The Senate is prepping for a vote-a-rama today on proposed amendments to the 2018 budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 71) that includes reconciliation instructions to facilitate a tax reform package. The process may keep the Senate in session late into the night, with a final up-or-down vote on the underlying resolution expected before the upper chamber breaks for the week. The Republican Study Committee has compiled a helpful tracker for all of the amendments submitted by both parties, although only a handful are likely to be adopted. Passage of the budget will send it to conference with the House, which is likely to progress quickly in order to keep to the Republicans’ goal of advancing tax reform legislation to the president’s desk by the end of the calendar year.
With just under a month of scheduled legislative days remaining before funding for the Federal Government runs out, we are now fully ensconced in the high drama of the calendar. Loyal readers may recall that we initially encouraged people to look at this year as a play in four parts. Perhaps a soap opera would have been more appropriate. Regardless, all of the drama, failure and inactions of the past year weigh heavily on the cast of Congress as it looks to tie up those loose ends. This weekend, I heard a report that, among other things, noted that Congress has two speeds – lightning fast and glacially slow. Without faulting the reporter, this is what things may appear to the outside observer. But for those of us who can see inside the gears, we know that those things that seem to spring out of nowhere usually have been carefully constructed in a time intensive way.
Yesterday, Thorn Run’s Billy Wynne co-authored a post on the Health Affairs blog that outlined the prospects of the Alexander-Murray stabilization package. The blog post — which was co-authored by Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of law — provides an in-depth look at the policies that are expected to be in the short-term stabilization package, touching on likely impact that they will have on the current Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual insurance market. The post suggests that the bipartisan measure faces an uphill slog despite some positive signals from key members such as House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC).
The Senate has moved closer to approving its 2018 budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 71) that would facilitate a reconciliation package for tax reform after a 50-47 cloture vote last night. The budget no longer appears to be in danger of any failure after Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) indicated he would return to Washington this week and Republicans have avoided any further defections aside from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Floor consideration of the budget resolution will continue today with debate and votes on two amendments, one proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and another from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). A full “vote-a-rama” for the budget resolution is expected to start on Thursday and run late into the night, meaning a final vote on the budget is likely to take place on Thursday night or early Friday morning.
President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) held an impromptu press conference in the White House Rose Garden yesterday, making a clear effort to mend what has been, at times, a fraught relationship. The President has often taken issue with the Senate’s traditional procedural hurdles and increased the pressure on the chamber’s Republicans to follow through on the tax reform effort, saying that so far they are “not getting the job done.” With the House out this week, the Senate is expected to consider the 2018 budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions for a comprehensive tax reform effort, and given the Senate’s slim Republican majority, it is set up to be a close vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is expected to vote “no” and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) has been battling an illness at home in Mississippi. That leaves Leader McConnell with no room for error in order to avoid an embarrassing misstep in the very first step of tax reform legislation.
The Senate returns to Washington today while the House is out for an in-district work period until Oct. 23. The primary agenda item for Senate lawmakers will be mirroring their House counterparts in advancing a FY2018 budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions to be used for a Republican-backed tax reform package. Given the partisan nature of the resolution, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will again be relying on the strength of the narrow Republican majority in order to secure the necessary votes for passage of the resolution, although one Republican — libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — is seen as a likely “no” vote. The resolution does not appear to be in any danger of failing, however, particularly after moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said over the weekend that she is “likely a yes.” Republicans are seeking to complete the budget process in a timely fashion in order to facilitate their ambitious goal of sending tax reform legislation to the president’s desk before the end of the calendar year.
The Week in Review
The Senate had the week off from Washington, leaving the House to conduct a modest slate of legislative business. Most notably, House lawmakers advanced a $36.5 billion disaster relief package in a 353-69 vote under suspension of the rules. The bill represents the second installment of aid since a series of natural disasters struck southeast Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, among other areas. The breakdown of funds includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, $576.5 million for wildfire recovery, and $16 billion to keep the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) afloat.
The $36 billion disaster relief bill is on the House floor today and will be considered under suspension of the rules, which limits the time allotted for debate and requires a two-thirds majority for passage. Consideration under suspension of the rules reflects the confidence Republican leaders have that the bill will gain the approval of most members on both sides as Democrats have largely been supportive of the disaster relief effort. While passage of this round of aid is not in any serious doubt, the aid issue is quickly becoming politicized with President Trump saying on Twitter this morning that federal resources cannot be “in P.R. [Puerto Rico] forever.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) quickly shot back that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “needs to stay until the job is done,” and accused the President of treating Puerto Ricans differently than other Americans affected by recent disasters. The back-and-forth does not pose an immediate danger to relief legislation, but may complicate future efforts, particularly if Puerto Rico is involved.
- The Senate is in recess this week while the House will have an abbreviated week for the Columbus Day holiday. The House will be in recess next week.
- The House Financial Services Committee will hold a marathon mark-up of 23 bills starting on Wednesday and likely concluding with votes on Friday.
- A bipartisan group of members of the Ways and Means Committee are expected to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau on Wednesday.
- The Senate may take up its version of the budget when Senators return the week of October 16th
- Funding for the Federal Government and a slew of programs, including Flood Insurance expires on December 8th
Last night, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled an enhanced $36.5 billion emergency funding bill (text) for hurricane and wildfire relief that exceeds the White House’s original request for an aid bill to benefit victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires. The breakdown of funds includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, $576.5 million for wildfire recovery, and $16 billion to keep the National Flood Insurance program (NFIP) afloat. The bill is expected to receive a vote on the House floor this week and is likely to be taken up by the Senate soon after they return to Washington next week.