With just a week until their scheduled August recess, the House aims to consider three health care bills and possibly approve the conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if conferees are able to finish their negotiations in time. On health care, this week’s measures would (1) aim to boost the use of health savings accounts (HSAs) by allowing funds from those accounts to be used for more over-the-counter medications and other medical and lifestyle supplies (H.R. 6199); (2) attempt to increase access to lower premium plans by adjusting the definition of qualified health plans to allow tax credits to be used to purchase a copper plan in the individual market (H.R. 6311); and (3) repeal the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax permanently, after its collection was delayed to 2020 as part of the health care deal included in a continuing resolution passed by Congress earlier this year (H.R. 184). Today, the House will consider twenty suspension bills on issues ranging from private property protections (H.R. 1689) to access to broadband internet (H.R. 3994).
The Week in Review
Buzz in Washington focused last week focused on President Trump’s performance in a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral summit in Helsinki, Finland. Political commentators and a number of politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized President Trump for appearing too conciliatory to his Russian counterpart, particularly on the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Given Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe of the Trump campaign’s connection to Russia and a reported invitation from the White House for Putin to visit this fall, it appears that American-Russian relations will continue to stay in the headlines for weeks to come.
Both chambers have recessed for the week. In the Senate, the march towards recess came with some drama after the last judicial nomination on its docket — Ryan Bounds for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — was withdrawn by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) just before a final vote on the Senate floor. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tim Scott (R-SC) had said they would oppose the nomination — despite approving it in a cloture vote on Wednesday — over racially charged remarks that Bounds had made in his writings as a student. The Republican opposition has effectively killed the nomination given that every Democrat also opposed Bounds’ confirmation.
Both chambers are looking to wrap up their floor work for the week this afternoon. For the House, that will entail a third day of debate on the Interior-Environment and Financial Services appropriations ‘minibus’ (H.R. 6147) after lawmakers worked through the last of amendments yesterday. Following a final vote on that bill, the lower chamber will consider a contentious resolution (H. Con. Res. 119) that would express the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the U.S. economy. While the resolution is being led by Republicans, today’s vote comes on the heels of an announcement from Republican Rep. Carlos Carbelo (R-FL) that he would introduce a bill to institute a carbon tax in exchange for loosening federal regulations on climate change.
Following a late night of amendment debate yesterday, the House will resume its work on the combined Interior-Environment and Financial Services-General Government appropriations package (H.R. 6147) today. The lower chamber still has 46 amendments left to debate, meaning that final passage of the appropriations package could come either late tonight or slip to tomorrow. In addition to postponed amendment votes, the House will also vote on a suspension bill (H.R. 1037) that would authorize the National Emergency Medical Services Memorial Foundation to establish a commemorative work in the District of Columbia and its environs.
- The House will take up two bills of importance to the financial services industry. First, they continue to move forward with another minibus spending bill. This one comprised of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) measure. Second, on Tuesday, the full House, under the suspension calendar (i.e., non-controversial) will take up S. 488 – the JOBS and Investor Confident Act and amend it to include nearly 50 bills that have already passed the House. This will be the JOBS 3.0 bill that Chairman Hensarling has negotiated with Ranking Member Waters. Whether the Senate will take it up remains to be seen.
- The Senate will continue to move forward with judicial and non-judicial nominations, including the nomination of Randy Quarles to the Fed Board. While already confirmed as Vice Chair for Supervision, but the Governors Board seat requires a separate confirmation.
- Speaking of the Fed, Chairman Powell will be on the Hill twice this week to offer his bi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins report.
- The Senate Banking Committee is also teed up to hold a nominations hearing for Kathy Kraniger to be the next director of the CFPB (or CBFP).
- Will third time be the charm? On Tuesday the FSOC meeting and once again the question of de-designating a non-bank SIFI (presumably Prudential and Zions Bank) is on the agenda.
After spending a day dealing with naming federal buildings, the House’s work gears up today with a set of more substantive suspension bills and beginning consideration of a combined appropriations package. Today’s suspension calendar features 14 bills, including the House amendment to a Senate bill aiming to make significant changes to stock market regulations and boost access to capital for startup businesses. The bill (S. 488) is a follow-up to the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act — being colloquially dubbed JOBS Act 3.0 — and focuses on easing the process for companies to pursue initial public offerings. Like its predecessor, the bill has bipartisan support and does not alter the Dodd-Frank regulatory regime that was created in 2010.
Both chambers are in session today and will hold their first votes of the week this afternoon. For the Senate, that entails beginning consideration of a slate of executive nominees, starting with confirmation of Scot Stump to be an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Education. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has filed cloture on three additional nominees, namely Randal Quarles to join the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, Andrew Oldham to be a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Ryan Bounds to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. All four confirmations are expected to be cleared this week.
The Week in Review
The domestic news highlight of the week was President Trump’s primetime announcement of D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the nominee to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh, who will likely start his lifetime term at age 53, comes with the sterling credentials expected of Supreme Court nominees having graduated from Yale Law School, published a number of influential legal articles and spent over a decade on the nation’s second-highest court. However, Democrats are expected to take issue with the political positions on his resume, such as serving in a lead role of Ken Starr’s investigation into former President Bill Clinton and being White House Staff Secretary under President George W. Bush. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is hoping to shepherd Kavanaugh through the confirmation process before this November’s midterm elections.
The Senate has recessed for the week, while the House will return today for one final vote series. House lawmakers are set to consider a bill that would attempt to rein in federal mandates by compelling the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to conduct studies on the conditions of grant aid to states and putting a set of regulatory principles for mandates into statute. In an op-ed backing her bill, House Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said that the bill “promises potential for returning greater control of spending to state and local governments.” Democrats are expected to largely oppose the measure.