Congress

Road ahead: House health care week again, as Senate tackles contentious nominations

House Democrats also voting on Equality Act, which will mark passage of half of their top 10 bills

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is lead sponsor of the Equality Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s health care week, part two, in the House as the chamber will vote on a package of seven bills designed to strengthen the 2010 law and lower prescription drug prices — after passing a measure last week that Democrats said would protect people with pre-existing conditions.

But the health care package won’t be the only marquee legislation on the floor this week. Democrats will be halfway through advancing their top 10 bills out of the House after a vote on HR 5, the Equality Act.

HR 5, led by Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and co-sponsored by all but one member of the Democratic Caucus, would amend the Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, education, housing, employment, jury service and federal financing.

The health care package, titled the Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act, is composed of seven bills reported out of committee.

The legislation would ban so-called junk insurance plans, provide funding for states to establish their own insurance marketplaces under the terms of the 2010 health care law and restore funding the Trump administration cut for the law’s marketing and the navigator program, which helps people sign up for insurance coverage, among other policies.

Most of those components, designed to strengthen the 2010 law, are ones most Republicans do not support. That’s why GOP members are upset that bipartisan legislation to help bring generic prescription drugs to market more quickly (in an effort to provide more affordable choices) was made part of the package. 

The health care bill Democrats passed last week with the assistance of four Republicans — called the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act — would require the administration to rescind 2018 guidance that made it easier for states to change their individual insurance markets and bypass the health care law.

Republicans voting against it argued that the Section 1332 waivers at the center of the legislation don’t allow states to waive pre-existing condition protections.

Also watch: What if we switch to a single-payer health care system?

Democrats are also bringing a measure to the floor under a rule that they had to pull from the suspension calendar last week amid Republican opposition. Measures brought under a rule need only a simple majority for passage, but suspension measures require two-thirds support.

The bill in question would reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reservation in Massachusetts — the planned site for a casino — as trust land and dismiss any pending legal matters related to the land.

The measure was opposed by many Republicans and even prompted a tweet by President Donald Trump, urging his party to oppose what he called “a special interest casino bill backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren” — one of the president’s favorite disparaging nicknames for the Democratic senator and 2020 presidential contender.  

Contentious nominations

The Senate, meanwhile, will spend the week continuing to confirm nominees, including more contentious judicial ones.

The most significant nominee up for confirmation is Kenneth Lee, who has been nominated for a California-based seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Lee is opposed by both of the state’s Democratic senators: Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

At Lee’s confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Harris pressed him on past writings, including a piece from law school about “epidemic lying in academia” that seemed to express doubt on the frequency of sexual assaults on college campuses. Lee said in his testimony that he would not write something similar today.

“As a father of two young daughters, I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them and, senator, I can tell you a close family member became a single mother after ending an abusive relationship,” Lee said. “I’ve seen firsthand the turmoil it causes, and the most painful thing about it is this family member didn’t tell me or my mom or anyone else or other family members because that was the culture then — you just didn’t tell anybody.”

Also on the list for confirmation is Wendy Vitter, a Trump nominee to be a district judge in Louisiana. Known to the Senate as the wife of former GOP Sen. David Vitter, the New Orleans lawyer had to amend her disclosures last year to include public appearances that had been omitted.

Vitter has a long record of anti-abortion advocacy, and she drew scrutiny at a nomination hearing last year over apparent endorsement of a brochure that made an assortment of unsubstantiated medical claims linking the birth control pill to cancers and other adverse health conditions.

In a relatively light week of hearings, two former chairmen of the Senate Budget Committee could take center stage. Former Sens. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, and Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, will be back at the panel they once led for a hearing on the budget process.

The Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will hear testimony from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about his department’s budget. It’s also likely to serve as a venue for a discussion of trade policy.

And Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz will chair a Tuesday afternoon hearing on the “Emerging Space Environment” featuring testimony from government officials including NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Air Force Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson, the vice commander of Space Command.

No Mueller testimony yet

Over in the House, there are no blockbuster hearings or markups planned — which have become regular occurrences in recent weeks since the special counsel’s report on Russian election interference was released. The Judiciary Committee had hoped to bring Robert S. Mueller III in himself to discuss his report, but that is not likely to happen this week as talks about getting him to testify continue. 

The Judiciary Committee is not stopping its oversight efforts this week, though. The panel will hold a hearing Wednesday on executive privilege that is sure to be a forum for Democrats to hammer Trump for what they believe is an inappropriate use of such privilege to block their access to the unredacted Mueller report and investigatory materials. 

Also on Wednesday, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will begin what is expected to be a series of hearings looking into issues with the Boeing 737 Max. The Aviation Subcommittee will question Daniel K. Elwell, the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration,  and Robert L. Sumwalt, who chairs the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Oversight panel’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee will hold the first hearing in a multi-part examination of the consequences of inaction in confronting white supremacy.

And in preparation for June floor action, the House Appropriations panel is continuing to advance its fiscal 2020 bills, with the Defense, Energy-Water and Interior-Environment measures all being marked up in subcommittee. 

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.