Outlook: As the House Eyes August Recess, Senators to Grill Pompeo

Representatives will consider several Obamacare-related measures, including legislation expanding health savings accounts and permanently repealing the medical-device tax, before they leave town.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
July 22, 2018, 8 p.m.

Obamacare will be the topic du jour in the House, as Republicans will bring to the floor a package of bills aimed at expanding investments in health savings accounts and permanently repealing the medical-device tax. The bills would allow more people to invest in HSAs and expand the kinds of medical services and insurance coverage people can pay for with their accounts.

Democrats are unlikely to support the measures because they believe the bills are intended to drive people out of the Obamacare marketplace. Yet they could also become controversial on the Republican side of the aisle: The provisions would add $92 billion to the deficit over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and do not include any spending offsets.

Senators, meanwhile, will welcome Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Hill this week as he testifies before the Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday afternoon. Lawmakers want to hear from Pompeo on President Trump’s recent secretive summits with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In Helsinki, Trump and Putin met one on one, with the only American witness being the president’s translator. Putin has claimed that certain agreements were made, but the White House has been largely silent on what the two discussed during the sit-down. Senators on both sides of the aisle are expected to press Pompeo on what Trump said happened during the meeting. Lawmakers will also be looking for answers on the potential deal Trump discussed with Kim, given the lack of details that emerged from the Singapore spectacle.

The Senate will vote Monday evening to confirm Robert Wilkie to be Veterans Affairs secretary. Then it will turn to an appropriations bill concerning the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here’s what else is on tap this week:


In addition to testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, Pompeo will host the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this week. The gathering will take place from Tuesday through Thursday and feature foreign ministers, representatives from civil society, and religious leaders discussing the issue of international religious freedom.

A conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act is expected early this week, with the defense-policy bill then set for a vote in the House.

The House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee meets Tuesday afternoon for a hearing on security, human rights, and reform in Egypt with outside experts. On Wednesday, the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee will convene a panel to discuss political developments in Central Europe, while the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee hears testimony on budget priorities for South Asia from Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs; and Gloria Steele, U.S. Agency for International Development senior deputy assistant administrator.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy Subcommittee will convene a panel of outside experts to discuss economic coercion as statecraft in China.

The Senate Intelligence Committee meets Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for closed briefings. On Wednesday, the committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Joseph Maguire to be director of the National Counterterrorism Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Ellen McCarthy to be an assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research.


Congress’s perennial defense bill could spell big change for Endangered Species Act policy. House provisions to bar ESA protections for the sage grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, and the American burying beetle for 10 years may have a better chance of ending up in a final package this year, in light of the absence of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, who has fought against those provisions in past Congresses but has been battling brain cancer back home in Arizona.

Lawmakers declined to comment on specific issues in the negotiations, but proponents of the provisions are likely buoyed by an endorsement of the language from the Defense and Interior departments last Thursday. That statement of support marks a stunning reversal. Just 24 hours earlier, a Defense official denounced the provisions in a policy memo, and the department has said in the past the provisions aren’t needed.

Another conference negotiation is continuing this week on the “minibus” appropriations bill, which includes funding for the Energy Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The House and Senate have yet to resolve a dispute over money for Yucca Mountain. The House legislation appropriates nearly $300 million to resume the licensing process for the permanent nuclear-waste-storage site.

Meanwhile, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican who represents a South Florida district, is set to unveil a carbon-tax bill on Monday. The legislation would funnel revenue into infrastructure and areas affected by flooding and other symptoms of climate change. Only six Republicans, however, opposed a House resolution last week that denounced a carbon tax, and Curbelo’s bill is not expected to garner much support this Congress.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the causes of global oil-price fluctuations. Crude prices have moderated over the past 10 days but remain comparatively high. West Texas Intermediate, which is the U.S. crude benchmark, currently sells for just over $68 a barrel, while global producers fetch $73 a barrel. President Trump has repeatedly urged the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost production in order to bring down prices.

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the status of electricity-grid restoration in Puerto Rico.


House members will be considering pieces of legislation that cleared the Ways and Means Committee this month that aim to modernize and expand access to health savings accounts. This includes legislation clarifying that certain employment-related services are not treated as disqualifying coverage for HSAs, allowing health plans some flexibility in their plan design while maintaining eligibility for HSA contributions and increasing contribution limits for HSAs.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said the bills were designed both to expand health savings accounts and to “also allow for individuals to have an off-ramp from Obamacare’s rising premiums by allowing more choice and financial assistance both on and off government-sponsored exchanges.”

Meanwhile, the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will look at advertising and marketing practices of the substance-use-treatment industry in a hearing Tuesday. This comes after committee leaders questioned companies about their business practices and requested information about their marketing and advertising in May.

The Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee will have a hearing to review the Health and Human Services Department’s implementation of legislation to address family substance-abuse issues, improve child well-being, and support family caregivers.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins will be on the Hill Wednesday to give an update to the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on the implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act.

On the other side of Congress, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will consider different health-related bills on Wednesday, including the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act. Sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, the legislation would ban “gag clauses” that prevent pharmacists from telling patients a drug would be cheaper if they pay without insurance.

The Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will be continuing its check-in on the implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, with a focus on the Merit-based Incentive Payment System.


Chairman Brady’s effort to pass a second big tax bill this session is picking up steam. He told Bloomberg TV Thursday that House Republicans will get a look at the details of “Tax Reform 2.0” in listening sessions this week.

“We expect a vote on the U.S. House floor in September,” he said.

Brady and other House tax writers met with the Trump administration last week to discuss the plan, whose centerpiece is making last year’s individual tax cuts permanent.

The big hurdle will be in the Senate. Republicans won’t be using budget reconciliation this go-around, so they would need 60 votes in the upper chamber, meaning they’ll have to get several Democrats on board. It’s unclear how far the bill would get in the Senate, but House Republicans are likely to use the effort in their reelection campaigns this November.

House members have a few tax-related items to clear up before heading off to their home districts for August. The House is likely to vote on a bill that would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. Congress voted to again delay its implementation in January as part of a deal to reopen the federal government following a shutdown.

The House may vote on legislation to again delay the ACA’s “Cadillac tax” on high-priced health plans as well.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte is set to hold a hearing on last month’s Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which gave the green light for states to impose a sales tax on online retailers that don’t have a presence within their jurisdiction. Goodlatte—who is retiring after this session—has called the decision “a nightmare for American businesses.”

The Court decision left room for interpretation by states on how to craft their own online-sales-tax laws, and Congress could introduce legislation setting out further guidelines.

In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Orrin Hatch and ranking member Ron Wyden released a bipartisan bill Thursday to overhaul IRS administration. The measure is the Senate counterpart to a bill the House passed earlier this year, though there are a few differences. The panel will hold a July 26 hearing on the state of IRS administration.

The Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a July 24 hearing on Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. The tariffs, which the administration implemented under a national security provision, have taken criticism from both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill. Brady has been critical of the federal government’s pace in processing exclusion requests for the tariffs, and he will focus on the issue in the hearing.


The two-month standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill over the fate of Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE is finally coming to a close, and Trump appears poised to triumph over his congressional critics. Last month, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to add an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have ostensibly blocked the Trump administration from lifting crippling sanctions on ZTE, a company believed by many lawmakers to assist the Chinese government’s espionage activities in the United States. But on Friday, Bloomberg reported that amendment was stripped from the bill during NDAA conference negotiations.

House GOP leadership was never particularly sold on the amendment, with several lawmakers telling National Journal they preferred to give the White House greater leeway to negotiate trade issues. Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner blasted the decision in a tweet on Friday, calling it a “huge mistake” that “can only make our country less safe.”

Markup season continues unabated on Capitol Hill, and a few new tech and cybersecurity bills are set to be taken up by committees this week. On Tuesday, the House Financial Services Committee will mark up the Financial Technology Protection Act, which would establish an Independent Financial Technology Task Force to lead the government’s fight against nefarious uses of Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

The House Homeland Security Committee will also meet for a markup on Tuesday, with several cybersecurity-related provisions among the slate of bills being considered. The committee will vote on a bill authorizing new Homeland Security Department requirements for information relating to cybersecurity supply-chain risks, a bill to establish a continuous cybersecurity diagnostic and mitigation program at DHS, and a bill to establish the position of chief data officer at DHS.

Expanding broadband access to rural and underserved parts of America remains a priority on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers set to receive new input from the Federal Communications Commission. On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee will hear from the four sitting commissioners on the best ways to facilitate investment in rural broadband. The massive infrastructure bill expected to contain billions of dollars in rural broadband subsidies never materialized, but several bills mandating increased study of the problem are currently working their way through Congress.

Congress is set to hold three space-policy hearings this week—two looking backward at mistakes made, and one looking forward to future opportunities. On Wednesday and Thursday, the House Science Committee will examine the breach of the $8 billion cost cap for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which was set to be launched at the end of decade but has faced continuous delays and cost overruns.

The Senate Commerce Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee will meet Wednesday to discuss the NASA’s priorities and timeline for exploring Mars—the first in a series of hearings working toward future NASA-authorization legislation.

The full Commerce Committee will also meet Wednesday to hear from representatives of the telecommunications industry on the global race to 5G wireless development. Lawmakers are set to ask industry leaders whether current spectrum allocation is sufficient to continue the build-out of new 5G infrastructure, which is increasingly seen as a national security priority given China’s investments in its own 5G networks. The federal government—and especially the Defense Department—continues to sit on vast bands of unused spectrum, and industry has long clamored for increased access.

The House Science Committee will also hold a hearing Tuesday on the feasibility of flying cars. Among other public and private panels, lawmakers are set to hear from Uber, which unveiled details for an aerial taxi service it hopes to launch early next decade.

Rebecca Slaughter, a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, is slated to speak Thursday at a New America event on increasing the security and transparency of the Internet of Things ecosystem.


Back in town after two weeks focused on foreign policy and a weekend of golf at his New Jersey club, President Trump travels this week to Kansas City to boast of his support for the nation’s veterans. On Tuesday, he will address the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in KC. Before returning, he will attend a fundraiser for Republican Josh Hawley, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Back at the White House on Wednesday, trade will be on the top of the agenda when the president meets with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is on a mission to try to persuade Trump not to impose the 25 percent tariff on imported cars and parts that he has threatened. On Thursday, the president will go to Dubuque in Iowa, a state where Trump's trade policies are causing pain, particularly to soybean farmers.

Mackenzie Weinger, Alex Rogers, Brian Dabbs, Erin Durkin, Casey Wooten, Brendan Bordelon and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
Pelosi Won't Back Down on SOTU
8 hours ago
Cohen Postpones Testimony
9 hours ago
Trump Recognizes Guaido as Interim Venezuelan President
10 hours ago
Sheila Jackson-Lee Resigns as CBC Foundation Chair
10 hours ago
Trump Says He's Delivering SOTU as Planned
11 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.