House Moves on Obamacare, Spending Bills While Senate Waits

The Senate will be focused on undoing Obama-era regulations

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore. may oversee a markup of the GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore. may oversee a markup of the GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 6, 2017 at 12:28pm

By REMA RAHMAN and BRIDGET BOWMAN, CQ ROLL CALL

The public will get its first look at House Republicans’ bill to repeal and partially replace the 2010 health care law likely early this week, but timing on committee markups of the legislation is unclear. 

Drafting of the bill continues after the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees worked with the White House this weekend to tie up loose ends and incorporate technical guidance from the administration, a senior GOP aide said.  

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Andrew Bremberg, President Donald Trump’s chief domestic policy adviser, spoke on the phone Saturday to resolve outstanding issues, the aide said. 

Members of the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees said Thursday after a closed-door conference meeting on the health care effort that they expected their panels to mark up legislation this week. But the committees are unlikely to formally notify a markup until the bill text is finalized and ready to be released, and GOP leaders have not tipped their hand on timing.

Rep. Frank Pallone, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees health care, said last week that he expects that panel to mark up a bill on Wednesday.

Republican members of the panel would not commit to timing. Chairman Greg Walden has pushed back on claims from Democrats that the majority party was keeping a so-called secret bill away from public viewing.

“Reports that the Energy and Commerce Committee is doing anything other than the regular process of keeping its members up to speed on latest developments in its jurisdictions are false,” Walden said in a statement.

During a hearing Thursday, Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican committee member, said notice of a markup had not yet been noticed.

Meanwhile, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer questioned Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the House floor just before the chamber adjourned Thursday about the timing of a markup.

“Can I see the bill today?” Hoyer asked McCarthy.

“You’re not on that committee, so you can look at it when we mark it up,” the California Republican replied, deflecting timing of such a meeting to the chairman.

The colloquy came before Hoyer himself joined a group of lawmakers who literally went searching the Capitol Thursday looking for a bill.

Other Democratic lawmakers, joined by Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, who hauled around a copy machine, opened random doors to offices around the Capitol looking for lawmakers and legislation.

The search attempts were unsuccessful.

Republican lawmakers have said they want to act on a health care bill before the August recess.

During the closed-door conference meeting Thursday, Speaker Paul D. Ryan assured that the White House is on board with a House GOP-backed plan that some conservatives might stonewall, which could complicate things for Republicans.

One thing lawmakers are certain to take up is a fiscal year 2017 defense spending package. The House Rules Committee will meet Tuesday to mark up that bill and it’s expected on the chamber’s floor for a vote this week.

The final version of the defense  bill provides nearly $578 billion in spending, an increase of $5.2 billion over fiscal year 2016, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

“The United States is facing unprecedented threats at home and abroad,” Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said in a statement. “These resources are critical to improving readiness and addressing the needs of our men and women in uniform.”

While the Senate waits for the House to send over the spending bill, the chamber will continue to crank through House-passed bills undoing regulations put in place during President Barack Obama’s administration.

On Monday, the Senate will vote to undo a regulation that required companies applying for government contracts to disclose labor law violations.

Once the Senate passes the measure undoing that regulation, senators will vote to proceed to another House-passed bill undoing a regulation relating to the Bureau of Land Management and development of public lands.

Republicans have been using the Congressional Review Act to overturn the regulations. There are nearly a dozen bills that have passed the House under this law so far, which are awaiting action in the Senate.

The Senate will have a lull in nomination votes, after President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees consumed much of the floor time in recent weeks.

Last week, the remaining department-head level members of Trump’s  Cabinet who had gone through the committee process were confirmed. Senate committees have yet to hold confirmation hearings on two remaining nominees to Trump’s Cabinet.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee said the panel has not scheduled a hearing on former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s nomination to be the Agriculture Secretary because they were still waiting for his completed paperwork.

Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta has also not had his confirmation hearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. A spokeswoman for Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Alexander will not officially notify members of a hearing “until the committee has received his HELP committee paperwork and Office of Government Ethics agreement.”

Another Trump official awaiting confirmation is former Sen. Dan Coats, who was Trump’s pick as the Director of National Intelligence. The Indiana Republican is a former member of the committee and was once ambassador to Germany.

Coats faced the Senate Intelligence Committee last week for his confirmation hearing, and received bipartisan praise. The panel’s ranking member, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said Coats was “an excellent choice” for the position.

Senators will also be keeping a close watch on the House efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, with roughly one month left before lawmakers leave for the Easter recess.

Although Republicans want to move on health care legislation before August, one top Republican signaled they could take action before the next recess. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he expected the Senate would vote on a measure repealing much of the Affordable Care Act during the current work period.

— Lindsey McPherson, Chuck Conlon and Andrew Siddons contributed to this report.