The Senate voted to begin debate on its latest budget resolution by a very slim margin of 50-47. Rand Paul has already said he's a no on final passage, even though he voted to begin debate. Murkowski and Collins are leaning yes, McCain and Corker are wild cards.
Cloture will be invoked on Thursday, with vote-a-rama to follow. I have no prediction about where this will go, especially after the healthcare one this year.
Very important, and something you can remind all of your GOP senators: a budget resolution is NOT necessary for tax reform. A budget resolution is necessary for tax reform to pass without Democratic votes.
Sources close to Lamar Alexander say that he and Senator Murray have circulated a draft bill to fund CSR payment for two years. Obviously, this isn't the permanent fix that Dems would like to see, but I sense that Murray will have to give some pretty big concessions to save this thing and move talks in the direction of a permanent fix.
HEALTHCARE UPDATE 2:20PM from FactPower:
Sens. Alexander and Murray have a rough outline of a bipartisan compromise. See here. In exchange for a 2-year extension of federal payments to insurers, Republicans want Congress to give states "meaningful" flexibility with regard to opt-out provisions. Alexander says "the definition of meaningful" is the remaining stumbling block. However, both Alexander and Murray are optimistic they will reach compromise.
Subpoena dropped today for Carter Page for his testimony in front of the Senate Intel Committee. He'd previously said he would take the 5th. Additionally, we're hearing that subpoenas are imminent for Michael Flynn and his son.
The House is on recess and the Senate only has some nominations on the docket. McConnell and the president are lunching today though, and they're expected to discuss the budget resolution in the Senate and healthcare. The budget will serve as the vehicle for tax reform legislation, and we're expecting to vote-a-rama it on Thursday into Friday. McConnell's fate seems more and more in jeopardy as leader in the Senate. After golfing with the president, Lindsey Graham said on TV over the weekend that if they can't fulfill GOP campaign promises, they'll lose bigtime in the house and "it'll be the end of Mitch McConnell as we know it". Can't imagine who would take over for him if that were to happen... I haven't heard much on healthcare this weekend, but I expect the Senate negotiators to spring into action this week to try and do something before the open enrollment period.
- Thad Cochran will NOT be back in the Senate this week (calling into question our budget resolution voting on Thursday).
- Sen. Mike Lee endorsed Roy Moore for Senate (because of course he did). He is currently the only sitting GOP member to do so.
- Rumors abound that IF Sec. Tillerson leaves his post/is fired that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will take his place as Secretary of State, and none other than Sen. Tom Cotton will take over the CIA. I'd like to see that happen this year in the Senate.....
Also some more fun reading on the corrupt swamp creatures in the cabinet this morning:
A warning about a potential Pence presidency:
And some juicy Russia-scandal news:
More to come on budget and healthcare later.
The Mystery Of Wilbur Ross' Missing Billions
Between the November election and January inauguration, Ross quietly moved a chunk of assets into trusts for his family members, leaving more than $2 billion off of his financial disclosure report—and therefore out of the public eye.
Somebody told the president that there's no such thing as the ACA anymore. That Obamacare is dead and gone. He just said that during his LIVE cabinet meeting. Pro tip: The ACA is still the law of the land. But maybe now he'll stop trying to get rid of it if he thinks it's already gone...
Just a quick update on Senate goings-on from my meeting:
- Budget resolution is still a go despite Cochran's absence. Menendez is also absent (his case will proceed with all 18 charges). We expect debate to begin on Tuesday for this, with vote-a-rama on Thursday. If they sense that the votes aren't there, they'll pull it.
- This work period is 5 weeks long, and there's no indication from the majority that they will do anything except nominations, this budget, and the supplemental aid package (potentially next week). THIS MEANS:
...will all be delayed until December 8. This is unacceptable, and so I think the theme this week and next when you call your Senators should be: Get to work and pass these urgent bills NOW. They have the time, they're just not inclined to do it. Another way to put it is this: you're willing to bastardize Senate rules to pass tax cuts for the mega-wealthy and raise the deficit, but you won't go through regular order to fix the sabotaged healthcare system, provide for CHIP's reauthorization, and maybe just START talking about funding the government after December 8?
There is time to do all of this, they're just not doing it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Washington DC source has shared a lot of information about the president's cessation of CSR subsidy payments to insurance companies. We are getting into some rather complicated territory here, and that is when health policy experts often disagree sharply. FactPower has studied this situation thoroughly, ad we respectfully disagree with the picture being painted by our Washington DC source. As a service to our readers, we provide our alternative point of view at the bottom of this briefing, drawing from the conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office and other health care analysts we follow. For now, we urge readers not to panic. We'll explain why at the bottom.
Last night's series of announcements was like a 1-2 sucker punch in the gut. I'm going to do my best to break it down for you.
In addition to the Executive Order signed yesterday, the Administration announced late last night that it will "immediately" end ACA CSR subsidy payments.
Not only will this hurt the poor who buy heavily subsidized health insurance, but it will also hurt middle-income folks, and health insurance will become virtually impossible to own.
We've gotten some preliminary CBO numbers: ending subsidies will increase premiums by 20% by 2018, 25% by 2020, and will increase the deficit by $6 billion by next year and $21 billion by 2020.
Some background on these CSR payments:
- A DC district judge ruled that they were illegal in 2014 after a Congressional GOP lawsuit was filed, finding that Congress hadn't appropriated funds for the subsidies. The Obama administration appealed the ruling, and the current Administration was continuing payments on a month-to-month basis.
- The Administration claims that they can't "lawfully" make these payments. This decision was made after the Sessions Department of Justice declared CSR payments unlawful without Congressional appropriation.
- A coalition of states, including New York and California stand ready to take legal action against cutting off CSR payments.
- This move also puts incredible pressure on Congress to appropriate money to fund the ACA subsidies. The sticking point is this: Democrats see ACA subsidy money as an entitlement, like Medicaid or Social Security, and Republicans have seen it as unappropriated, illegal government money. The problem is, and this is a problem facing both chambers of Congress, that there is just so little time left in the calendar for extra things, and this issue being one that Republicans and Democrats just don't agree on will mean an extremely difficult fight throughout the rest of the year.
- Minor comfort can be taken in the fact that the changes implemented through the executive order yesterday won't occur until federal agencies write rules and adopt regulations to implement them. This process, which includes a long period of public comments, could take months. The NYT suggests that the regulations won't go into effect until 2019. What consumers are likely to feel immediately is the insurance industry's reaction to these changes: higher premiums, potential pulling out of markets.
Some of the political consequences of this I see happening are as follows:
- Democrats are furious. While bipartisan negotiations in the HELP Committee for stabilization were slow-moving, they were still progress to be seen. This act by the Administration is seen by Democrats as a spiteful move to sabotage the ACA. I anticipate that on everything else for the rest of the year, they're going to hold their ground on negotiations. This could either halt negotiations altogether, or force the Republicans to give in and deal to fund CSRs and stabilize the market, and in a really ideal world, this would cement the ACA firmly into law.
- This will probably kill any hopes of tax reform the GOP had. You can't have an administration make a unilateral deficit-increasing decision that will hurt so many people and then expect to pass MORE deficit-increasing tax cuts. It's just not realistic, and Senators like Corker, McCain, and Paul will not go along with it. As much as these guys hated the ACA, they would have rather seen CSRs funded so they could get tax cuts through.
- There's some strange stuff going on in the Senate GOP caucus right now. Susan Collins announced today that she's going to stay in the Senate rather than run for Governor of Maine, which is really good for us. McCain is still sick, but right at this moment seems to be doing fine. The wild card now is Thad Cochran. Remember when Trump said that a Senator was in the hospital? Well, Cochran has been recovering from a urological surgery, and has said that he'll be back in town next Monday when we go back into session. There was an article out today though that suggests that things aren't as rosy as that in Cochran-land. The man is 79 years old, and folks close to him and his situation are saying that he may not be back next week, or maybe not for weeks to come because his condition isn't improving.
- This could be very interesting going into the rest of the fall. With Menendez more or less out because he's on trial, McCain's health unstable, Cochran out indefinitely... it could make for some interesting negotiation dynamics in the coming weeks.
- At this point, there is nothing stopping the Democrats from shutting the entire government down this December until they get the deals they want on the ACA and DACA. They're so full of rage that there's very little political risk in this. Congress NEEDS democratic votes to get funding passed, and I don't think democratic leadership is inclined to help if they don't get some concessions.
I'm going to keep my ear to the ground on this today, but my feeling is that we'll hear more strategy on how we're going to tackle this on Monday after the leaders have a chance to regroup.
HEALTHCARE UPDATE: The first lawsuit has been filed to challenge the president's default on CSR subsidy payments.
In other news, last night the Administration says it will extend the DACA deadline of March 5th if Congress fails to act. It seems like there's some good bipartisan movement on this, despite the wishlist the Administration sent down last week. Right now, that list seems to be being largely ignored.
The House sent us over a big funding package yesterday that includes Puerto Rico, flood insurance, and wildfire money. It remains to be seen what the Senate will do with this legislation, and how dramatically it will be changed, but I hope to see some quick work done here.
There are going to be a lot of scary stories about the ACA over the next couple of weeks, and I admit, this is a very scary situation we're in. I recommend you tell folks to call THEIR Representatives and THEIR Senators to urge action to re-fund ACA subsidies and stabilize markets. If you're calling GOP members, urge them to buck the spiteful administration and think about all the people who are going to be hurt by this. If you're calling Democrats, urge them to stand strong to fight this, and thank them for all they've done so far.
This is a really tough time, and I hope everyone can try and stay positive. Despair and dread won't do anybody any good right now, even though it's the reactive response to all of this. Keep fighting, and I'll keep you posted.
FactPower's take on the halting of CSR subsidy payments by the president:
There is no need to panic, for the most part. As mentioned above, the president has terminated Cost Sharing Reduction subsidy payments only -- and not the premium reduction subsidies which he has no authority or ability to terminate. This affects policies only on the individual market, not employer-sponsored health plans (which are not "Obamacare" policies). About 7% of all insurance policies are purchased on the individual market.
Premium reduction subsidies (which are not being eliminated) help to offset premium payments for lower income Americans. Under the ACA, people earning from 100% to 400% of the Federal poverty level are not required to pay any more than a certain percent of their income for the second cheapest silver plan available to them. Everything above that computation is paid by the federal government. Again, that is not being eliminated.
What is being eliminated is the payment to insurance companies to subsidize policies for Cost Sharing Reductions for low income Americans -- reductions in deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and out of pocket maximums. Insurers still provide these Cost Sharing Reductions. The president is simply refusing to pay for them, as required under the terms of their contracts. Fortunately, insurers saw this coming and jacked up their rates quite a bit to compensate for the government's default. That said, they are still able to back out of their 2018 contracts because of this default. We will see whether they opt to do this. Our feeling is they will not, because the default is already more than baked into their 2018 rates, which should be very nicely profitable for them.
The $20 question on everyone's mind is whether insurance rates for 2018 will go up. In the well studied opinion of FactPower (and the Congressional Budget Office), they will not, for the vast majority of people. This is why:
For the 85% of all individual market policyholders who receive premium subsidies (those earning between 100% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, roughly $12,000 to $48,000 per individual in the lower 48 states), there will be no noticeable difference in the portion of the premium they are expected to pay. That is because the maximum outlay is calculated under the ACA as a percentage of income. When premiums increase, the government shoulders the full impact, in the form of increased premium subsidies, dollar for dollar.
Here's a weird wrinkle we may hear about: Many Americans with subsidized individual market policies may talk about decreases in their net premiums (what they actually pay, after subsidies). This may not be a good thing, and we cannot attribute it to any brilliance on the part of our president. In a healthy market, there are several silver plans from which to choose. Some people opt for a more expensive plan because it provides better benefits. However, they only get subsidized on the basis of the second cheapest plan, so they pay the difference out of pocket. If the 2018 market has only a single plan, for instance, then subsidies will be based on that plan. There will be no difference to pay. This might be a good thing if the lesser plans were the ones to withdraw from the market. Or it might be a bad thing if the better plans were the ones withdrawn. Either way, they will cost the same, and that amount will be less than what someone might have paid for a better plan in a more diverse market. Anyway, don't be surprised if someone says, "Wow, my premiums have dropped to a quarter of what they were last year, thanks to our beloved President Trump!" You'll know that (1) they have a heavily subsidized policy, and (2) they had spring for a somewhat "better" policy in 2017 than the second lowest priced one.
For the remaining 15% of of the individual market that doesn't receive premium assistance subsidies, silver plans will get more expensive, but bronze and gold plans will not (as much). That is because insurance commissioners are likely to approve rate increases only to plans which are impacted by CSR subsidy payment default, namely the silver plans. For unsubsidized consumers, silver and gold plans are expected to have a similar price tag, so consumers would likely either buy a (better) gold plan for the same money or buy a bronze plan for much less. These consumers will lose "choice" in the market (no longer having an affordable silver option), but they will otherwise be unaffected by the price hike. This is not to say they won't experience some rate increases due simply to the turmoil the president has created in markets. However, these increases won't be directly attributable to CSR subsidy default.
Longer term, there could be market-destabilizing impacts from CSR subsidy default. Insurance companies hate uncertainty. If they don't know whether they're going to get paid in an ACA market, they might decide not to do business in that market. That said, the pull-outs that we've seen are likely ploys to panic the public, jack up premiums (and profits), and conspire to establish regional monopolies (1-insurer markets). Insurers are set to make record profits. They're doing quite well, thank you!
The president's CSR follies are fiscally foolish, and that is a bit surprising for anyone who fancies himself a brilliant businessman (even someone of the president's intellectual prowess). Although the consumer will be protected from the brunt of the impact of premium increases, thanks to the ACA's consumer protections, the federal government will get a very raw deal. That is because insurers will be jacking up premiums far more than is necessary simply to compensate for CSR subsidy default. According to the CBO analysis of this scenario, our saving $118 billion in CSR payments by defaulting on CSR subsidy payments will cost taxpayers $194 billion by 2026. Most of this taxpayer money ($191 billion of it) will be pocketed by insurance companies in the form of higher profits, as well as medical providers in the form of higher payment for medical services. Under the design of the ACA, it should actually be refunded to policy holders, but it won't in practice, due to slick accounting tricks. FactPower has written an article about it here. (For a more technical accounting, see our paper here.)
To summarize, this is what will happen as a result of the president's CSR subsidy default:
FactPower will be releasing an article later today, offering our take on this development.
Just a quick update this morning, and it's just a theory of mine that I've been sitting on since yesterday.
Yesterday Politico came out with a "leak" story about how the President was expected to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security. Later in the day, he did in fact do that.
This is curious to me for a couple of reasons...
Nielsen has been John Kelly's right hand since before his day one in this Administration. She's been instrumental in the weeding-out of controversial figures in the White House (Gorka, Spicer, etc), and is known by her hard-ass demeanor, and no-bullshit talk.
It is very strange to me that Kelly would let her go, while he's still struggling to bring a chaotic White House under control.
Here's my theory: I think the reason Kelly supported this nomination is because he doesn't want Nielsen's reputation ruined, or her to be jobless upon his inevitable demise as Chief of Staff, which signals that his position may not be as secure as some may think. I believe that he's giving her leave and a soft landing as a preemptive measure to what might be the departure of yet another Chief of Staff. None of this is confirmed, of course, but I can't think of another reason John Kelly would let go one of the only people he trusts. Some food for thought....
In other news, the heath care EO that I described yesterday is coming this morning. Expect swift legal action. Other than that, the House is going to pass another big aid package today and then take off for the rest of the week.
This might be the only update this week too, just because there's nothing really going on in Congress at the moment.
The president keeps threatening to change the ACA through executive order "soon", so here's some insight on what that could do. It'll mostly be a series of rule-lifting, but could be very harmful to states.
1. The order will instruct the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury to take steps to "make it easier for people to band together and buy insurance through 'association health plans'"
These plans would be largely similar to the large employer's health plans offered in the ACA, and they would include a ban on lifetime limits, but they will be absent other regulations, including the requirement that health plans cover certain benefits.
2. The order will also instruct agencies to start winding back the Obama-era rule curbing "short-term medical insurance", and will allow people to buy those plans for up to a year.
3. The order will also instruct agencies to expand health reimbursement accounts, which are the employer-funded arrangements that employees can use to pay out-of-pocket medical costs and premiums.
4. Part of his instructions to the Labor Department will include a directive to encourage the sale of insurance across state lines using something called "association health plans". This order in particular could face legal challenges.
In addition to all of this, the president signaled over the weekend that he was in talks with Democrats about market-stabilization efforts. Not sure what this means yet, and it could have just been said to rile up the GOP caucus.
Here is a good WSJ article detailing the order: https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/trump-to-sign-order-to-expand-health-insurance-options-for-self-insured-1507410483
And a Vox article providing a more left-leaning bias: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/8/16439492/trump-obamacare-association-health-plans
We are expected to take the Senate Budget Resolution that passed committee to the floor next week for vote-a-rama. This is expected to happen Thursday, but there's nothing set in stone yet. We'll know more next Monday when we go back into session.
The House will vote next week on another Puerto Rico aid package, which may end up creeping its way into the Senate sooner rather than later, but I rather expect it will end up in the larger funding package that we have to pass before December 8. Just as an FYI: the Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico has expired, and it doesn't appear that the Administration has any inclination to re-waive it. This is making commodities in Puerto Rico very expensive. It might, however, spur legislative action to pass the McCain bill to repeal the Jones Act entirely.
More emergency aid money will be needed for Puerto Rico, and now also northern California.
This is bad...
McConnell has taken a couple of seemingly minor steps to make sure this conservative Administration gets its picks for judicial slots all over the country. Keep in mind, McConnell was instrumental during the Obama Administration in preventing judicial nominees from making the bench. There was a backlog of hundreds of nominees, whose nominations just fizzled into history with the changing of Administrations. Here's what he's doing:
- Judicial nominations and confirmation have been elevated to a top priority in the Senate. This means that judges will be brought to the floor faster than other nominees in other departments and agencies.
- He has eliminated blue slips, which had previously been respected as the minority party's channel to express concern with any given nominee. The GOP abused this tactic during the Obama Administration when they were in the minority, but Senator Leahy, who was at the time chairman of the Judiciary Committee, allowed the slips to be used.
- The 30-hour rule, which allows for 30 hours of debate on nominees, will be "set aside" for debate on judicial nominees. He's not going to repeal the rule, but he's going to more or less disregard it.
There are 166 judicial vacancies across the country, and with fears that the GOP might lose the Senate majority in 2018 (still very, very unlikely), they want to jam through nominees this Congress.
My suggestion is to read up on the pending nominees (http://judicialnominations.org/pending-nominees) and call your Senators if you find any that you find particularly unsavory. I will try to keep you posted on the EXTRA bad ones.
A mini-briefing today. Monday is Columbus Day. Full briefings resume Wednesday, although there may be another mini-briefing or two.
1) It appears as though FEMA has removed Puerto Rico statistics from its website. WaPo reported on this last night, and NPR said they found statistics on a Spanish-language website.
2) Axios is reporting that CIA Director Pompeo is being considered to take Tillerson’s place as Secretary of State. Now, there’s no indication that Tillerson is going anywhere, but this is a pretty typical flow of events for this administration. Someone contradicts the president -> that someone gives the “this is fine, everything is fine” speech/statement -> some Friday rolls around and said person resigns/is fired.
Today is the Senate Budget Committee's markup of the FY18 budget resolution. The House is expected to pass their final version on the floor today.
I love politicians at the ends of their careers, because it gives them the freedom to go back to WHY they became politicians in the first place. We're seeing that from Corker this year, and sadly, we're seeing that from McCain too.
What Corker said yesterday, in more detail is this:
"There are 52 of us on the Republican side, hopefully this will end up being bipartisan, and it won’t just get down to Republican votes, but I’m voting to move this along, and voting to help us move through some of the parliamentary issues that don’t align with the House, but unless this bill in its final analysis number one, produces growth, in other words there’s something that’s helping working people to have better wages through productivity and that kind of thing. Unless it reduces deficits – let me say that one more time – unless it reduces deficits and does not add to deficits with reasonable and responsible growth models, and unless we can make it permanent, I don’t have any interest in it."
Translated, this means that he's going against his colleagues in a few important ways:
1) He thinks that bringing about tax reform via budget resolution is entirely the wrong way to do it because a budget resolution, unless amended, is only binding for ten years. Not only that, the ONLY thing a budget resolution does, is give authority to appropriating (in this case tax-writing) committees to spend money. The budget resolution is not a law. The law will come from the Senate Finance Committee, and THAT is the legislation they want to pass with 51 votes.
2) He agreed with Senator Feinstein's point that this process is a thinly-veiled way to jam partisan legislation through, not unlike what they did with healthcare. Let's think about it practically: We are marking up the budget for the fiscal year of 2018. We are currently on day 5 of the fiscal year of 2018. That's the first signal that this budget has nothing to do with the budget. Unless of course, they decide to pack in 11 appropriations bills - which they're not going to do. To do this would invite a shitstorm of potentially terrible legislation: ACA repeal (and all the horrible things that go along with it), massive defense spending, repealing rules, just to name a few.
3) They're going through this "process", which they didn't do earlier this year for ACA repeal, because they think it'll appease people like Corker and McCain --- Corker doesn't seem fooled. He wants tax reform, he wants all of the conservative things that we hate, but he wants the changes to be made in a bipartisan way, and he wants the changes to be permanent. This budget process will do none of that.
So I advise everyone to take what happens today in the markup with a grain of salt. They may agree on some amendments, but expect that most will be shot down. Most of the work on this will be exactly like in January: done on the floor, and more or less drawn out until they bring up the tax reform legislation and that'll be the text they move forward with. If they have the votes.
Today is the deadline to renew DACA applications. Efforts are still underway to make this program law, but the progress is slow. According to the latest numbers, approximately 48,000 recipients have not yet renewed their status. They MUST be received today, so tell folks to spend some money on getting the same-day postage.
Senator Flake has introduced the latest attempt at a compromise. You can read what little details we have here: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/05/jeff-flake-daca-dreamers-bill-243484
TRANSGENDER MILITARY BAN
BuzzFeed is reporting this morning that the administration has asked the first judge to drop the suit against it in relation to the transgender military ban. Read the article for details:
Sen. Schumer proposed yesterday that the bipartisan ACA stabilization bill should be introduced with the Senate's CHIP extension legislation. In theory, this is a good idea, but we 1) Need an agreement first, and 2) Don't know how acceptable this will be for the majority.
I have to go now and get to work. There's a lot of Russia stuff since the presser yesterday, but it's being pretty well-covered today, so I'll let that go for now.
Lindsey Graham is going to introduce his 20-week abortion ban bill today since the House passed theirs yesterday. Don't freak out - it's not going anywhere in this chamber. (Fun fact on Lindsey Graham, who has been a leading voice against women's reproductive rights: He's never been married, nor has he ever had kids. So he is, in fact, probably the LEAST qualified person on this great Hill to be telling women what to do with their bodies.)
UPDATE, 5:00 PM:
BUDGET: The Johnson amendment to provide reconciliation instructions to the HELP Committee did not make it into the tranche they're voting on. This means ACA repeal will definitely NOT be in FY18.
And...that's a wrap, folks. This is what got into the budget at the end:
Gardner 1 – DNRF* to protect Medicare and repeal IPAB
Kennedy 1 – DNRF related to work requirements
Kennedy 2 – DNRF to ensure tax reform protects middle-income tax payers
Kaine 4 – To prevent Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security from being cut in exchange for deficit-increasing tax cuts **
King 2 - To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund for legislation that relates to making the cost of child and dependent care more affordable and useful for American families.
Murray 5 - To ensure the timely and adequate provision of disaster and other assistance for relief and recovery efforts to Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and other areas of the United States devastated by hurricanes and flooding in 2017
King 3 - To require the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation to produce estimates of certain distributional effects across income categories resulting from major legislation
Harris 4 - To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to worker training programs, such as training programs that target workers that need advanced skills to progress in their current profession or apprenticeship or certificate programs that provide retraining for a new industry.
Kennedy 1 - To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to implementing work requirements in all means-tested Federal welfare programs.
* DNRF = Deficit-neutral reserve fund
** This was a surprise. We expected it to be voted down on a party-line vote, just like most of the other Dem amendments, but Corker ended up voting in favor of it. Now, we don't know if this vote had something to do with his spiel yesterday, or if he didn't know what he was voting for....because he said out loud that he didn't really know what the amendment did. Regardless, it's a good amendment to have in the budget.
In other drama, we think the GOP staff's counsel made a mistake in the original Chairman's mark (text of the budget resolution), and if we figure out what it was, we might have a BIG surprise coming. If we find it to be a non-technical mistake...meaning it's something minor that they can't correct, it could kill this whole thing before it even starts.
The Budget Committee will get a copy of the budget next week, and counsel will compare the two copies closely.
Judiciary Committee: Equifax CEO will testify about breach at 2:30 - after he testifies in front of Senate Banking at 10am.
Intel: Not a hearing, but at 12:15 there will be an update on the Russia investigation.
Budget: FY18 Budget markup - opening statements only.
The talks on saving DACA recipients took a turn for the partisan this week when the president dined with GOP leaders the other night. Apparently his conversations with Chuck and Nancy seem by the by, and we're back to fighting against a secretive and partisan process. I haven't heard much more on this, but will keep you posted.
Still no word on how the market stabilization negotiations are going. We still expect to see something preliminary this week, but time is running out, especially for those states getting hit with major premium hikes.
There's a NYT article that reports today that it SEEMS like the majority of justices are in favor of limiting gerrymandering. The case they heard yesterday could be momentous for the 2018 elections. It will be decided in the spring.
There's already GOP bickering about this. They plan to do it through another budget resolution (why my life is so crazy this week), and there are already disputes about the things being cut, by how much, and how they affect the deficit and debt.
The latest rumblings I've heard are that Susan Collins doesn't want reconciliation at all for tax reform -- she'd rather write legislation the normal way, go through committee, hold hearings, etc. John McCain is also in favor of this, but he hasn't explicitly spoken out against reconciliation.
Lisa Murkowski wants Alaskan drilling, which she gets in this version of the budget resolution. John McCain and Susan Collins both oppose this.
Rand Paul says he won't vote on anything that increases the deficit.
Lindsey Graham says he won't vote for anything until healthcare is taken up again.
So -- it's a pickle, to say the least.
Loooots of drama this morning, thanks to Pro Publica. If you don't already follow these folks, you should. Here's what they've broken:
Ivanka and Jared have also been fined again for not submitting the rest of their ethics paperwork. I'm starting to think they're just going to take the menial fines so as not to submit the rest of things. Hopefully some good lawyer somewhere will realize this and file suit (Walter Shaub...hint, hint).
Just to keep a running tally, these are the Cabinet Secretaries (and their staffs) who are currently under investigation for fraudulent use of taxpayer money:
David Shulkin (I've heard his chief of staff will likely take the fall for his scandal)
I'm so glad we've got such bipartisan support for watchdog protection and Inspector Generals.....
The Senate continues its boring week of nominations, which probably isn't a bad thing considering everything else going on right now. I'll try to run through some important things, including what we're working on this week on my staff.
First of all, I got some intel on how the government wants to proceed with CHIP reauthorization. The bill will start in the House, and will likely be lumped in with Puerto Rico funding, which is seen as "must pass". This bill will be what we call a "minibus". Here's what it will include:
- $1 billion of extra Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico -- The reason this is happening is because despite a demand for an additional emergency disaster aid package, the White House hasn't provided one, so Congress can't proceed
- A raise in Medicare rates for wealthier seniors
- Redirecting $$ from the ACA prevention fund, and shortening a grace period for enrollees who don't pay their premiums (this is the poison pill)
- Both the House and Senate CHIP bills (House bill markup is on Wednesday, Senate introduction is also Wednesday) would maintain the extra funding for CHIP from the ACA for two years, and then phase it out.
The Senate hasn't outlined how their bill would be paid for yet, but here's how the House proposes to pay for theirs:
- The higher Medicare charges for enrollees earning more than $500,000
- Allowing states to dis-enroll lottery winners from Medicaid (this kinda makes sense)
- ACA shortened grace period (above)
- Redirect money from the ACA's prevention and public health fund to community health centers
- Strengthen Medicaid’s third-party liability policy by making it easier for state programs to avoid some medical costs if they’re already covered by private plans or other government programs
The problem with a bill like this is that there's a lot of nasty stuff going into a bill with some very, very necessary things. The bill will extend non-ACA CHIP program for 5 years, which is definitely needed, and provide aid for Puerto Rico, which was already facing a Medicaid fiscal cliff in the near future. I suggest you have your groups follow tomorrow's markup on the House side, listen to the true details of the bill, and decide how to act from there. Unfortunately in this kind of situation, there may be some sacrifices to be made to get the greater good sorted out. Also keep in mind, whatever version of the bill that passes the House (potentially this week) will likely look very different than the Senate's bill, and then what the two chambers ultimately end up agreeing on.
Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander REALLY want to come to an agreement and have it presented before we go on recess next week. Here's what I know so far about the ideas being circulated. Bear in mind, none of these are final:
- Funding of extra ACA subsidies through the end of 2019
- Somewhat expand the range of health plans that individual shoppers can buy
- Insurers would be guaranteed two years of federal payments to cover cost-sharing discounts
- A new "copper" plan, which equates the skinny coverage the GOP have been trying to sell this year, which just covers catastrophic medical needs
- Small expansion of the ability of states to structure their marketplaces in alternative ways
- MAINTAINS essential health benefits
From everything I've heard on this, the Democrats definitely have the upper hand in these negotiations. The deadline to fund is fast approaching, and if this negotiation fails, all Democrats have to do is blame it on the GOP, and that will be the tone of the 2018 midterms.
We got all first degree amendments to the FY18 budget resolution yesterday, most of which came from Democrats. They were mostly uneventful, except for Ron Johnson's amendment with reconciliation instructions for the HELP Committee to consider ACA repeal. Right now it's really TBD on whether that amendment gets consideration, so I'll keep you posted on that.
Our expectation is that the GOP will either file a ton of side-by-side amendments today, or no more amendments at all to try to skirt this thing through as quickly as possible, and as empty as possible. That would make the resolution look very similar to the one we saw in January. They'd put on a big show on the floor (likely in 2 weeks) of voting on Dem amendments, but in the end, they'd introduce one giant substitute (tax reform legislation), and that would be the final product.
I think this thing is going to get just as stuck as the earlier resolution though. There are already a lot of fiscal conservatives whining about how this will affect the debt/deficit, so that's bound to be a fight.
There are LOTS of hearings today, and two of them in particular surround the scandals at Wells Fargo (which seems to be never-ending), and Equifax.
The Wells Fargo CEO will testify at 10am before the Senate Banking Committee on his company "one year later". I like to watch these hearings just to see Elizabeth Warren rip billionaires to shreds.
Tomorrow this committee will hear from Equifax's CEO on their current conundrum.
The Equifax CEO is testifying on the House side today.
As I mentioned yesterday, keep your eyes peeled for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the Administration's decision to end DACA. That's sure to be a heated discussion as well.
Seems like the House might have at least postponed bringing legislation to the floor that would legalize silencers, at least for this week. Regardless of what happens with that, the chances are extremely unlikely that it would be brought up in the Senate any time soon, or at all.
John McCain and Mike Lee's legislation permanently exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act officially made it to the Senate Calendar yesterday on a fast-track bases, avoiding committee time. It's unclear when it'll be brought up for debate, but it's there, which signals that McConnell wants to take it up this year.
I can't even with the amount of stuff that dropped yesterday. I don't have a good handle on what it all was, but definitely read that twitter thread I sent around.
I'm also hearing rumblings about Mueller trying to, in his investigation, limit the possibility of preemptive pardons. I will definitely keep you posted on this because if it's true, it means he's seeing that as a good possibility. Here's an article on this: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-03/mueller-tasks-adviser-with-getting-ahead-of-pre-emptive-pardons
In additional scandal, the Interior Department's Inspector General has initiated an investigation into Sec. Zinke's travel, four expensive trips of which he has acknowledged. He claims everything is above board, but who even knows. Another Secretary that's starting to make headlines is Betsy DeVos with her exorbitant security costs, said to top $6.5 million over the next year.