Wednesday, May 31, 2017
By Scott Wong and Mike Lillis - 05-31-17 06:00 AM EDT
Senior House appropriators are urging GOP leaders to "go ugly early" and pass a massive 2018 spending package before the August recess instead of waiting until the last minute and risk a government shutdown this fall.
The number of must-do items, including extending a popular children's health benefit program and reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, are piling up for September, and appropriators want to prevent a deadline crunch - and avoid another stopgap spending bill at Obama-era levels - by expediting the timeline for the spending bills.
"With the known time constraints we're facing, this is a new idea to make the government-funding process work," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), who chairs the Appropriations financial services subcommittee and has been making the case for passing an omnibus package before the summer recess.
"There is no question that this would be a Herculean task," Graves added. "But, if we succeed, we would create more space to address tax reform, financial reform, infrastructure investments and many other challenges while funding the government in a fiscally responsible way."
At the GOP's weekly policy conference last week, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) presented rank-and-file lawmakers with several scenarios for how the party could avert a shutdown on Oct. 1: try to pass the 12 appropriations bills one by one through regular order, though almost everyone agrees there's not enough time to get them all through the House and Senate; bundle some of the dozen appropriations bills together in "minibuses" and ship those packages to the Senate; or cut straight to the chase and negotiate a 2018 bipartisan funding deal, given the reality that Democratic votes will be needed to avert a fall shutdown.
Graves stepped to the microphone last week and offered a fourth option: get all 12 spending bills out of the Appropriations Committee, package them in a GOP omnibus bill and pass it on the House floor before Congress adjourns on July 28 for the monthlong summer recess.
Some in the closed-door meeting applauded the idea of Republicans firing off an opening salvo earlier in the process. Fellow Georgia GOP Reps. Barry Loudermilk and Doug Collins voiced support, as did Education Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), sources said.
Other Appropriations subcommittee chairmen, known as "cardinals" - including Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) - have signaled they're open to the Graves plan.
"As a strategy, there is a lot of merit to what Tom is proposing: Let's have the fight in July and go home and message it in August," Cole said in a phone interview Tuesday.
However, Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) has not publicly weighed in. "The Chairman is committed to completing all 12 appropriations bills," said his spokeswoman, Jennifer Hing.
In recent years, Congress has pushed the annual spending debate right to the end of the fiscal calendar on Sept. 30, largely due to entrenched disagreements between the parties over the role and scope of the federal government. Those disputes have been only enflamed under President Trump.
Appropriations sources have described the Graves plan as "going ugly early." Rep. Ra l Labrador (R-Idaho), one of the leaders of the far-right Freedom Caucus, doesn't like that term but said he'd back the idea because it avoids the need for another continuing resolution and conservatives can insert policy riders in an omnibus bill.
"I think we should go pretty early. Instead of ugly, let's go pretty. Let's do it right," Labrador told The Hill. "Let's keep the promises we made to the American people. We can put a lot of our priorities in the appropriations bills."
Before moving on to their favored spending bills, though, Republicans must first pass a 2018 budget that sets the top-line spending levels - a process that's already months behind schedule. Budget Committee leaders have been hoping to release a proposal in the second week of June, with a markup to follow shortly after.
"We're working on it, and we're going to bring it out as soon as we get consensus and get all of our people together," Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said last week.
Democrats on the panel are increasingly doubtful that the Republicans will stick to that calendar. They're citing both internal GOP divisions and the vocal criticisms many Republicans lobbed at Trump's budget, which slashed domestic programs nearly across the board, including many favored by Republicans.
"It just looks like they're in pretty much disarray as to what direction they want to go," Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said as Congress was leaving for the Memorial Day recess.
"They obviously are not making much progress in putting anything together."
With that in mind, Yarmuth predicted Republicans would be forced to scrap any plans for major cuts and set next year's spending on a course similar to that established in the 2017 omnibus. And with filibuster power in the Senate, Democrats expect to have leverage.
"They're going to have to come hat in hand to us," Yarmuth said. "I can't imagine a scenario in which they don't have to get Democratic votes."
Those dynamics spell bad news for Republicans, like Labrador, who hope to attach policy riders to a summer omnibus. The resulting clash will pressure both sides to push the spending debate beyond the August recess.
By Alexander Bolton - 05-31-17 06:00 AM EDT
An impatient President Trump is putting new pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to get rid of the filibuster in order to speed progress on legislation repealing ObamaCare and reforming the tax code.
In a message posted Tuesday on Twitter, Trump urged Republican senators to invoke the so-called nuclear option and "switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy."
Trump also suggested his party wasn't as cutthroat as Democrats when it comes to passing legislation, writing, "Dems would do it, no doubt!"
It's just Trump's latest attempt to press McConnell to eliminate the power to filibuster legislation, something Republican lawmakers firmly rejected when the president floated the idea only a few weeks ago.
That he used Twitter to do so was no surprise - but may have irritated McConnell, who has urged the president to rethink his use of social media.
Tuesday's tweet indicates the president's patience on his legislative agenda is waning.
McConnell has downplayed expectations, repeatedly refusing to put a timeline on the ObamaCare fight even as Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have raised pressure.
McConnell also has raised doubts over whether there is even a path to passing a bill, telling Reuters, "I don't know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment."
He did warn earlier this month that "we can't take forever."
Other Senate Republicans have suggested an informal goal of holding a healthcare vote before the August recess, just days before Trump's 200th day in office.
GOP leaders hope to have the first draft completed by the time lawmakers return to Washington next week from the Memorial Day recess.
On tax reform, McConnell has sounded more optimistic, saying prospects are "pretty good."
The tacit message to colleagues: Don't let an interminable debate over healthcare derail tax reform.
Yet Senate Republicans can't even get to tax reform until they conclude work on ObamaCare.
The GOP is using special budgetary rules to pass both measures with just 51 votes. But it can't complete tax reform until it finishes work on healthcare, because the tax reform bill is subject to a 2018 budget that assumes savings on ObamaCare legislation passed for the 2017 fiscal year.
Once senators pass a new budget resolution to create a special reconciliation vehicle for tax reform, they will no longer be able to use the one they now plan to use to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
The fact that Republicans are already using the budget reconciliation rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering ObamaCare and tax reform legislation created a bit of confusion with Trump's tweet, which seemed to imply the filibuster was an obstacle. In reality, Democrats would be unable to use it to block a GOP bill under the current Republican plan.
Eliminating the filibuster altogether could speed things along, however, as the rules for reconciliation are strict and it could take weeks to ensure the legislation does not violate a six-part test known as the Byrd rule, according to Senate GOP aides.
Parliamentary experts warn that briefing Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on various proposals and receiving her feedback before putting legislative language on paper will be a lengthy process. MacDonough will determine what falls under the Byrd rule.
At the same time, there's no guarantee the Senate can agree to an ObamaCare repeal bill with or without budget reconciliation rules. In each scenario, they can only afford two GOP defections.
"The real issue is a lack of consensus within the Republican Party in the Senate," said Dan Holler, vice president at Heritage Action for America.
Conservative and moderate senators are split over ObamaCare's expansion of Medicaid and whether to let states opt out of insurance requirements.
There's also a brewing turf battle among the various committee chairmen involved in a special 13-member healthcare working group over who will take the lead in drafting the legislation.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is writing the legislation and responsible for making sure it passes parliamentary muster, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has primary jurisdiction and expects to take the lead role in crafting the policy.
Asked if the working group or the Finance panel would take the lead, Hatch said, "The Finance Committee, that's the jurisdiction."
"Don't think otherwise," he added. "We're listening to the [13-member] committee, the ad hoc committee. We're interested in listening to anybody, but it's our responsibility."
Enzi, however, told reporters the legislation "comes under reconciliation, so it's a budget function."
But he added, "I've got a lot of help."
Enzi is now laid up after emergency gallbladder surgery in Wyoming, which could further complicate the drafting efforts.
Trump's needling of GOP senators on the filibuster is nothing new.
The president lashed out earlier this month after Democrats claimed victory on legislation funding the government for the rest of 2017, which excluded money for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border - a top presidential priority.
Trump tweeted that Republicans must either increase their Senate majority in the 2018 midterm election or "change the rule now to 51 percent."
The call for reform was roundly rejected by Senate Republicans, however.
McConnell tersely stated that Trump's idea "will not happen," and others noted that more than 60 senators have signed a letter to Senate leaders urging them to preserve the legislative filibuster.
The Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted in 1868, declares that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A debate that has been raging in courtrooms for years is whether the “life” part includes unborn persons.
Harvard Law student Joshua Craddock did some constitutional soul searching to answer that question in a new report for the Harvard Law Journal, concluding that unborn babies do fall under the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections.
One might look to dictionaries of legal and common usage, the context of the English common law tradition, and cases that attempted to construe the meaning of the text in a manner consistent with original meaning. Using this methodology, it is reasonable to construe the Fourteenth Amendment to include prenatal life. The structure of the argument is simple: The Fourteenth Amendment’s use of the word “person” guarantees due process and equal protection to all members of the human species. The preborn are members of the human species from the moment of fertilization. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the preborn. If one concedes the minor premise (that preborn humans are members of the human species), all that must be demonstrated is that the term “person,” in its original public meaning at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s adoption, applied to all members of the human species.
In addition to using language to prove his point, Craddock puts his conclusions in context, noting that at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was written, several states called the unborn person a “child” in their anti-abortion laws. Moreover, The Stream notes, in 1859, the American Medical Association mandated that the government must protect the “independent and actual existence of the child before birth.”
Using this logic, Craddock notes, the Supreme Court justices were flawed in their 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which granted the right to abortion. When he wrote the majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun failed to properly assess the word “person” as it was applied in 1868, Craddock argues.
Will the Supreme Court consider the Fourteenth Amendment in future cases dealing with abortion?
Last week the White House released a federalbudgetthat, among other changes, would reduce projected Medicaid spending by $610 billion across 10 years.
The proposed reduction has received a lot of negative press. Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez, claimsthe budget “absolutely dismantles Medicaid.” The New York Timesreportsthat the budget “cuts deeply into Medicaid.” Other articlessuggestthe budget would “gut” the federal program.
Medicaid is a healthcare entitlement thatsupportsabout 69 million low-income Americans, including adults, children, the disabled and the elderly. State governments administer the program, which federal dollars heavily subsidize.
In 2016, the federal government spent$368 billion on Medicaid. Federal expenditures are expected to balloon in the coming years, reaching $688 billion in 2027 – an increase of about 87 percent – under baseline projections from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
The White House’s proposed budget also grows Medicaid substantially over time, but the increases are less steep year over year. From 2016 to 2027, federal expenditures would increase about 42 percent. The lower growth rate would save the government $610 billion when compared to the baseline estimate.
What many refer to as “cuts to Medicaid” are actually cuts to the growth of Medicaid, not the current size of the program. The Trump administration allocates more for Medicaid every year of the budget. Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaneycallsthe misconception “a classic example of how Washington speaks differently than the world back home.”
Critics counter that despite increased spending in the budget, the size of Medicaid shrinks over time as a percentage of GDP, a measure of the size of the economy, dropping from two percent today to 1.7 percent in 2027.
While this is true, when looking at the size of Medicaid as a percentage of the total budget, it remains, on average, about the same size – 9.6 percent of the total budget – compared to 2016 funding levels. For this reason, it’s misleading to characterize the savings as cuts to Medicaid.
The administration would achieve a slower growth rate by restructuring Medicaid in 2020, allowing states to choose between a block grant or a per capita spending cap. Right now, there is no cap on the matching funds the federal government provides to states.
The administration argues this change would lead to innovation and more efficient budgets at the state level, but it would also likely strain state government’s ability to maintain current levels of service.
The White House proposed Medicaid reforms are similar to those proposed under the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projectswould reduce Medicaid spending by $834 billion over a 10-year window.
The $834 billion reduction in the AHCA is separate from the $610 billion of savings in the White House budget. Mulvaneybelievesthese savings will overlap with one another and that combined cuts to the growth of Medicaid will be more than $834 billion but less than $1.4 trillion.
Although the White House budget continues to grow Medicaid over time, certain segments of the population may still be negatively impacted down the road. For instance, the CBO projects that lower spending due to the AHCA would result in 14 million fewer individuals on Medicaid by 2026.
The enormous growth projected for Medicaid is driven by the rising cost of healthcare and the aging population of the country. For example, average federal spending per disabled enrollee willincreaseabout 50 percent by 2027 according to CBO estimates. Based on the latest actuarialreportfrom Medicaid, 81.6 million Americans will be enrolled in the program by 2025 under current law – 12.6 million more individuals than there are today.
The White House proposed Medicaid budget may not be able to fully accommodate these demographic trends, but it reflects an attempt to balance the budget within 10 years while not touching programs like Medicare or Social Security.
Congress will ultimately craft and pass a budget. Trump’s proposal is merely a blueprint of the administration’s priorities. But the reaction tothe proposalis evidence of how politically sensitive addressing entitlement spending can be.
Politicians and news outlets alike have given the false impression that the White House budget would downsize Medicaid. Although the budget allocates less than baseline estimates, it does not cut funding below current levels. On the contrary, it grows the size of Medicaid and keeps funding levels over time proportional in terms of the total budget. We rate this claim as false.
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