Sarah Strup Herbert
On Thursday, Leader McConnell told reporters that the large amount of legislative business this year will likely leave little time to complete all twelve FY2018 spending bills needed to fund the government before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, 2017.
The Senate is already busy with confirmation fights over President Trump’s Cabinet nominees and will soon start the confirmation process for a Supreme Court nominee. Furthermore, Congress hasn’t completed work on FY17 spending bills and has to come up with a solution for funding the government when the existing continuing resolution expires in April.
McConnell did signal that he would like to get some of the FY18 appropriations bills through the Senate, but his comment largely signaled a likely return to continuing resolutions and catchall omnibus spending measures at the end of the year.
Congressional Committee Membership
The Senate Appropriations Committee released subcommittee assignments this week. The full committee chairman remains Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and the new Democratic ranking member is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The announcement, released on Tuesday, assigns the following new subcommittee chairs:
- Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Military Construction-Veterans Affairs — Jerry Moran (R-KS), replacing Mark Kirk of Illinois, who lost re-election
- Agriculture Subcommittee –John Hoeven (R-ND)
- Homeland Security Subcommittee — John Boozman (R-AR)
- Financial Services Subcommittee — Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
- Legislative Branch Subcommittee — James Lankford (R-OK)
On the Democratic side, the new subcommittee ranking members are:
- Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee –Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), replacing former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who retired at the end of the 114th Congress
- Homeland Security –Jon Tester (D-MT)
- Military Construction-VA Subcommittee –Brian Schatz (D-HI)
- Legislative Branch –Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
Six subcommittees that remain unchanged at the leadership level are:
- Energy-Water –Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
- Defense –Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Richard Durbin (D-IL)
- Interior-Environment –Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Tom Udall (D-NM)
- State-Foreign Operations –Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
- Transportation-HUD –Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI)
- Labor-HHS-Education –Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA)
On Friday, January 20, after President Trump’s inauguration, the White House issued a memorandum to all executive departments and agencies to freeze new or pending regulations — giving the new administration time to review them. A copy of that memo can be found here.
As such, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this week it will freeze 30 regulations, most of which were published in the Federal Register after the 2016 election but have not yet taken effect. They will be delayed until March 21. There is also a moratorium on issuing grants and contracts, but EPA communications officials have not responded to a request for a list of the frozen grants and contracts.
The renewable fuel standard published in December is the EPA’s highest-profile rule to fall victim to Trump’s regulatory moratorium. Emissions standards for wood manufacturers will also be delayed.
This will give Trump’s EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, time to review the rules after he is confirmed by the Senate. At that point, many of the EPA’s more controversial rules could be entirely dismantled.
The freeze, in conjunction with other reported edicts at EPA, including the removal of the agency’s climate change webpage and a gag order on agency employees’ interactions with the public, have raised concerns about the Trump administration approach to the agency’s environmental responsibilities.
Lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) warned that this type of freeze raises questions about instituting a politically motivated influence into the EPA’s contracting.
In his first week in office, President Trump appears to be making good on his campaign promise to do all he can to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On January 20th, one of Trump’s first executive orders was to instruct the federal agencies to use their authorities to repeal the ACA and grant more flexibility to the states. The order does not give the Agencies any new powers and does not repeal the law by itself, but it may change how the law is implemented. For example, the Agencies could use it to stop enforcing the individual mandate. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the full implications of the order, which will probably remain until the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are confirmed in the coming month or so.
Additionally, yesterday the Trump Administration pulled the plug on advertising for the final days of the 2017 enrollment season. Individuals may still enroll in exchange plans until the January 31 deadline, but no advertising, even ads that have already been placed and paid for, will be shown. The pulling of the ads is considered potentially significant because many individuals, especially young healthy adults who are critical to making the markets work, often wait until the last minute to sign up. Last night it was reported the Administration was also banning follow up emails to individuals who had been shopping for a plan on healthcare.gov, but this afternoon those emails resumed.
This week, Senators Collins (R-ME) and Cassidy (R-LA) introduced an ACA replacement bill. The Senators’ plan lets states choose from three options: keep the current ACA system, reject any federal assistance, or transition to a new program that will automatically enroll eligible individuals in a high-deductible plan linked to a health savings account.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) also introduced a replacement plan this week. Some of the key provisions in Paul’s plan include eliminating the ACA’s essential health benefits requirements, allowing for unlimited savings in Health Savings Accounts, allowing for the sale of insurance across state lines and bringing together associations to create insurance pools.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has not committed to any one proposal at this point. Some insiders called the Collins/Cassidy bill a compromise which neither side is quite ready for just yet.
While the budget resolution passed by the House and Senate earlier this month set a deadline of January 27 (today) for the Committees of Jurisdiction to develop their pieces of the ACA repeal/replacement plans, the Committees are obviously missing the deadline, which was non-binding. At this point, at least the House Committees are reportedly targeting to hold markups of legislation in mid to late February. It is expected the House Committees will go first and no dates have been circulated for consideration by the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committees.
Next week in Congress, the House is set to begin the process of repealing regulations issued by the Obama administration in the last half of 2016 using the Congressional Review Act and have picked five rules for disapproval next week.
In the Senate, members will continue with confirmation hearings for President Trump’s picks for top Cabinet positions.
Donald Trump has been in office for seven days and has already issued a slew of Executive Actions. They are summarized below:
- Provide “relief” from Affordable Care Act from Agencies
- Freeze Obama Regulations
- Block taxpayers dollars to NGOs overseas who provide abortions
- Pull Out of Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement
- Freeze Federal Workforce (no new hires outside of national security).
- Advance Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines
- Streamline Infrastructure Environmental Reviews
- Promote “Made in USA” Pipelines
- Review Domestic Manufacturing regulations
- Build border wall between U.S. and Mexico (will need Congress to appropriate money – likely around the April 28 spending showdown)
- Pursuit of Undocumented Immigrants
President Trump announced Tuesday that he will reveal his choice for the new Supreme Court justice next week after meeting with Senate leaders to discuss the vacancy.