Today on the Hill: Politics Skews Disaster Aid Debate; Trump to Sign ACA Reform Executive Order

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 White House is also expected to make headlines today with the release of an executive order that would encourage the creation of cheaper health plans that do not abide by some of the consumer protections and benefit rules prescribed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While the exact language has yet to be released, the order is expected to focus on the creation of association health plans, which are designed to allow small-business owners and other groups to band together to purchase health insurance. Opponents fear that the order could upend the markets by encouraging healthy people to flee the ACA exchanges for the cheaper plans, forcing higher costs for the ACA plans that offer broader protections for sick individuals. The executive order is expected to be challenged in court before it is implemented.   

Before breaking its own weeklong recess next week, the House is also set to vote on legislation (S. 585) aiming to boost protections for federal employees reporting waste, fraud or abuse by increasing awareness of legal protections and requiring discipline for supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers, and a motion to send the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to conference with the Senate. The latter item comes after the Senate approved its version of the bill (H.R. 2810) late last month that included a significant funding boost for the Pentagon. Conferees will now need to negotiate not only differences between the House and Senate, but how to reconcile the bill with the budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Should the House finish their legislative business today, they will likely recess for an in-district work period and return to Washington on Oct. 23.