Today on the Hill: All Eyes Turn to Tax Reform as House Votes on FAA, Flood Insurance, Health Programs

September 28, 2017

The tax reform debate has officially begun in earnest, as the Senate has closed the door on a September vote on ACA ‘repeal and replace’ and the group of Republican leaders known as the “Big Six” released the most detailed look yet at the party’s plan to overhaul the nation's tax code. The tax plan is now expected to head to the committees of jurisdiction to be crafted into formal legislation. The pressure to pass a package will be particularly acute this fall as lawmakers begin to plan their campaigns for the 2018 midterm elections. Republicans are hoping that tax reform will prove to be a more consensus issue than healthcare, but the many “winners and losers” of any tax reform package will undoubtedly cause some divisions among Republican rank-and-file members.

While national attention turns to tax reform, Congress still has some unfinished business to attend to before fiscal year (FY) 2017 concludes at the end of this week. The House is expected to vote today on a six-month reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (H.R. 3823) that also includes provisions to encourage private flood insurance markets, provide tax relief for hurricane victims, and extend several expiring public health care programs. Health care measures in the bill includes extensions of: (1) the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program, (2) the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, and (3) the Medicare Patient Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG) Demonstration Project. The bill also reduces funding for the Medicare Improvement Fund.

The extension is needed to keep the FAA running past Sept. 30, when the agency’s current legal authority expires. Lawmakers ended up proposing a short-term patch after they were unable to agree on a longer reauthorization, because House transportation leaders wanted to include a controversial plan to separate air traffic control from the federal government. House Democrats blocked the short-term bill from passing on Monday under a fast-track procedure that requires a two-thirds majority, citing concerns over the unrelated policy riders that were tacked onto the bill. 

Notably, the bill did not include an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), community health center funding, or a slate of Medicare “extenders” that would also technically expire at the end of FY 2018. Instead, as House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said during a House floor debate yesterday, GOP leaders believe that that the Sept. 30 expirations of funding are not “dire or urgent” because states have enough money to get through the end of the year. With respect to the community health centers program, Sessions added that the program “will not have to access mandatory apportions until early December.”

In a separate vote today, the House is also expected to advance a Senate-passed bill (S. 1866) that would provide the Secretary of Education with waiver authority to extend the deadline by which funds have to be reallocated in the campus-based aid programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965 due to Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria. Also, the House plans to vote today on a bill (H.R. 2792) that would prohibit Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments to individuals with an outstanding felony warrant or parole or probation violation.

Meanwhile, the Senate is slated to resume consideration on the nomination of Ralph Erickson to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit, with a confirmation vote expected this morning. The Senate confirmed two more Trump Administration appointees yesterday: Makan Delrahim, President Trump’s pick to lead the Anti-Trust division of the Department of Justice, and Heath Tarbert to be an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. The upper chamber also approved three bills by unanimous consent: (1) H.R. 3819 — Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2017; (2) H.R. 2266 – The Bankruptcy Judgeship Act of 2017 and; (3) S.Res. 269 – Recognizing National Prostate Cancer Awareness.