Legislative / Policy Update
Senate Floor. Now that the Senate has acquitted President Trump on both articles of impeachment, it’s back to regularly scheduled programming; i.e., the Senate will resume consideration of nominations. There is also the possibility of a floor vote on a resolution that would limit the President’s military actions in Iran. When the House and Senate finish their legislative business at the end of the week, they will recess for Presidents’ Day and return to session the week of Feb. 24.
House Floor. Among other votes this week, the House will consider a joint resolution that would remove the 1979 deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
President’s Budget. The President today unveiled an FY 2021 budget plan that conforms to the defense spending number both parties agreed to last year but cuts domestic spending below the level set by the budget deal. As with all presidential budgets, the Trump plan is a statement of administration policy rather than a proposal that Congress will vote to adopt. In fact, House Democrats don’t even plan to put forth their own FY 2021 budget resolution and will consider the levels set by the 2019 spending deal as their budget for the year. Among the Administration officials going to Capitol Hill this week to explain the President’s budget is Acting OMB Director Russell Vought, who will testify Wednesday at a House Budget Committee hearing.
Surprise Billing. When an insured patient receives care from a provider that is out of the individual’s insurance network, the patient is often surprised to receive a rather large bill for services that were assumed to be covered by insurance. While this surprise billing is not a new issue, lawmakers last year began to take steps to address it. In early December, leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee announced they had reached agreement on a proposal that combined two approaches. The proposal provided that bills under $750 would be paid at a benchmark price based on in-network charges in the region, while bills over that amount could be brought to arbitration.
Three days later, though, the chairman and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee announced they wanted to take a different approach that relies solely on an arbitration process to resolve billing disagreements. Consequently, Congressional action on the matter was put on hold awaiting details of the Ways and Means proposal.
On Friday, Feb. 7, Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal (D-Mass.) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) released proposed legislation that their committee will mark up on Wednesday. Also entering the fray on Friday was the House Education and Labor Committee, which unveiled legislation that takes an approach similar to the Energy and Commerce and HELP deal but also includes language dealing with bills from air ambulance providers. The Ed and Labor bill is scheduled to be marked up on Tuesday.
With hospitals and doctors favoring the Ways and Means approach and insurance companies supporting the benchmark proposals, guidance from House and Senate leadership may be needed at some point to address any conflicts that committee leaders cannot resolve among themselves. The goal is to pass final legislation by May 22 so that any savings from the measure could be used to offset the cost of extending a dozen healthcare related provisions that are scheduled to expire on that date.
Corporate Taxes. Ways and Means will also be busy this week examining “the disappearing corporate income tax.” At a hearing Tuesday morning, the committee will hear from Democratic witnesses who can be expected to criticize the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and make the case that IRS enforcement funding is too low. The Republican witness will likely make the point that both Democrats and Republicans agreed in the past that the corporate tax system was in need of reform.
More Drama. In news unrelated to corporate taxes or surprise billing, there will be a new political drama coming to CBS called “Ways and Means,” starring Patrick Dempsey, perhaps best known as “McDreamy” on “Grey’s Anatomy.” The show is said to center on “a powerful congressional leader (Dempsey) who has lost faith in politics. He finds himself working secretly with an idealistic young congresswoman from the opposing party to subvert the hopelessly gridlocked system he helped create; together, they’ll attempt to save American politics — if they don’t get caught.”
Committee Action of Note
Ranking Member Changes. Following Rep. Doug Collins’ (R-Ga.) announcement that he would run for the Senate, the House Republican Steering Committee met Thursday to choose a new ranking member for the Judiciary Committee. Under House Republican Conference rules, a Member running for another elected office is required to step down as a committee’s chairman or ranking member unless he or she obtains a waiver from the GOP Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee agreed to give Collins until March 12 to transition his staff, at which point, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) will take Collins’ place as the top Republican on Judiciary. The Steering Committee then chose Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to fill Jordan’s spot as ranking member of the Oversight Committee. The Steering Committee’s choices must be approved by the full Republican Conference, but that will just be a formality. In other action, the Steering Committee gave a waiver to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who is running for lieutenant governor. The waiver will allow Bishop to remain as ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee for the rest of the year.
Maryland Special Election. In last Tuesday’s special primary election to choose party nominees to fill the seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), the Democratic winner was former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who held the seat for nine years before resigning to head the NAACP. Mfume is expected to prevail in the special general election on April 28 and, if so, would then hold the seat for the remainder of the year.
Also on April 28, both parties will hold primaries to nominate candidates for the two-year term that begins in January. As with the Feb. 4 special primary there will be numerous candidates on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. The second- and third-place Democratic finishers – Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is Elijah Cummings’ widow, and state Sen. Jill Carter – are among those who will be challenging Mfume for the Democratic nomination.
Tuesday’s New Hampshire Primary. Polling numbers released Sunday night showed Sen. Bernie Sanders at 27%; Pete Buttigieg, 19%; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 14%; and a tie at 12% between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The Boston Globe/WBZ-TV/Suffolk poll was conducted Saturday and Sunday with calls to 500 likely voters.