Senate. The Senate today confirmed Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary and will vote later this week on Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative and Isabella Casillas Guzman to be administrator of the Small Business Administration. It’s unclear whether there will be time for a vote to confirm Xavier Becerra as HHS Secretary or whether that will take place next week.
House. This is the last week for House votes until April 13. Next week is a “Committee Work Week,” followed by a two-week recess. In addition to considering 28 bills this week under suspension of the rules, the House plans to vote on two immigration bills. One would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, while the other measure would provide green cards to farm workers who don’t have legal status. Also on the floor schedule is legislation addressing sequestration of payments to Medicare providers.
Medicare Payments. The sequestration legislation (H.R. 1868) has two main components: (1) it would prevent $36 billion in cuts to Medicare providers that would go into effect in January as a result of deficit spending in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and (2) it would extend until Dec. 31 a separate Medicare sequestration provision that expires March 31.
The $36 billion in cuts to provider payments would be set in motion under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) Act that requires a sequester in certain mandatory spending programs if legislation is enacted that increases the deficit over a 5- and 10-year period, as is the case with the American Rescue Plan. However, the PAYGO sequester has never been triggered because Congress has always voted to waive it. This was the case with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, when Democrats joined with Republicans to prevent sequestration despite Democratic opposition to the tax legislation itself. With both the TCJA and the American Rescue Plan, reconciliation rules prevented a sequestration waiver from being included in the legislation, requiring action on a separate bill with a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
The second provision in H.R. 1868 is targeted at the 2% automatic reduction in payments to Medicare providers that went into effect in 2013. The Cares Act that Congress passed in March suspended these cuts from May through December 2020, a suspension that was extended by Congress at the end of the year through March 31, 2021. The House bill would continue the suspension for the rest of 2021.
Earmarks. Congressional Democrats are moving ahead with plans to bring back earmarks in appropriations and highway bills. There are new rules and a new name – “Community Project Funding.” Under the new rules set out by House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), earmarked funds cannot go to for-profit entities, only to non-profits and state and local governments.
Each lawmaker can submit up to 10 community project requests, although only a handful will be funded as total earmarked funds are capped at 1% of discretionary spending. The deadlines for House members to submit earmark requests to the relevant appropriations subcommittee are the same as for general programmatic funding requests, generally April 14 or 16. At the same time as they submit their requests, lawmakers are required to post their requests online. In addition, the House Appropriations Committee will provide a link to all House members’ requests.
Senate Democrats haven’t detailed the rules for earmarks in their chamber, and there’s division in the Republican ranks in the House and Senate as to whether GOP members will participate in the earmarking process. As for highway and transit projects, a formal process will be announced later this month for House members to submit their requests.
Committee Action of Note: