Articles of Interest

GOP Unified Control Still Means Divided Congress

The demise of the Republican effort to repeal the 2010 health care law put an exclamation point on what has become obvious in Washington: The GOP, for all its enthusiasm following its election win last year, is too riven with dissension to meet ambitious goals it set out for itself.

And President Donald Trump seems to have oversold his skills as a deal-maker.

“On delivering on their campaign promises, it’s hard to pat them on the back and tell them they’ve done a good job,” said Sam Geduldig, a former aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, now a partner at the CGCN Group lobbying firm.

That said, the downfall of the Senate health care effort has obscured the achievements Congress has had.

History shows that “it is a mistake to expect big-ticket legislative accomplishments during the early months of presidents newly elected to the office,” said David Mayhew, the Yale political scientist who is perhaps America’s foremost student of congressional productivity.

The exceptions come in moments of crisis, such as early 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed landmark legislation to regulate the sale of stock in response to the Great Depression, or early 2009, when President Barack Obama got his stimulus bill to revive an ailing economy.

Obama didn’t sign his health care law or his financial regulatory overhaul, Dodd-Frank, until his second year in office. President George W. Bush got a tax cut across the finish line in June of his first year but didn’t sign the biggest policy victory of his first Congress, the No Child Left Behind law, until January of the following year.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have set ambitious goals to overhaul the 2010 health care law and revamp the tax code. Prospects for both look bleak — GOP leaders announced last week they were throwing out their initial tax plan — but who knows?

It’s easy to foresee the 115th Congress setting a record for futility. But there have been achievements.

So far, the biggest GOP win was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, gained by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to change Senate rules to allow a simple majority to confirm him — as well as hold the seat open more than year after Antonin Scalia’s death, depriving Obama of the chance at so much as a hearing for his nominee to succeed Scalia, Merrick G. Garland.

The Senate has confirmed every Trump Cabinet appointee it considered. Trump’s only loss on that front, his first Labor Department nominee Andrew Puzder, dropped out after acknowledging that he’d hired an unauthorized immigrant as a housekeeper.

Trump trails his three most recent predecessors, Obama, Bush and Bill Clinton, in the pace of his nominations and confirmations.

On the productive side of the ledger, this Congress did make innovative use of the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law allowing it to rescind recently finalized regulations.

It had been used successfully once before, in 2001, when Bush signed a resolution revoking a rule by the Clinton Labor Department requiring employers to protect their workers from repetitive stress injuries: the ergonomics rule.

This year, Congress rescinded 14 Obama-era regulations to keep pollution out of streams and guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, among other things. Such CRA resolutions make up nearly a third of its legislative output.

It also sets a precedent future Congresses will surely mimic.

In May, Congress finalized fiscal 2017 spending. It came seven months after the fiscal year began, but was done without shutdown brinkmanship.

In June, Trump signed a law that marks a bipartisan win: a measure responding to the scandal at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals, where dying veterans were left waiting for appointments. The law makes it easier to fire VA employees for poor performance and for whistleblowers to come forward.

Still, Congress hasn’t made much progress on basic obligations. Fiscal 2018 appropriations bills have only begun to move, with no indication Republican leaders can, as promised, restore an orderly budget process.

The House passed a “minibus” spending bill Thursday covering four of the 12 annual appropriations bills for defense, military construction and veterans’ benefits, energy, and the legislative branch. It included $1.57 billion for barriers along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

There’s little likelihood it will be enacted in its current form. Because Democrats can block appropriations bills in the Senate, given the 60-vote threshold there, the two parties need to reach a deal to raise limits on defense and nondefense spending enacted in 2011.

Democrats don’t plan to go along with the wall funding, or the defense spending increase in the House bill if there are not comparable nondefense increases. Congress must raise the debt limit, too, this fall — always a fraught vote.

House Republicans hope to move a fiscal 2018 budget resolution when they return in September that would allow them to move forward with a tax overhaul using the fast-track budget reconciliation procedure. Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass measures that have budgetary effects such as taxes, spending and the deficit with only a simple majority.

But disagreements among Republicans over the centerpiece of the House GOP leaders’ initial tax proposal, a border adjustment tax that would have hit imports, prompted leadership on Thursday to ask the tax-writing committees to start over.

Meanwhile, Congress is making progress on other must-pass bills. The House has passed measures reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration’s system of user fees — which help fund the agency — and a defense authorization bill. They await Senate action.

Both chambers are moving forward with legislation, due by Sept. 30, to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Progress is slow because of Trump’s plan to privatize the air traffic control system. The House has incorporated the proposal into its bill, but the Senate has rejected it. Republicans are divided over the idea, with rural members most likely to oppose it for fear it could hurt small airports.

And work has begun on reauthorization of the federal flood insurance program, also set to expire this year.

Another issue is what to do about surveillance authority granted to the National Security Agency in 2008 to collect emails of foreign terrorist suspects. The NSA’s dragnet at one time captured messages written by Americans who were not suspects but merely mentioned people who were, prompting an outcry from civil libertarians. The agency earlier this year said it was now only collecting emails to or from suspects.

Even so, the expiration of the authority at the end of this year will prompt a fight between security hawks who want to renew it, and civil liberties advocates who want to let it expire, or curtail it. Congress has made no progress on a resolution.

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Democrats Push Back on Plan to Make Green Cards Harder to Obtain
Public health advocates, others warn about effects of ‘public charge’ crackdown

Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., pictured here, joined with Sen. Kamala Harris and public health officials in pushing back against a proposal to make it harder for people who utilize public assistance to obtain green cards. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic lawmakers are joining local health officials, community organizers and immigrant rights groups around the country in opposition to a Trump administration regulatory proposal that would make it harder for foreign nationals to obtain green cards if they have received government assistance.

Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Nanette Barragán, both California Democrats, said in a public comment submitted to the Homeland Security Department that the proposed regulation would represent “another misguided step in advancing this administration’s cruel, anti-immigrant agenda.”

Nearly 150 Activists Arrested in ‘Green New Deal’ Protest
The idea is especially popular among young voters, and many of the protesters were students

Capitol Police move media and protesters back as protesters with the Sunrise Movement demonstrate in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office demanding a climate New Deal from Democrats on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The group spearheading the effort for House Democrats to move Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” to the top of their legislative agenda appeared to score a victory on Monday as more than 1,000 demonstrators stormed the Capitol Hill offices of Democratic House leaders to stage sit-ins.

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, emerged from his office to address protesters and promised them that he is “committed to the House Select Committee on a Green New Deal.”

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Administrative Power
At heart of case is deference courts have given to federal agencies

The justices agreed Monday to take up a case about overturning two Supreme Court rulings at the heart of administrative law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court will decide whether federal agencies should stop getting such a strong voice when interpreting their own regulations, in a case that could significantly influence how judges decide challenges to environmental, health care, immigration, veterans benefits and other rules.

The justices on Monday agreed to hear arguments about overturning two Supreme Court rulings at the heart of administrative law, Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. in 1945 and Auer v. Robbins in 1997. In the case, the court could accomplish part of what some conservative members of Congress have sought to do legislatively.

Supreme Court Will Not Hear Planned Parenthood Defunding Appeal
Two conservative justices — Roberts and Kavanaugh — side with liberal colleagues

Supporters and opponents of abortion rights demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by two states that want to cut Medicaid funds from providers like Planned Parenthood, keeping in place lower court opinions that anti-abortion advocates oppose.

The states, Kansas and Louisiana, argued that Medicaid does not allow individual patients to sue if state officials refuse to cover a provider’s non-abortion services because the provider sometimes separately performs abortions.

Shutdown Fears Abound, Despite Temporary Reprieve
Another deadline looming in appropriations standoff

Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, says Transportation-HUD measure not among the “problem child” spending bills. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congressional aides on both sides of the aisle say they don’t see how the appropriations impasse ends without a partial government shutdown just in time for Christmas Eve.

President Donald Trump signed a continuing resolution into law Friday that would change the expiration date of the stopgap measure enacted before the midterm elections to Dec. 21. But he wasted little time in taking aim at Democratic leaders for “playing political games” on border security funding, even as he prepares to sit down with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York in the Oval Office Tuesday.

Rick Scott Spent Record $64 Million of His Own Money in Florida Senate Race
GOP senator-elect made fortune as health care executive

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), spent nearly $65 million of his own money on his Senate campaign. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will become the most junior member of the Senate next month after the 116th Congress is sworn in after defeating three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. But that victory won without a steep price tag.

Scott spent a record $63.6 million of his own money on his campaign to oust Nelson and turn the Florida Senate delegation all red, according to his most recent Federal Elections Commission report.

Rep. Mark Meadows on Trump’s Short List for Chief of Staff: Reports
Freedom Caucus chairman would be president’s third chief of staff in less than two years

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., has been floated as a potential replacement for chief of staff in the White House. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump and his top advisers are considering whether to make Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, his next chief of staff.

Axios first reported the president’s consideration of Meadows, one of his fiercest defenders in the House since he took office.

House Judiciary Democrat Promises ‘In Essence’ Impeachment Hearings
Steve Cohen introduced articles of impeachment in November 2017

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., serves on the House Judiciary Committee, where Congress oversees impeachment proceedings, and first introduced articles of impeachment last year. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee referred to the business empire of President Donald Trump as a “criminal enterprise” on Sunday and promised to investigate allegations that he has used his White House office to enrich himself.

The Trump Organization is “a criminal enterprise that he and his family has been engaged in, to run for president and once they got the presidency they monetized it,” Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen said in an interview with MSNBC.

With Opponents Dug In, Pelosi Has Little Room to Negotiate on Speaker Votes
At least 15 Pelosi opponents say they remain firm and will not vote ‘present’

Reps.-elect Max Rose, D-N.Y., left, and Jason Crow, D-Colo., pictured fist bumping at the new member office lottery on Nov. 30, are among the Democrats firmly opposed to Nancy Pelosi’s speaker bid. Rep.-elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., is among those who voted against Pelosi in caucus elections but appears open to supporting her on the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

At least 15 Democrats resisting Nancy Pelosi’s speaker bid are holding firm in their opposition and say they plan to vote for someone other than the California Democrat during the Jan. 3 speaker election, providing Pelosi with little room to negotiate a victory.

With the House poised to have 235 Democrats seated on the opening day of the 116th Congress when the speaker election takes place, Pelosi can only afford to have 17 Democrats vote and say a name that is not hers to meet the 218-vote majority threshold. 

Care With a Side of Comfort Promises Big Savings in Health Costs
Experiments targeting housing, transportation, food and other nonmedical services are flourishing

Circle the City’s respite program provides health assessments, physical therapy and other care for homeless patients. (Courtesy Circle the City)

As state and federal officials increasingly search for ways to curb rising health care costs, a decades-old idea is gaining traction: helping people with challenges that have nothing to do with medical care but everything to do with their health.

Insurers are taking steps as simple as paying for hot meal deliveries and outreach to homebound people and replacing air filters in homes with asthmatic children. More radical approaches include building affordable housing for people who don’t have a stable home of their own.

Public Health Should Be as Reliable as Our Highways
Health protection should not depend on local decisions or stop abruptly at political borders

Epidemics don’t recognize state or city boundaries, the authors write. So why should our public health system? Above, traffic moves across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge along the Capitol Beltway in July. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images file photo)

OPINION — Check your morning news and you are likely to read distressing stories about the threat of a bad flu season, the consequences of natural disasters like wildfires in California, unacceptably high maternal and infant death rates, or the opioid epidemic.

All these emerging challenges occur on top of our nation’s chronic public health issues, like heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS, which continue to take a toll on the length and quality of life for people in the United States. This also takes a toll on the health and vitality of our communities and comes at great cost to our federal and state health care budgets.

Choosing a Health Plan Should Not Be Like Playing ‘Battleship’
CMS should issue guidance to expand benefits and inform older Americans

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services should revise its guidance for 2020 to allow broader coverage of nonmedical services for seniors with multiple chronic conditions, Hayes writes. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

OPINION — Three in four Americans over 65 live with multiple chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma, and the cost of providing their care is rapidly increasing.

Beginning in January, Medicare Advantage, or MA, Medicare’s managed care plans, will offer some relief by providing health-related supplemental benefits to beneficiaries with chronic conditions. Some plans will offer new benefits such as smoking cessation programs, in-home personal assistance, caregiver support and adult daycare. But that’s not enough.

Insurance Marketplace Sign-Ups Lag After Year of Changes
Fewer people are enrolling than last year, according to CMS

Overall health insurance enrollment on the federal exchange is down roughly 11 percent compared to this point last year. Above, Isabel Diaz Tinoco and Jose Luis Tinoco weigh different plans at the Mall of the Americas in Miami last year. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

Enrollment in the insurance plans offered under the 2010 health care law appears to be lagging heading into the final stretch of the sign-up period.

Overall enrollment is down roughly 11 percent compared to this point last year, suggesting the final federal exchange numbers may end up lower than last year.

Voting Rights Piece May Take More Time in Ethics Overhaul
“We’re not going to put any fixed deadline on that,” Sarbanes says

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., says work on a voting rights component of the Democrats’ planned ethics overhaul may require more time. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats who are preparing an overhaul of political and ethics laws, a top priority of the incoming majority, have acknowledged that a component aimed at restoring a key section of the Voting Rights Act may take longer than their speedy timeline for the bill.

Other pieces of the overhaul, which Democratic leaders have said they will designate as House bill 1 in the new Congress, could also run parallel to the main package as a way to garner bipartisan support in the Senate, said Rep. John Sarbanes, the Maryland Democrat who is crafting the bill.

Russell Building Evacuated After Fire
Saturday night incident under investigation, building still closed Sunday

A fire broke out in the Russell Senate Office Building Saturday night. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Fire and smoke in the Russell Senate Office Building prompted an evacuation Saturday night. The building remains closed Sunday morning.

Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol personnel are conducting an investigation and all other personnel will be restricted from entering the building.