The House and Senate are in session this week.
The Major League Baseball season is underway!
Before we dive into what the House schedule looks like this week, it’s worth noting that House Ways and Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) made comments last week about tax reform. Chairman Brady plans for his committee to move a tax reform bill through committee in the spring. It doesn’t appear that House Republicans will give any deference to the Trump administration while drafting the legislation. The basis for the tax reform bill will be the “A Better Way” blueprint, which was unveiled in June 2016. We’ll be monitoring this policy initiative as it works through the House in the coming weeks.
On Monday, the House will consider North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act, H.R. 479; a resolution condemning North Korea’s testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, H.Res. 92; and a resolution promoting the United States relationship with Argentina, H.Res. 54. These bills will be considered under the suspension of the rules, which requires a three-fifths majority for passage.
In addition to one bill on the suspension calendar for Tuesday, the House will consider the Encouraging Employee Ownership Act, H.R. 1343, sponsored by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.). The bill would increase the disclosure threshold for companies that sell stock to employees and investors over 12 months from $ 5 million to $ 10 million.
On Wednesday, the House will consider legislation, H.R. 369, to eliminate the sunset of the Veterans Choice Program, which gives veterans access to health care services outside of the Veterans Affairs system. The bill will be considered under the suspension of the rules. The other bill on the calendar is the Self-Insurance Protection Act, H.R. 1304, which would prevent federal agencies of jurisdiction from redefining stop-loss insurance as ordinary health insurance.
Finally, on Thursday, the House will take up the Supporting America’s Innovators Act, H.R. 1219. The bill would increase the cap on the number of investors to a venture capital fund before it triggers the registration threshold required under the Investment Company Act.
It’s possible, though unlikely, that the House could revisit the American Health Care Act, H.R. 1628, this week. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Republican leaders are still seeking votes to pass the bill. In an interview last week with the Washington Examiner, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a founding member and former chairman of the caucus, said that the group wants to repeal ObamaCare’s community-rating provision, found in Section 1201 of the law, in addition to repeal of the so-called essential health benefits” (EHB).
“With the text that actually repeals the two mandates, the EHBs and the community rating,” Rep. Meadows said, “it would bring the vast majority of the Freedom Caucus to yes.” According to a recent analysis by the Heritage Foundation, these two provisions of ObamaCare are among those responsible for driving up health insurance premiums.
There has been speculation of a discharge petition to bypass the committee process and bring a piece of legislation that repeals ObamaCare out of committee. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who recently introduced the ObamaCare Repeal Act, H.R. 1718, has floated the idea. There are catches to a discharge petition. The bill would have to be referred to committee for at least 30 legislative days and the petition must receive signatures from a majority of the House.
Fireworks. That’s what we can expect in the Senate this week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee delayed the vote on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The committee will, instead, vote to advance Judge Gorsuch during a meeting this morning at 10:00. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will try to advance Judge Gorsuch’s nomination this week, setting up a showdown in the upper chamber.
According to The Hill’s whip list, only three Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — have said that they will support Judge Gorsuch. Thirty-seven Democrats oppose his confirmation, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who announced her opposition on Friday, a day after audio of her telling Democratic donors that a filibuster of Judge Gorsuch could backfire. Awkward.
Leader McConnell could enforce the two-speech rule to bypass a Democratic filibuster, but this would take time. With Congress about to enter a two-week recess, the other option, absent a deal with Democrats, is the so-called “nuclear option,” which would reduce the threshold for cloture from 60 votes to 51 votes. There is nothing in the Senate rules that requires 60 votes for cloture. The upper chamber relies on precedent for this threshold.
What would happen is that Leader McConnell would make a point of order to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by a majority vote. The chair would rule against him. The Senate would eventually vote on the ruling of the chair, which requires only a majority. If Republicans have at least 50 votes plus Vice President Mike Pence, they would lower the vote threshold needed to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. It’s unclear with Leader McConnell has the votes to lower the threshold.
If this route proves untenable for Republicans, President Donald Trump would have to place Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court through a recess appointment. The both chambers, the House and Senate, would have to concur to recess for more than three days.
No matter what happens, it’ll be an interesting week in the Senate.