Outlook: Senate Looks to Bide Its Time on Health Care

A July 4 deadline appears to be in peril, as key members ask for more time … and transparency

Sen. Bob Corker
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Erin Durkin
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Erin Durkin
June 18, 2017, 8 p.m.

Senate Republicans are heading into crunch time if they still aim to hold a vote on their health care overhaul bill by July 4. But members now are sending the signal that this is not a hard deadline, with some urging caution against rushing.

“I’d say give us a little more time,” Sen. John Cornyn told the Associated Press. “The end of July by the latest.”

Sen. Ron Johnson also does not want to see a vote before the Fourth of July break. He prefers to take more time to review the forthcoming bill. “What I’ve been primarily asking for is once leadership finally does believe they have enough input, think we’re close enough, craft a bill. I want to make sure the American people, I want to make sure members of Congress, have enough time to evaluate it,” he said.

There also has been no hint of what the bill’s language will look like. Senate Republicans said last week that they were sending pieces of their legislation to the Congressional Budget Office, but even Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has not seen it. And some Republican members reportedly are expressing concern around the secrecy.

“I’ve said from Day One, and I’ll say it again,” Sen. Bob Corker told The New York Times. “The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what’s going on. Obviously, that’s not the route that is being taken.”

While the Senate GOP is preoccupied with health care, House lawmakers will be focusing on Russia, as former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is set to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee as part of the committee’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the election.

Another big question in the House: whether Republicans will be able to pass a budget. Discussions about the budget will happen behind closed doors while a number of nominal bills will be on the floor.

The House will vote on le­gis­la­tion to al­low in­di­vidu­als to buy trans­ition­al health in­sur­ance with a fed­er­al tax cred­it, provide funds to sub­sid­ize em­ploy­ment for the needy, al­low park of­fi­cials to cut down dan­ger­ous trees that could fall on power lines, and seek to stream­line the per­mit­ting pro­cess for above-ground wa­ter-stor­age pro­jects.

To end the week, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Health Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing ex­amin­ing fund­ing for the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram, Fed­er­ally Qual­i­fied Health Cen­ters, and the Com­munity Health Cen­ter Fund.

Here’s what else is on tap:

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a tough Iran and Russia sanctions bill last week despite concerns from the White House that the legislation didn’t provide enough flexibility. Administration officials will now have the chance to weaken the bill as it goes over to the House for debate.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to meet on Wednesday morning for a hearing on Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election, featuring witnesses from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Illinois State Board of Elections, and the National Association of State Election Directors, as well as an expert on election security.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a closed hearing Thursday to discuss “recent developments” in North Korea.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on Tuesday to consider the nomination of Patrick Shanahan to be deputy Defense secretary and on Thursday to consider the nomination of Richard Spencer to be secretary of the Navy.

The House Armed Services Committee will mark up the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act the following week, on June 28.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will face legislators to defend the administration’s budget proposal, which would cut his department’s budget by 12 percent and lay the groundwork for increased energy production on federal lands. Zinke will appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, and the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

Also making the rounds for budget hearings will be Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who will testify before the House Energy Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday, the Senate Energy Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. Perry will face questions about the administration’s proposal to cut 18 percent from his budget, outside of nuclear-security programs, and eliminate several renewable-energy and climate-change programs.

As Congress and the administration continue to discuss an infrastructure package, a Senate committee will examine ways to improve financing for much-needed water projects. The Environment and Public Works hearing Tuesday will build on financing reforms from last year’s Water Resources Development bill and could set the stage for water funding in an infrastructure program. Separately, the Senate Energy Committee’s public-lands subcommittee will hear from Interior and Agriculture Department officials at a Tuesday hearing on restoring watersheds and large landscapes.

HEALTH

While Senate Republicans will be continuing negotiations around their health care overhaul, they will also be evaluating the funding for key public health agencies.

On Tuesday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will testify in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s agriculture and FDA subcommittee on the agency’s 2018 budget request. Then on Thursday, the 2018 budget request for the National Institutes of Health will be the focus of the subcommittee that covers Health and Human Services. NIH Director Francis Collins will be a witness at the hearing.

Additionally, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing Tuesday on the World Health Organization and pandemic protection in a globalized world.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on the 2018 Department of Veterans Affairs budget request for the Veterans Health Administration.

TECHNOLOGY

The Federal Communications Commission will hold its monthly open meeting on Thursday. The commission is slated to vote on several items, including a report and order to establish the standards and procedures through which the FCC will evaluate plans submitted by several states to opt out of the AT&T-operated public-safety network FirstNet and build their own systems. The FCC will also vote on beginning an inquiry into whether existing rules governing the provision of internet and TV services to multi-tenant apartment buildings are stifling broadband competition.

The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet will hold a hearing Tuesday to examine how the FCC’s Universal Service Fund promotes the deployment of rural broadband. The committee has in the past debated the best way to channel additional federal funds to rural broadband should money become available as part of an infrastructure package, and the Universal Service Fund has been floated as a potential vehicle for further broadband investment. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is getting in on the broadband action as well, with the Communications and Technology Subcommittee slated to hold a hearing Wednesday to define and map broadband coverage in the United States.

Sen. Ted Cruz, chairman of the Senate Commerce Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee, will continue a series of hearings on commercial space operations on Thursday, with this particular hearing focusing on partnerships between the government and private actors in space.

TRANSPORTATION

Amtrak President Charles Moorman will testify before the House Transportation Committee Thursday as part of a hearing on intercity rail, along with officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and California’s High Speed Rail Authority. House Republicans have been skeptical of Amtrak’s operations in the past and have pitched privatizing service on the Northeast Corridor, a proposal sure to come up again.

The Senate Commerce Committee will meet Wednesday to consider the nomination of former Coast Guard Vice Commandant David Pekoske to be administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.

WHITE HOUSE

President Trump welcomes Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela to the White House on Monday before he meets with the American Technology Council. On Wednesday, he will travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a campaign rally. On Thursday, he will host the annual congressional picnic on the South Lawn, and he will hold a veterans’ event on Friday.

Brendan Bordelon, George E. Condon Jr., Alex Rogers, Jason Plautz and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this article.
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