Legislative / Policy Update
Senate Floor. The Senate plans to wrap up consideration of its first package of FY 2020 appropriations bills, a package that includes spending for Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior-Environment, and Transportation-HUD.
Also this week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer plans to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to force a floor vote on his third resolution to overturn regulations issued by the Trump Administration. This week’s resolution would repeal a regulation dealing with health insurance plans and, like the previous two CRA resolutions, will fail to get the 51 votes needed for passage. The other two votes were on resolutions to reverse the Administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule and to overturn regulations preventing workarounds to the limitation on the state and local tax deduction.
House Floor. The biggest item on the House schedule this week will be a resolution to formalize procedures for the impeachment inquiry. The vote on Thursday will, according to a letter that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent Democrats today, “eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House.”
In other action, the House plans to take up various bills under suspension of the rules, requiring two-thirds majorities for passage. The suspension bills include legislation by Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) providing that money spent from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for maintenance, dredging, and other harbor improvements would not count toward the budget caps. Another suspension bill provides that e-cigarettes and other nicotine vaping products would be subject to the same legal requirements as cigarettes. At the end of the week, the House will recess until Nov. 12.
Drug Prices. One bill that was expected to be on the House schedule this week is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill. However, consideration has been delayed until next month as Democrats wait for a final score from the Congressional Budget Office and try to iron out intraparty differences. The House Ways and Means Committee, which was the last of three panels considering the bill, approved its version late Tuesday, Oct. 22, after a lengthy markup session in which many amendments were considered but only one was adopted. The one change renamed the bill the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act in honor of the late Maryland Congressman.
2019 Deficit. The Treasury Department announced Friday that the federal deficit for FY 2019 was $984 billion, a 26% increase over 2018’s $779 billion deficit and a 48% increase from the $666 billion mark in 2017.
NDAA. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he will introduce this week a “skinny” version of the National Defense Authorization Act in case negotiators are unable to come to an agreement on a comprehensive measure. The slimmed down version is designed to avoid an end-of-the-year scramble to authorize special payments and bonuses for service members, construction projects, and military acquisition program oversight that would otherwise expire Dec. 31. Some of the biggest disagreements in the negotiations are reported to be over spending for the border wall, barring new detainees at Guantanamo Bay, protecting transgender troops, and limiting the President’s war powers.
Committee Action of Note:
Open Democratic Seats. With the passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and the imminent resignation of Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), Democrats will have two fewer voting members in their delegation. For Cummings’ seat, a primary will be held Feb. 4, followed by a general election on April 28. The winner of that race will hold the seat until the next Congress convenes in January 2020. April 28 will also be the primary date for candidates running for a full two-year term.
Democrats are expected to hold Cummings’ seat, but the outcome in the race to replace Hill is more uncertain. Her seat is in a traditionally GOP leaning district but Hill unseated GOP Rep. Steve Knight in 2018 by nine points and proved to be a prolific fundraiser. The Cook Political Report rates the special election as a Lean Democratic race. Hill is set to resign by the end of the week, and a special election likely won’t come until the spring.
GOP Retirements. Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon announced today that he will retire at the end of the 116th Congress. Walden, who is the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is the fourth top committee Republican to retire, joining the ranking members of the Agriculture, Defense, and Natural Resources committees. He is also the 19th House Republican to announce his retirement.