Weekly Legislative Report Apr 28, 2017

source: Capital Decisions Newsletter
J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/Budget

Fiscal Year 2017

Late Wednesday night, House appropriators filed a one-week continuing resolution to fund the government through May 5 and buy more time for negotiators to reach a final spending deal for the remainder of the current fiscal year.  The CR maintains funding levels and policy provisions under the current continuing resolution, which was set to expire at midnight tonight. 

Both the House and Senate passed the CR today, but not before some drama threatened to hold things up.  On Thursday, House Democrats, angered by Republican efforts to revive a health care bill aimed at dismantling Obamacare, warned they may vote against the CR if a vote on the GOP’s health care bill was scheduled for a floor vote this week.

The same sense of displeasure disrupted plans for swift passage of the CR in the Senate Thursday night when Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected to passing the measure by unanimous consent once it is approved by the House.  He said Republicans must first agree to eliminate “poison pill” policy riders that remain contested in the larger spending deal.  Schumer’s move forced the Senate to stay in session today to await House action on the CR and take its own formal vote on the measure to ensure there would be no government shutdown.

Lawmakers took a significant step toward a FY17 spending agreement this week when President Trump made two concessions that paved the way toward a deal.  He agreed to forgo immediate funding for construction of a wall along the Mexican border, settling for other border security money instead, and he agreed to continue making payments for health insurance subsidies created under Obamacare to help reduce out-of-pocket costs for those in the individual marketplace despite earlier threats that he would withhold the payments.

Leaders of both parties say they are making progress on an FY17 bill and still appear determined to get a spending deal in place to fund the government through the end of September when the current fiscal year expires.

FY18 Budget Resolution

House Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black (R-TN) this week said that she hopes that her committee will mark up an FY18 budget blueprint that eliminates the deficit within 10 years the week of May 15, with adoption by the full House before the Memorial Day recess.  Wiping out the deficit in 10 years is estimated to require finding $8 trillion in cost savings over the decade, assuming no major increase in taxes.  Black suggested the savings could come in part by restructuring Medicare and Medicaid, but such a plan could set up a clash with the Trump administration, which has promised to avoid Medicare cuts.

Education

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017 that amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow private-sector employers to offer workers the choice of paid time off in lieu of cash wages for overtime hours worked.  The bill passed by a vote of 22 to 16.

The full Committee held a hearing on strengthening accreditation in post-secondary education and is initiating efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which efforts were advanced in the Senate side last year.  Concerns exist that the current accreditation system has evolved to focus on ensuring   quality learning outcomes and is consumed with compliance.  Other concerns have been raised that the current system can stifle innovation.  The hearing brought attention to the changes in delivering post-secondary higher education, (including STEM technical trade and on-line learning) and the need for metrics that respect the diversity of IHE missions and types of students served to assess learning outcomes that are not credit hour based.

In other education news, the Department of Education is reportedly considering in-house training to conduct reduction in force actions.  Both President Trump and Secretary Betsy DeVos has previously stated they are looking for areas to cut at the department and lessen the role of the federal government in education policy.

President Trump signed an executive order that empowers Sec. DeVos to conduct a study on  how the federal government “has unlawfully overstepped state and local control.”  The executive order gives Sec. DeVos almost a year to identify any regulations or guidance related to K-12 schools that are inconsistent with federal law.

Energy/Environment

Paris Climate Agreement

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), a key energy adviser to President Donald Trump during his campaign advocated Thursday that the United States remain in the Paris climate agreement, although it should demand changes to voluntary targets that do “not do harm” to nation’s economy.  Cramer led a letter with nine other GOP House members advocating that the U.S. renegotiate the global agreement’s goals for reducing climate-altering emissions from fossil fuels like coal and oil. 

The Trump administration continues to debate whether to remain in the Paris climate accord, which was agreed to by the Obama administration in 2015.  GOP Members of Congress remain split on the issue – many of them criticized Obama’s decision to enter into the agreement without congressional consent, but now see remaining in the accord necessary to advancing U.S. international interests.

Industry advocates such the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), along with 13 companies including Walmart, Google and Shell Oil, among others, also advocated staying in the Paris agreement for fear of economic fallout from leaving it.  But key administration officials like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House advisor Steven Bannon have pushed for the U.S. to exit.  Also advocating to exit is Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), who issued a memo this week highlighting potential negative economic impacts from remaining in the agreement. 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration would have an official position before the G7 meetings at the end of May.  Media reports indicated that key White House advisors will meet Thursday to discuss the administration’s options.

Antiquities Act

President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to review and potentially change previous national monument designations.

At a Wednesday signing ceremony, Trump framed the order as a way to return power to states and individuals after former President Obama and his predecessors blocked development on hundreds of millions of acres of federal land and water by creating monuments.  The order is aimed primarily at the highly controversial Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.3 million-acre site in Utah that Obama designated in December.  His action protected areas sacred to American Indian tribes but also prevented any potential development, like oil and gas drilling.  Trump said the designation happened “over the profound objections of the citizens of Utah.”

The review covers all monument designations over 100,000 acres going back to 1996, which includes more than three-dozen monuments.  Under the Antiquities Act, presidents have nearly unlimited power to create national monuments on land the federal government already owns.

Democrats will likely to resist any effort to change the Antiquities Act legislatively, another goal of Trump’s order.

Healthcare

ACA Repeal and Replace

There was a renewed push this week to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus announced their support for an amendment negotiated by Rep. MacArthur (R-NJ). The amendment would allow states to waive essential health benefits and community rating requirements if the state has established a high-risk pool.

 

However, while the amendment garnered the support of more conservative Members, moderates remained hesitant to support it.  On Wednesday, House leadership posted the MacArthur amendment text on the Rules Committee website, laying the groundwork for a vote to happen as soon as today or tomorrow. However, last night House leaders announced no vote will be held until next week at the earliest.  When pressed at the House Rules Committee meeting last night on the Continuing Resolution about the likelihood of the House voting next week, Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said the possibility is a “definite maybe.”  

In an effort to bring moderates on board, an amendment making changes to the Medicaid title of the bill is under discussion. Rep. Collins (R-NY) described the potential changes as “tweaks,” telling reporters “there are a couple of other tweaks that could occur on the Medicaid side to help in some extent, without it being such a huge issue that it would lose anybody.”  As you know, moderates, particularly those from expansion states, have been opposed to the $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid in the bill. However, significant changes could cause some conservatives, who in some instances believe the bill remains “too generous,” to flip from “yes” to “no.”

With the House scheduled to be on recess the second week in May, if they do not vote next week, the earliest opportunity after that would be the week of May 15.

Trump Administration

FDA Commissioner Nomination

On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the nomination of Scott Gottlieb, MD, to serve as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by a vote of 14 – 9. Gottlieb was approved on a largely party line vote with Senators Bennet (D-CO) and Whitehouse (D-RI) voting by proxy in favor of the nomination. The nomination now goes to the full Senate for a vote; a timeline for Senate floor consideration has not yet been announced.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, Senators will continue to process President Donald Trump’s nominations and will need to come up with a solution to funding the government through September.  The one week CR (H J Res 99) gives negotiators a little more time to finalize an omnibus deal.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that text of an agreement could surface Monday evening.  At that point, senators would need to reach a unanimous consent agreement to process the final bill quickly enough to avert a shutdown.

The immediate business for the Senate on Monday will be a rather customary 5:30 p.m. cloture vote to limit debate on Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton of New York to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission.