up, and infrastructure and the Wall? Too little time left this year.
The final effort this year to pass what has been called repeal and replace, the Graham-Cassidy bill, has also failed to secure enough Republican votes to pass with a simple 51 vote majority. The effort over 7 years has taken many variations including the most recent that keeps Affordable Care Act tax funding in place for a few years, cuts around $150 billion from Medicaid over ten years and sends healthcare money to the states for them to decide how to spend it. Senators Collins (R-ME), McCain (R-AZ), Murkowski (R-AK), and Paul (R-KY) stated they would not support the bill causing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to not hold a floor vote.
While the fat lady may have sung on this week’s effort another one is very likely to come up again next year if and when Congress passes a budget resolution (Not a law and passed with a simple majority) that includes budget reconciliation plans for FY 2018 through which Republicans again will seek to pass their next version with 51 votes. They can put about any reconciliation plan into that resolution but they still need to find the votes.
The problem with producing a reasonable bill that does not throw up to 30 million people off their insurance (about 7 million healthy young Americans who signed up because it was mandatory are included in those numbers) is that Republicans campaigned against Obamacare first and years later found they could not offer an acceptable and sustainable program mainly because they were dealing with a repeal and replace in the abstract and doing things in the abstract tends to overlook actual needs. If you are going to provide assurances that a sick person can be treated to the extent they need to be treated, offering a partial solution is not an answer.
Republicans have controlled Congress for 7 years and it has never seemed to be a priority to pass a budget resolution early in the year as it should be. That is likely to change in January when that majority seeks to set up the field for another repeal and replace effort. In the meantime Senators Alexander (R) and Murray (D) have been holding hearings on a bipartisan plan with the primary purpose of stabilizing the insurance market to avoid insurers raising premiums because they are unsure if payments to insurers will be stopped by Trump or the uncertainty created by the last four repeal bills about how much money would be spent and where. Unless Alexander-Murray comes up with something that will pass soon premiums are predicted to increase by 20% to as high as 51%
Congressional Republicans and the White House are now putting forth their idea of what the coming tax reform bill will look like despite the bill not having been written and few details are available. The bill must be written and go through hearings and markup and be brought to the floor. That is not likely to happen until the spring and it is probable that if Congress actually passes a budget resolution it will include reconciliation language to pass a tax bill with 51 votes in the Senate. Republicans have all the votes they need in the House to pass anything but the Senate walks that fine line as we saw in the abandonment of Graham-Cassidy. But it is a familiar tune Republicans sing; lower taxes on business to inspire expansion and hiring, lower taxes on the middle class to inspire spending for the products the businesses create, and with corporate tax rates lowered attract off-shored businesses to come home. The desired results; jobs, prosperity and a bright and beautiful future. Talk about legislating in the abstract. Under the federal budget taxes are revenues and so create the financial bottom line the federal budgets aim to work with. So cutting taxes is spending and unless the money is gotten from somewhere we will see, as we have since Reagan a significant increase in debt and / or significant cuts to entitlement programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and, ultimately most programs that help the poor and disabled.
Disaster Relief –
With ongoing efforts to help Texas and Louisiana get back on their feet after Hurricane Harvey devastated those states then came Maria that further ravaged the Caribbean including the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico took the biggest hit leaving the entire Island without basic infrastructure, a shortage of diesel fuel and what has now become a humanitarian crisis meaning the health, safety and wellbeing of the islanders as at high risk.
Trump’s announcement that the federal government is doing a great job to help Puerto Rico has met with some skepticism. Certainly FEMA is there and were on the ground even before Maria hit but necessary fuel to, at least run generators in hospitals has run dangerously low. It is the Jones Act that had to be waived on behalf of Texas and Louisiana letting go the requirement that any fuel must be carried on a vessel flying the US flag. Maria hit ten days ago and it was not until Thursday that Trump signed the waiver to send those fuel-bearing ships to Puerto Rico. A US hospital ship in on the way and there has been some consideration of sending the aircraft carrier sent to aid Texas should now be sent to Puerto Rico. The value of the carrier’s resources are not only personnel and supplies but the airborne capacity to evacuate individuals in communities cut off from more functional areas of the island with particular concern for those who need medical treatment but can’t get to a hospital elsewhere on the island.
The Senate and House agreed to a bill in which the Secretary may waive the non-Federal share requirement for disaster affected institutions and another that allows individuals to take money out of savings and retirement accounts without penalties.
Those Investigations –
The House Intelligence Committee interviewed Roger Stone, a Trump campaign advisor who is well known as a political dirty trickster going back to Nixon. The interview was not under oath and Stone refused to answer any substantial questions about his relationship with Guccifer 2.0 the hacker who admitted to hacking the Democrat Committee servers the data after which ended up being released to the public by Julian Assange, owner of WikiLeaks who is holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Stone is likely to be called back for further interview under subpoena.
And then things get a little foggy; Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the Judiciary committee last week sought to invoke a resolution of inquiry (H.Res.446) into the details behind the firing of FBI Director James Comey but Goodlatte also curiously seeks information from the White House such as the relationship between Comey and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III. Goodlatte then announced that he has written the Justice Department to make a point calling for an investigation into various matters made political by Trump in his speeches and tweets such as Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, some comments made by the former AG Loretta Lynch to Comey about how to phrase the circumstances he was looking into regarding the server issue and other questions, concerns, and suspicions that flooded the media as, perhaps, a distraction from the rising heat regarding Trump campaign and staff and Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. Next up is another resolution of inquiry H. Res 488 from Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline seeking more details on the Comey firing and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump’s tweet “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”, the Trump Tower meeting between Kushner, Trump Jr, other Trump associates and some Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, and details of applications for a security clearance submitted by Jared Kushner or Sessions.
Mueller. Special Counsel Robert Mueller III reportedly is now interviewing White House staff in his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion between Trump campaign or White House associates and the Russian effort.
Mueller’s investigation revealed that Trump’s daughter Ivanka, an unpaid advisor, her husband Jared Kushner, also an unpaid advisor, and Former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon used private email accounts to do government business.
The Mueller investigation is getting deep and is producing information almost daily. But in the end his mission remains to determine if there was any involvement between the Russian government and individuals with the Trump campaign of a criminal nature and if there was ‘intent’ or a conspiracy to violate the law. All of the evidence gathering we hear about; reviewing Trump tax returns, interviewing White House Staff, interviewing Trump associates and reviewing what is likely to be tens of thousands of related documents is to that end. Such an investigation, though, also stumbles over information that raises other questions such as the Kushners and Bannon using private email servers, actions that Candidate Clinton was constantly attacked for and that brought on the “lock her up” chants at Trump rallies. The matter of Clinton’s server use, as mentioned above, is a matter to be investigated by Justice if Rep Goodlatte has his way but nothing yet has come out of House or Senate investigations suggesting that the Kushner / Bannon server use will be investigated.
Income Tax Created / Income Tax Reform
Magic Mondays (Video)
Political ‘Education (Video)
The Senate and House are adjourning and will return to work on Monday, October 2nd. The next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published Thursday evening October 5, 2017.
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