Outlook: A Spending Deadline and a Search for Health-Bill Votes

Congress will look to finalize a deal to keep the government running, while House Republicans try to amass support for Obamacare repeal.

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
April 30, 2017, 8 p.m.

Congressional negotiators will seek to put the final touches this week on a roughly $1 trillion spending package to keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year.

At the same time, House Republicans will continue whipping votes for a bill aimed at scaling back Obamacare. Doing both in the same week, however, comes with challenges.

Leaders have more work to do on the health front, as moderates and some conservatives are still holding back their support, but Speaker Paul Ryan has said if they can wrangle the votes for the health care bill, they will put it on the floor.

Last week, Democrats said they would not vote for a short-term continuing resolution if Republicans also voted on their health bill. A similar threat could be at hand this week, and the GOP will almost certainly need a large chunk of Democratic votes to pass an appropriations omnibus.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Senate looks forward to advancing the nomination of Jay Clayton as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Committee on Monday evening, and confirming him later in the week, before passing the bill to keep the government funded through September. The Senate could also turn to confirming the nominations of former New Mexico Republican Rep. Heather Wilson and Scott Gottlieb, President Trump’s respective picks to serve as secretary of the Air Force and Food and Drug Administration commissioner, since they were voted out of the relevant committees last month.

Here’s what else is on tap.

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet Tuesday to consider the nomination of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to be the U.S. Ambassador to China. So far, Trump has only nominated nine individuals for ambassadorships, and just two have been confirmed by the full Senate. The panel will gather again Thursday for a hearing on international development.

The House Intelligence Committee is set to hold its first full hearing since Chairman Devin Nunes stepped aside as head of the panel’s Russia investigation. The committee, which hasn’t held a formal hearing since March 20, will meet in a closed setting Thursday.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has two hearings scheduled this week: one on the U.S. Transportation Command on Tuesday and one on the U.S. Special Operations Command on Thursday.

And the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel will hold a hearing Tuesday on the annual report on sexual harassment and violence at military-service academies.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

A week after Trump initiated a process that could allow him to reverse monument designations made by President Obama, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on “the consequences of executive-branch overreach of the Antiquities Act.” Chairman Rob Bishop has long criticized the Obama administration for using the century-old law to protect vast swaths of public land, and Tuesday’s hearing is sure to lay some of the legislative groundwork to support Trump’s review of previous monument designations.

As the administration looks to speed up project delivery as part of its infrastructure initiatives, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on streamlining environmental and project reviews. Republicans have long wanted to roll back the environmental reviews that they say can slow projects for years, but Democrats are sure to fight those efforts and highlight streamlining changes under previous transportation bills that have yet to be implemented.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subcommittee will vote on several energy-infrastructure bills Wednesday, including measures to speed up approval of cross-border pipelines, increase natural-gas shipments, and incentivize hydropower.

HEALTH

Despite having a new amendment that gained the House Freedom Caucus’s backing, Republicans did not hold a health care vote last week. The Hill’s whip list counted 21 “no” votes for the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s vehicle for repealing portions of Obamacare.

The amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur would let states submit a waiver application so that the limit on how much premiums can be raised based on age would be loosened. States could also specify their own essential health benefits and allow health-status rating for people who do not maintain continuous coverage in lieu of a premium penalty.

Rep. Chris Collins told reporters Friday there was never pressure to get a vote in the first 100 days of the new administration. “We’re taking our time,” he said. “The MacArthur amendment’s got to be explained in more detail to some of the moderates who don’t fully see how the waiver program might work. How it’s not as onerous or draconian as they may think.”

He said while no one is going to set an artificial deadline, he does think health care has to be taken care of by the end of May.

Trump told the Washington Examiner that he wants to see what happens to the Republicans’ repeal-and-replace legislation before making a decision on the cost-sharing-reduction payments. Insurance companies consider these payments vital to keeping the Obamacare exchanges stable. Several major groups, including America’s Health Insurance Plans, say funding the CSRs for at least two years is the only way to protect consumers.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee on Tuesday will be examining four pieces of legislation related to the regulation of medical technologies. This includes the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, Fostering Innovation in Medical Imaging Act, Medical Device Servicing and Accountability Act, and legislation to improve the process for inspections of device establishments and for granting export certifications.

Around the same time, the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee will hold a hearing on combating waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicaid’s personal-care-services program.

TECHNOLOGY

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s new proposal to roll back the commission’s net-neutrality rules is likely to attract an avalanche of public comment from business and advocacy groups between now and May 18, when a vote on the “Restoring Internet Freedom” notice of proposed rulemaking is scheduled to take place. Pai introduced the proposal Thursday.

Pai is also set to brief Congress on his net-neutrality plan, though the timing remains uncertain. The FCC chairman had been scheduled to huddle with lawmakers this past Friday, but House votes postponed the meeting. An FCC spokesman did not respond when asked when the briefing will be rescheduled.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a full committee markup of the NIST Small Business Cybersecurity Act of 2017. The bill would require the National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide guidance to small businesses on how to manage and reduce their cybersecurity risks. A companion Senate bill advanced through the Senate Commerce Committee in early April.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey will testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. While the topic of the hearing is Senate oversight of the FBI, Comey is likely to face specific questions related to his agency’s investigations into last year’s Russian cyberattacks and potential links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

TRANSPORTATION

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz will face the Hill as legislators continue to question the company’s forced removal of a passenger from an overbooked flight. Munoz will appear before the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday as part of a panel of airline executives for a hearing on customer service, and a United representative will be part of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday. In the aftermath of the overbooking scandal—which sent the company’s stock plummeting and forced repeated public apologies by Munoz—legislators on both sides of the aisle called for reforms to improve the customer experience on airlines and prevent overbooking.

WHITE HOUSE

Trump slows down a little bit this week after last week’s frenetic race to the 100 day mark. He will meet with bankers on Monday and present the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy to the football team of the Air Force Academy on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he will welcome to the White House Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. On Thursday, he will return to his hometown of New York City for the first time as president. There, he will give a speech on the 75th anniversary of the battle of Coral Sea.

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