Before we get to the newsletter, I wanted to share some great news. PSW and Capitol Hill Strategies today announced a merger of our firms, bringing together two boutique government relations firms known for years of personalized service to clients. Chuck Brain and A.J. Wojciak, partners at Capitol Hill Strategies, will join PSW as principals.
Please see the attached press release for additional details. Chuck and A.J. are top notch and we feel very fortunate to have them joining our ranks! I’ve included their current and future email addresses, so everyone knows how to reach them.
Legislative / Policy Update
Senate Floor. The Senate will continue to confirm judicial and executive branch nominees and may take up the nomination of Stephen Hahn to head the Food and Drug Administration.
House Floor. The House this week will vote on H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Cost Act of 2019. House leaders had tentatively planned for a vote in late October but had to postpone action until the Congressional Budget Office completed its score of the bill. CBO has not yet released its score, but it’s expected to be available soon. A number of progressive Democrats believe the bill does not do enough to lower prescription drug prices and they are threatening to vote against the rule that sets the terms for floor consideration of the bill. While this opposition will no doubt be addressed in closed-door meetings in the Speaker’s office, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an adept vote counter and is expected to marshal sufficient support to pass the measure this week.
The House bill has no chance of passing the Senate, where a new version of drug pricing legislation was unveiled on Friday. This latest version, by Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), makes a number of changes to their bill that cleared the Senate Finance Committee on July 25. However, it retains one of the bill’s most controversial proposals by requiring that drug companies pay rebates to the federal government if a drug’s price is increased by more than the inflation rate. This provision has strong opposition among Republican Senators, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given no indication that he will bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House could also vote this week on a compromise version of the defense authorization bill. House-Senate negotiators are expected to sign the conference report tonight, clearing the way for a House vote Wednesday or Thursday followed by a Senate vote next week. One of the major sticking points in the lengthy negotiations was resolved when House Democrats agreed to drop their demand that the bill include language designating certain chemicals as hazardous. These chemicals, known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are used in many consumer products such as waterproof clothing and kitchenware but are also used by the military in firefighting foam, which provided Democrats with a link to the defense bill.
Although they lost on the PFAS language, Democrats did succeed in including a provision that would allow 12 weeks of paid family leave for federal workers. In exchange, Democrats agreed to one of President Trump’s priorities – the creation of a sixth branch of the military, the Space Force within the Department of the Air Force.
FY 2020 Appropriations. House and Senate appropriations leaders met through the weekend in an attempt to negotiate final agreements on the 12 spending bills for FY 2020. At some point this week, congressional leadership will weigh in to try to resolve those issues that have not yet been worked out. While these negotiations are taking place in private, it’s no secret that the stickiest issues involve spending for the border wall. There is speculation that the bills will be packaged into minibuses for floor consideration, but exact details for moving the bills to the floor have yet to be decided.
If agreement is not reached on all 12 bills, some Republicans have suggested passing those measures where there is an agreement and funding the others through a continuing resolution until a deal is reached. Democrats, however, believe that scenario would be similar to what happened last December when the battle over border wall funding led to a 35-day shutdown of those parts of the government that had not been funded. Speaker Pelosi has said that if more time is needed to pass the appropriations measures, she would only advance a short-term extension. If so, lawmakers might have to return early in January.
There’s also the question of what other bills might hitch a ride on the appropriations measures. Among the candidates is a tax extenders package that would extend various tax breaks that have expired or will expire at the end of this year. However, House Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal (D-Mass.) would like to include an expansion of other tax breaks, and he has yet to come to an agreement with his Senate counterpart, Finance Chairman Grassley.
Also mentioned for inclusion in an end-of-the-year bill is the SECURE Act that includes various incentives to help workers save for their retirement and encourage small businesses to offer retirement plans for their workers. The bill passed the House 417-3 in May but a handful of Senators have objected to the bill being considered under a unanimous consent agreement.
A more recent candidate for inclusion in any wrap-up bill is a proposal that would shore up pension funds for struggling coal miners. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has said he would block end-of-year votes until the miners’ pensions are addressed.
U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House adviser Jared Kushner plan to fly to Mexico Tuesday amid reports that a USMCA deal is near. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Monday there was a deal and he would discuss it with the union’s executive council Monday afternoon. If Trumka is at least neutral and does not oppose the deal, it will clear the way for Speaker Pelosi to bring the implementing legislation to the floor for a vote before Congress adjourns for the year. Democrats are expected to hold a caucus meeting Wednesday to discuss the deal.
The implementing legislation will be considered under special fast-track procedures that will be made even faster if the House Ways and Means Committee were to forgo what are known as mock markup sessions, an option Chairman Richie Neal is exploring. If a deal is announced shortly, both the House and Senate could possibly act next week.
Committee Action of Note:
Trump Rally. President Trump, who won Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes by 44,000 votes, will hold a campaign rally Tuesday night in Hershey, Penn.
Rep. Holding to Retire. Republican Rep. George Holding of North Carolina announced Friday he will not run for re-election in a district that turned from red to blue after the state legislature redrew the congressional map under a court order. First elected to Congress in 2012, Holding has said he may be interested in running in 2022 for either the Senate seat that will open up when Senator Richard Burr (R) retires or one of the new House seats that the state will likely pick up after the 2020 census.
Rep. Hunter to Resign. Embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is set to resign from his seat after the holidays following a guilty plea to campaign finance violations. His district is rated as R +11 and likely safe for Republicans going forward. Rep. Hunter is the fourth GOP House member who has resigned during the 116th Congress and the 27th GOP member who will not be back next Congress.
Virginia Rematch. Former Virginia Republican Rep. Scott Taylor is aiming to take back his seat from Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in the Virginia 2nd district. Then-Rep. Taylor lost the 2018 election to Rep. Luria by about 6,000 votes. Taylor had been seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Senator Mark Warner but decided in recent days to reverse course and instead try to regain his old House seat.
A Bush on the Ballot. Pierce Bush, the grandson of the late President George H.W. Bush and nephew of President George W. Bush, announced today he is running for the open Texas congressional seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Pete Olson. Bush is the Houston-based CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star. Cook Political Report ranks the 22nd District a "Toss Up" ahead of the 2020 race.