Legislative / Policy Update
House Floor. The House will meet in a joint session with the Senate Tuesday night to hear the President’s State of the Union address, which will begin at 9 p.m. On Thursday, the House will consider a resolution to disapprove of the Trump Administration’s new Medicaid block grant program. The plan, which the Administration unveiled Jan. 30, will let states opt out of part of the current Medicaid program and instead seek a fixed payment each year in exchange for gaining more flexibility over the program. While the House is expected to pass the disapproval resolution, the vote will be along party lines and the Senate will not consider the measure. The House this week will also vote on legislation expanding protections for workers’ right to unionize, which will die in the Senate, and providing disaster aid to Puerto Rico, which the Administration opposes.
Senate Floor. Under a bipartisan deal reached on Friday, the Senate convened at 11 a.m. today for four hours of closing arguments in the impeachment trial. At 3 p.m., the trial adjourned, and Senators are now allowed to speak for up to 10 minutes each, with statements that are relevant to the trial becoming part of the trial record. Senators can make statements until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, when the trial will resume with votes on the two articles of impeachment, which will fall short of the two-thirds necessary to remove the President from office.
No schedule has been announced for the Senate after the trial concludes, but among the measures expected to be considered is a Democratic war powers resolution that would limit the President’s military actions in Iran. The resolution appears to have the necessary 51 votes to pass the Senate and would be expected to pass in the House. If so, the President would veto it, and the veto would be upheld. An energy package may also make its way to the floor at some point. Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said last week that committee staff is working to put together a package comprised of various bills that the committee has approved.
CBO Report. In its annual Budget and Economic Outlook released Jan. 28, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit will increase from $984 billion in FY 2019 to $1 trillion in FY 2020 and will grow for the foreseeable future. CBO’s projections for this fiscal year and the following 10 years are based on the assumption that existing laws governing taxes and spending generally remain unchanged. Projected deficits rise from 4.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 to 5.4% in 2030. CBO notes that “other than a six-year period during and immediately after World War II, the deficit over the past century has not exceeded 4% for more than five consecutive years. And during the past 50 years, deficits have averaged 1.5% of GDP when the economy was relatively strong (as it is now).”
Committee Action of Note:
Georgia Senate Race. Republican Rep. Doug Collins announced Jan. 29 he is running for the Senate in Georgia. The seat is now held by fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by the Governor after Senator Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons at the end of 2019. The special election on Nov. 3 to fill the two years remaining in Isakson’s term is an all-party contest, with the top two vote-getters facing off in a January 5, 2021 runoff if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.
Democrats are hoping that Loeffler and Collins will split the Republican vote, giving them an opening to win the seat. Right now, though, there are three Democrats in the race or planning to run -- Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church who has been endorsed by Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018; Marc Lieberman, the son of former Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.); and Ed Tarver, a former U.S. Attorney.
Ranking Member Turnover. 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. This rule will affect not only Collins, who is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, but also Rep. Rob Bishop, who is the ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee and running to be lieutenant governor of Utah.
Collins is expected to give up his ranking member spot, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, is expected to make a bid to replace Collins. Bishop said he will decide soon whether to seek a waiver. If Jordan were to become ranking on Judiciary, some have speculated that Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina could take Jordan’s spot as the top Republican on the Oversight Committee. However, others believe that Meadows, who is not running for re-election, could leave Congress in the coming months to take a high-level job in the Trump White House.
Maryland Special Election. Thirty-two candidates – 24 Democrats and eight Republicans – want to succeed the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) in Maryland’s 7th District. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 4-1 in the district, the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s Democratic primary is expected to go on to win the April 28 special general election. The best known Democratic candidates in the crowded field are Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the Congressman’s widow, and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who has been endorsed by two of Elijah Cummings’ sisters. A third sister has endorsed Harry Spikes, a longtime aide to the late Congressman.
Democratic Debates. Following tonight’s Iowa caucuses, there will be three Democratic presidential debates prior to Super Tuesday on March 3 -- Feb. 7 in Manchester, N.H., Feb. 19 in Las Vegas, Nev., and Feb. 25 in Charleston, S.C. – but there will be new rules to qualify after New Hampshire. The Democratic National Committee announced Jan. 31 it has strengthened the polling requirements to qualify while eliminating the requirement that candidates must receive donations from hundreds of thousands of individuals. Note that candidate Michael Bloomberg is not accepting individual donations.