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.