Outlook: Health Bill Inches Toward the House Floor

Another House committee will take a crack at Obamacare repeal legislation, while President Trump heads to Nashville to whip up support.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, as the GOP works on its long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
March 12, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

House Republicans' health care bill heads to the Budget Committee this week, but the real action will be on the House floor and behind closed doors, where GOP leaders will spend the week trying to sell the beleaguered legislation to their members over the opposition of the health care industry and conservative outside groups.

Republican skeptics both on the ideological right and center have issues with the bill, and leaders' challenge will be maneuvering the legislation through the pinhole-sized space where both sides can agree on the future of American health care. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise downplayed the opposition to the bill, saying Friday on MSNBC's Morning Joe that only a "few of our members" believe the legislation does not go far enough, but he added that it is possible the bill could see changes before the final vote, which is weeks away.

"We're continuing to talk to members about some things that they would like to see that we're working with the White House on, but at the same time, we had a very strong vote both out of the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has all the different factions of our conference. We have Tuesday Group members, we have RSC [Republican Study Committee] members, and we have Freedom Caucus members," Scalise said.

As the House takes the first steps to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, Senate Republicans will vote Monday night to confirm the nomination of Seema Verma to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Verma, a health care consultant, has been described as the "architect" of Indiana's relatively conservative program to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act—and the leadership of then-governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence, the vice president.

Another Hoosier, former Republican senator Dan Coats, could be confirmed as the director of national intelligence this week, after the Senate Intelligence Committee overwhelmingly approved his nomination last week.

Here’s what else is on tap.

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

This week, Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller will brief the Senate and House Armed Services committees on the branch's nude-photo scandal. Earlier this month, an investigative report revealed that Marines have been sharing photos of their naked female service members on a private Facebook group. Neller will appear before the Senate and House Armed Services committees for closed hearings on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Joseph Votel, the commander of United States Central Command, will also testify before the House Armed Services panel for a hearing on the security challenges in the greater Middle East on Wednesday. That same day, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will vote on Elaine Duke's nomination to be deputy Homeland Security secretary, while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to hold a hearing on Syria.

On the legislative side, House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry told reporters that the defense supplemental bill could arrive this week. The House overwhelmingly approved a $578 bil­lion de­fense ap­pro­pri­ations bill last week, but Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed, the chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said they weren't sure yet when the upper chamber would take up the measure.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

As the White House and Congress continue to lay out plans for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will get input from the energy and labor communities about ways to improve the nation’s energy infrastructure. It’s unclear what role energy could play in the infrastructure plan, but the oil-and-gas sector has been pushing for more pipeline construction under President Trump.

As the administration continues to talk up the need for improved water quality, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee meets Thursday for a hearing on water infrastructure. Expect the committee to discuss Flint, Michigan’s lead-pollution issues from last year, which kick-started a national debate over safe drinking water.

The House Natural Resources Committee will wade into a debate over the president’s authority to set aside vast ocean reserves for environmental protection with a hearing Wednesday on marine sanctuaries and monuments. Committee Republicans led by chairman Rob Bishop have been itching to roll back President Obama’s marine-monument protections, although there’s no legal precedent for such action.

HEALTH

Both the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees held very long and contentious hearings on the House legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare last week, and it will be the House Budget Committee’s turn this week.

The House GOP plan moves forward as Medicaid expansion remains a particular sticking point. Rep. Joe Barton presented amendments last week to move the Medicaid-expansion enrollment-freeze date to Jan. 1 and sets an end date for enrollees to phase out of the expanded program in 2023. While he ultimately withdrew the amendments, he said the White House is considering the ideas. Currently, the legislation repeals the state option to extend coverage to adults above 133 percent of the federal poverty level by 2020. New enrollees added before the end of 2019 can join at the enhanced match rate.

While the House continues its work to push through the Obamacare legislation, the Senate Special Committee on Aging will take a look at raising grandchildren in the opioid crisis in a hearing Wednesday.

Also Wednesday will be a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list and the Veterans Health Administration.

On Thursday is a House Appropriations labor and health subcommittee hearing on early-childhood-education programs at the Health and Human Services Department.

TRANSPORTATION

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will look back on its last big infrastructure bill with a hearing Wednesday to get state and local perspective on implementation of the FAST Act.

The inspectors general from the Transportation Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department will testify before the House Appropriation Committee’s transportation and housing subcommittee Thursday ahead of the lower chamber’s appropriations process.

WHITE HOUSE

President Trump this week will mix his continued selling of the Republican health care bill with meetings with a key allied leader and an outreach to an important domestic constituency. On Tuesday, he will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, meeting for the first time the most important European leader and one he took jabs at during last year’s campaign. On Wednesday, he travels to Nashville for one of his trademark rallies. On Thursday, with an eye on 36 million Irish-Americans, the president will accept the traditional bowl of shamrocks from Irish leader Enda Kenny, a day before St. Patrick’s Day.

Adam Wollner, Jason Plautz, Erin Durkin and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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