Today on the Hill: Azar Appears Before Senate Finance Committee, Funding Negotiations Continue to Stall

Government funding negotiations continue to stall, as congressional Republicans and While House officials are growing increasingly skeptical that a long term budget agreement will be reached in the next 11 days.  Party leaders from both sides of the aisle have been working to raise stiff spending caps before the Jan. 19 deadline, yet Democrats and Republicans are still far apart on many key issues — most notably, border security and immigration provisions. President Trump has renewed calls that his proposed border wall be included in any deal over the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump is ending in March. Democrats, who are pushing to include protections for young immigrants in a spending bill, say that a border wall is a non-starter for them. With no agreement in sight, it likely means that another short-term continuing resolution (CR) will be needed to keep the government open.

On the floor today, the House will consider 15 bills under suspension of the rules. The suspension bills — which can be found here — are primarily focused on boosting counterterrorism and security efforts in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In the upper chamber, senators are expected to vote on the nominations of William Campbell to be U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, and Thomas Parker to be U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee.

Meanwhile, in key committee activity, the Senate Finance Committee is slated to hold its first hearing of 2018 today as Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary nominee Alex Azar returns to Capitol Hill for a confirmation hearing. Azar, who was nominated by President Trump in November following the resignation of former HHS Secretary Tom Price, appeared before the Senate HELP Committee last month in what was billed as a “courtesy hearing.” Today’s hearing is more consequential, as the Finance Committee will make the final decision about whether to send his confirmation to the Senate floor. While Azar is likely to face scrutiny from Democrats in the Finance Committee for his ties to the pharmaceutical industry and his role in allegedly “gaming” patent laws, it is expected that his nomination will be reported favorably out of the Committee. Azar’s experience includes a previous tenure at HHS during the Bush Administration, as well as serving as a president for Eli Lilly, USA, the company’s largest affiliate.