During the last two weeks, both the House and Senate have been busy tackling health care, trying to avoid a government shutdown, dealing with the ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election, and responding to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. There is also exciting news to report on the BRAVE Act (H.R. 1212), which would improve funeral and burial benefits for veterans.
Repealing and Replacing the Affordable Care Act
Two weeks ago, the House narrowly passed H.R. 128, the American Healthcare Act (AHCA), on a 217-213 vote. Several revisions were made to this Obamacare repeal bill since it was first introduced by Republicans. The biggest question was whether preexisting conditions would be protected under the AHCA. The original bill continued protections for people with preexisting conditions but an amendment was brought forth to allow states the option to waive those protections. There was significant opposition to this amendment; it was partially resolved by an amendment that provides $8 billion to states over a five-year period to help those with preexisting conditions make payments on higher premiums.
Last week Republican senators continued to work on their version of the AHCA. Senate Republican leadership assured the public that they would include a variety of voices in the discussion. Likely changes to the House’s bill will focus on Medicaid and increased financial assistance to help low-income American afford health insurance.
Avoiding a Government Shutdown
Two weeks ago, the House passed a $1.16 trillion omnibus to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. The bill provides additional funding for national defense, border security, and other emergency needs, while almost every provision that the President asked to be included in the bill was left out. There are continued questions on how much the bill will cost.
Last week, the Senate quickly took up the omnibus; it passed by a vote of 79-18 and was sent to the President for his signature.
Veterans Affairs Legislation
Both the Senate and the House introduced legislation recently introduced legislation aimed to fix the outdated, lengthy veterans appeals process. The VA Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 includes three difference pathways that veterans could take to pursue their appeal. Additionally, unlike previous versions of this bill, the 2017 bill would allow some veterans waiting for years on a decision to begin using the expedited path in the new veterans’ appeals process.
H.R. 1212, The BRAVE Act, continued to build momentum in the House. Thanks to the hard work of NFDA members during the Advocacy Summit, five additional members of Congress from both sides of the aisle signed on as co-sponsors: Rep. Ralph Lee Abraham (R-LA), Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-MS), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Rep. Ann M. Kuster (D-NH), and Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN).
Russia and James Comey
Last week, James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, and Sally Yates, former acting attorney general, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Yates stated that she warned the White House multiple times about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn being comprised and vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians. This alarmed many senators, given that Flynn was not fired until 18 days after Yates briefed White House staff and during that time, Flynn was included in multiple classified meetings.
FBI Director James Comey also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was supposed to discuss general oversight of the FBI, but his testimony quickly turned into a rehashing of the 2016 presidential election. Comey indicated that he did not regret sending a letter to lawmakers 11 days before the election revealing new evidence possibly related to its investigation involving Hillary Clinton.
In a move that shocked many, the President fired Comey last week, which caused the Senate to focus most of their time on the dismissal and the implications it could have on the Russia investigation. Democrat senators voiced concerns on the reasoning behind the firing and called for an independent investigator to take up the Russia investigation.
The Senate confirmed Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to be Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) Chairman in a 61-37 vote. The Senate also confirmed Scott Gottlieb to be the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Association in a 57-42 vote and Robert Lighthizer to be the United States Trade Representative in an 82-14 vote. Heather Wilson was confirmed by the Senate to be the Secretary of the Air Force in a 76-22 vote.