for the week ending December 22, 2017
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Watching the past two weeks, what with the development, vote gathering and passage of HR 1 promising tax cuts and an accelerating economy, has been a bit like looking through a kaleidoscope where an adjustment to the lens produces a completely different design.
Tax Cuts –
Whoops might be a good word to describe the process of passing HR 1. With passage in the House the conference report landed in the Senate where the parliamentarian ruled some provisions of the bill as violating Senate rules under the reconciliation process designed to allow passage in the Senate with 51 votes.
Those provisions are allowing the use of tax-free college savings accounts for home-school expenses and how colleges and universities determine if endowments would be subject to an excise tax.
The House voted 227 to 203 with 12 Republicans opposing the bill for the original conference report. The Senate, not wanting to deal with the need for 60 votes to keep the provisions have dropped them from the bill. The Senate then voted 51 to 48 for the amended conference report and the House then voted 224 to 201. sending the bill to the White House for signature into law. The bill will be signed in 2018 to avoid triggering a sequester.
Continuing Resolution –
Unable to piece together a budget for 2018 Republicans introduced and passed an amendment to the current Continuing Resolution that expires December 22nd extending the expiration date to January 19, 2018. It is largely a Defense bill in that it fully funds the DoD through September 2018.
The bill continues financing for CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as community health facilities around the country. Ironically the bill leans on Obamacare for a state-level fix; if a state is going to remove a residents health coverage it is directed to refer the individual to the Obamacare exchange to buy insurance.
The Tax bill repeals the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act requiring everyone to buy health insurance. The provision aimed to keep premiums low since those insured are probably healthy and so the revenue helps insurers to pay for higher claims from those with preexisting conditions and age-related illnesses. So the repeal somewhat rings the death bell of the ACA if not a slow death for those who want coverage but are likely to find premiums have risen perhaps prohibitively.
But there is hope on the horizon for those who want to see the ACA continue or at least made stable until a suitable replacement can be made. And that is where Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins came in. Collins negotiated or her vote on the tax bill in exchange for consideration of a bill that has been developed by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that has the primary aim of stabilizing the insurance market (give insurers some assurance of government policy, particularly regarding the ACA.
We will see if Senate leadership makes good on the promise early in 2018.
Those Investigations –
The Senate Intelligence Committee continues the process of interviewing witnesses regarding Russian hacking of the 2016 election and any potential collusion between Trump campaign staff and the Russians and, parenthetically, if there was any obstruction of justice with the firing of James Comey then Director of the FBI. The Committee co-chair Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) addressed the Senate on Wednesday expressing concern that the dysfunction in the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees are heading to undermine the Mueller investigation and / or create an atmosphere in which Trump can fire Mueller. Trump has said he is not discussing Flynn pardon yet. But Trump’s promises are seldom kept. The White House counsel responded saying that there is no consideration of firing Mueller.
In the House the committee investigations are essentially no longer investigating anything and apparently have not even scheduled witnesses in 2018. What is growingly clear, based on the type of questioning aimed at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees are, along with conservative media, attempting to cast doubt about the integrity of the investigation now conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Fortunately the questions asked Rosenstein seemed based only on personal conspiracy theories and show a near complete lack of understanding of how the Justice Department and FBI system of checks and balances work as well as the process of gathering information under the law.
The anti-Mueller people hold that he illegally obtained emails and other data developed by the Trump campaign committee but stored on the computers of the General Services Administration. The campaign says the data is privileged and privately owned but government rules tell us that data on public computers is public data.
The last report on Mueller is that he met with Trump lawyers this week regarding the investigation. Speculation is that the investigation is narrowing, getting closer to Trump insiders, but is likely to go on for another year. The predicted length of the investigation speaks to the fact that part of the final results may well have little or nothing to do with Trump and the Russians. If there was the laundering of Russian money in the US it would be a crime and could have nothing to do with Trump but it will not be ignored as out of the boundaries of the investigation which is to focus on potential collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign and / or obstruction of justice.
Loose Ends –
DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, originated with Obama and Democrats have aimed to have the action codified into law. An arrangement with Trump seemed to guarantee such actions will be considered but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that there is until March to handle the matter and it will not be addressed this year. DACA covers about 800,000 individuals brought here as children and who have applied for the DACA protection, have committed no crime and are employed.
Where Are We Now?
Hamilton on Congress
What to Look For in 2018
Magic Mondays (Video)
Political ‘Education’ (Video)
The Senate and House are adjourned and will return to work on January 3, 2018.
The next edition of TheWeekinCongress.com will be published Thursday evening January 10, 2018.
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