This Week on the Hill: Republicans Plot Path Forward on Stalled Agenda

June 19, 2017

As the summer churns along, Republican leaders are hoping to break the stalemate on their major priorities, namely health care legislation, tax reform, and the appropriations process for the 2018 fiscal year. All three appear to be deadlocked at the moment, with health care reform at the front of the queue. According to a report yesterday from Axios, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is hoping to force a vote on the Senate’s version of health care reform – which has yet to be publicly released – as early as next week. That move would require legislative text to be sent to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in order to be scored, meaning that negotiations would need to be finished this week. The remaining sticking points are well-known – Medicaid funding and the degree to which the bill will roll back restraints put on the insurance market by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – but a formal whip count remains elusive as senators await legislative text.

Reports suggest that Leader McConnell is eager to hold a vote regardless of whether or not Republicans have the votes to pass the package so that the chamber can turn its attention to the issue of tax reform. Meanwhile, other Republican senators, such as Sens. Steve Daines (R-SD) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), are hoping to hold Congress in session through the August recess in order to make more progress on their legislative agenda. This dynamic makes the next six weeks both crucial – a vote down in the Senate would likely kill healthcare reform for the foreseeable future – and unpredictable given the many variables at play.

Floor action starts in the Senate today, while the House will wait until tomorrow to reconvene for the week. Three executive nominations are on the Senate’s docket, namely: Brock Long to be Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sigel Mandelker to be Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, and Marshall Billingslea to be Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Terrorist Financing. The vote for FEMA Administrator is expected this afternoon, while the other two nominations will likely need to wait until later this week.  

Meanwhile, House floor action this week will focus on two measures advanced by the Natural Resources Committee and a workforce development measure that is meant to build on last week’s White House initiative on apprenticeship. One measure (H.R. 1654) – introduced by California Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) – would aim to streamline the permitting process for new water reservoirs and encourage federal agencies to improve coordination on water projects. The other environment bill (H.R. 1873) to hit the House floor aims to streamline the processes for the removal of overgrowth near power lines on federal lands, ostensibly to improve grid reliability. Specifically, the bill would allow electric utilities to submit to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) long-term plans that would guide vegetation management and maintenance activities on or adjacent to rights-of-way containing electrical infrastructure on federal lands. Finally, the House will also consider a bill (H.R. 2353) that would reauthorize the Perkins Act, which provides federal support for technical education programs, for a six-year period.