Legislative / Policy Update
House Floor. The House was not in session today so that Members could attend funeral services for Emily Clyburn, wife of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). The House will convene on Tuesday, with votes later this week on, among other things, border detention facilities and a bill to make it easier for marijuana dispensaries and growers and businesses that engage with them to access the banking system instead of relying on cash transactions. At the end of the week, the House and Senate will recess until Oct. 15 for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Columbus Day.
Senate Floor. The Senate will continue to consider nominations and will vote on motions to instruct conferees on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In addition, the Senate is expected to pass and send to the President a continuing resolution that will fund the government through Nov. 21.
Continuing Resolution. You couldn’t tell the Democrats from the Republicans on Thursday as House appropriators came to the floor to support legislation to keep the government open until the Thanksgiving recess. There was praise from both sides of the aisle for House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Tex.), who worked together to craft a bipartisan measure. However, that bipartisanship among appropriators was not reflected in the final vote of 301-123, with 119 Republicans and one former Republican turned Independent voting against the measure. This week the Senate is expected to easily pass the CR, which is needed to fund the government beyond Sept. 30 since none of the FY 2020 appropriations bills have been enacted.
Neither party wants a government shutdown, which produces “significant costs to the American taxpayer,” according to a report released Sept. 18 by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The report focuses on three recent government shutdowns, including the longest and most recent one, the 35 days from Dec. 22, 2018 until Jan. 25, 2019.
Other CR Provisions. To address the scheduled Sept. 30 expiration of a number of programs, the CR provides an extension through Nov. 21 for the National Flood Insurance Program, the Export-Import Bank, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Higher Education Act. The bill will also allow the government to continue to make payments to farmers affected by the Administration’s trade war with China, but the Agriculture Department must submit a report by Oct. 31 itemizing payments already made and projections for next year.
FY 2020 Spending Bills. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved three FY 2020 spending bills – Agriculture, Rural Development, and FDA; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; and Financial Services and General Government. This week, the schedule calls for subcommittee action Tuesday followed by a full committee vote Thursday on four more bills – Interior-Environment-Related Agencies, Commerce-Justice-Science-Related Agencies, Homeland Security, and Legislative Branch.
Assuming approval of this latest batch, the Appropriations Committee will have passed all but three of its 12 bills. Two of those – Labor-HHS-Education and State-Foreign Operations – were pulled from the markup schedule because of controversies over family planning amendments, but they were included in a four-bill package, along with Defense and Energy and Water, that Majority Leader McConnell tried to bring to the floor Sept. 18. That effort failed, 51-44, to get the necessary 60 votes to limit debate. The other proposal that has not seen subcommittee or committee action is the Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs bill, which faced problems over a potential Republican effort to replace $3.6 billion in funds that President Trump has diverted from military base projects to the border wall.
Ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has suggested that some of the less controversial bills, such as Agriculture-FDA, Transportation-HUD, Financial Services, Energy and Water, and others, could be packaged together and considered by the full Senate. Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is open to the idea, which will have to be cleared with Senate leaders.
Drug Prices. Last Thursday, Sept. 19, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled legislation dealing with drug prices, and on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold the first hearing on the bill (H.R. 3) as well as other drug pricing proposals. Two other committees – Ways and Means and Education and Labor – also have jurisdiction and will begin consideration next month.
The core of the Democratic bill is its requirement for the federal government to negotiate with drug companies on the price of as many as 250 drugs. If a company does not lower its price, punitive excise taxes would be imposed on the company. Drug companies would have to offer the negotiated prices not only to Medicare but to other payers, including the private market. Although the measure incorporates ideas put forward by President Trump (establishing an International Price Index as a marker for certain U.S. drug prices) and by the Senate Finance Committee (limiting drug price increases to the inflation rate), Republicans believe H.R. 3’s proposals go too far beyond what they can support, making it all but certain that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not bring up the House bill in the Senate.
USMCA. Nine House Democrats comprise a working group that has been leading the discussions with the Administration on changes that should be made to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The group met Friday with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and will meet again this week. The two sides have exchanged proposals and counterproposals and have “made substantial progress,” according to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), but there is still considerable work to be done.
Committee Action of Note:
Massachusetts Senate Race. Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy announced Saturday he would be challenging Sen. Ed Markey in the Democratic primary. Sen. Markey, who was elected to the House in 1976, four years before Kennedy was born, will look to utilize his progressive endorsements from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to fend off Kennedy. However, in a recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, Rep. Kennedy was shown to be leading Sen. Markey 42%-28% in a head-to-head matchup. In the same poll, Rep. Kennedy’s favorability polled at 73% versus Sen. Markey’s 59%.
GOP House Exodus. A Washington Post article on the Republican exodus from the House since President Trump’s inauguration in 2017 notes that nearly 40% of the 241 Republicans who were in office at the time have now left or are leaving due to campaign losses, retirements, or running for a different office; 41 of those have left politics completely, nearly double the 25 Democrats who retired during President Obama’s first term.
Democratic Presidential Primary. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has overtaken her rivals for the first time in the latest poll out of Iowa. A Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows that Sen. Warren holds a two-point lead, with 22%, as Iowans’ first choice for the nomination. Former Vice President Biden, who led each of the Register’s three previous polls, is at 20%. Sen. Sanders is in third place with 11%. The poll notes, however, that just one in five caucus-goers say their minds are 100% made up.
Democratic Debates. Eleven candidates have qualified for the next debate in October, but the DNC announced today higher thresholds for candidates to make the debate stage in November. Candidates who want to make the November debate will have to amass support from at least 165,000 unique donors, including a minimum of 600 donors per state in at least 20 states and register at least 3% in four or more qualifying polls or 5% in two single-state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg already have met the criteria for these debates.