On the House Side
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday ceded to GOP senators’ demands that the House commit to going to conference on a health care bill, but added a caveat that will provide his members cover from having to take another difficult vote without assurances that the Senate can pass the plan. “We expect the Senate to act first on whatever the conference committee produces,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement Thursday.
The House passed its bill to partially repeal and replace the 2010 health care law in May with only a single vote to spare, only to have the Senate quickly reject the plan and begin work on their own.
Various versions of the Senate bill failed to garner the needed support to get through the chamber, leaving House Republicans as the only members on record voting for legislation that is politically unpopular.
“Repealing and replacing Obamacare still ultimately requires the Senate to produce 51 votes for an actual plan,” Ryan said. “The House remains committed to finding a solution and working with our Senate colleagues, but the burden remains on the Senate to demonstrate that it is capable of passing something that keeps our promise, as the House has already done. Until the Senate can do that, we will never be able to develop a conference report that becomes law.”
In agreeing to go to conference, Ryan acknowledged that the so-called skinny repeal bill Senate GOP leaders are putting together is “the only path ahead” to keep the overhaul effort alive.
“Senators have made clear that this is an effort to keep the process alive, not to make law,” the Speaker said. “If moving forward requires a conference committee that is something the House is willing to do.”
Ryan’s announcement should allow the Senate to proceed with the skinny plan that had become stalled earlier Thursday when four GOP senators said they would not support it without assurances from Ryan that the House would go to conference and not pass the skinny bill.
On the Senate Side
In a dramatic vote at just before 1:30 a.m. last Friday, the Senate rejected the so-called Affordable Care Act “skinny repeal” measure introduced by Senate Majority Leader McConnell, effectively ending GOP repeal efforts for the time being.
Vice President Pence had gone to the Senate in expectation of a possible 50-50 vote, but Sen. John McCain ultimately voted no, along with Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and all 48 members of the Democratic caucus. President Donald Trump tweeted at 2:25 a.m., “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”
Dealing a serious blow to Trump’s agenda, the Senate rejected a measure to repeal parts of former President Barack Obama’s health care law after a night of high suspense in the U.S. Capitol. Unable to pass even a so-called ‘skinny repeal,’ it was unclear if Senate Republicans could advance any healthcare bill despite seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare.
Trump has offered no legislation of his own and little guidance to the Senate, although he has berated them for their inaction. Meanwhile, Pence, McConnell, and other GOP leaders could be seen lobbying McCain and Murkowski on the Senate floor before the vote. Many consider the vote a huge setback for McConnell who called the vote “clearly a disappointing moment,” but said, “It’s time to move on.”
McConnell “claimed that due to ‘skyrocketing costs,’ ‘plummeting choices,’ and ‘collapsing markets, our constituents have suffered through an awful lot under Obamacare. We thought they deserved better.”
Senator John McCain
On July 25, Sen. John McCain made his return to the Capitol, eleven days after surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. McCain defied prudent medical guidance and flew from his home in Arizona to Washington on Tuesday, arriving just in time to provide an essential Senate procedural vote in favor of his party’s effort to rewrite health care political brand.
His timing was impeccable, his presence pivotal. He was, by turns, self-deprecating and histrionic, bluntly combative and sounding impervious to the fray. He sought to inflict as least as much rhetorical pain on his own Republican leaders as on the Democrats. And then he did the politically pragmatic thing he’d planned to do all along and stated “When I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body,” he said with his trademark sense of caustic understatement, “I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today.”
The Senate then went on to vote down the Republican effort to overhaul the U.S. health insurance system, 49-51, with McCain’s dramatic “no” – to audible gasps in the chamber – providing the key vote to send the bill to defeat. Before he cast his “no” vote, McCain had gathered with a sizable group of Democrats on the other side of the Senate chamber.
McCain’s vote came after a period of tense suspended animation, when much of the attention was on the Arizona Republican, who seemed to be returning to his maverick persona at just the wrong time for McConnell.
As McCain left the Senate chamber after the “skinny repeal” bill last Friday morning, he said, “I do my job as a senator.” He later issued a statement offering a more thorough explanation of his vote, saying that he has always believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that ‘increases competition, lowers costs and improves care for the American people,’” but that “the ‘skinny repeal’ that he voted down ‘would not accomplish those goals.”
Despite reports that after McConnell said that some Democratic senators are probably “celebrating,” Senate Minority Leader Schumer said, “We are not celebrating. We are relieved that millions and millions of people who would have been so drastically hurt by the three proposals put forward will at least retain their healthcare.”
Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted “Tonight health care was saved for millions of Americans. This is your victory. Your calls, letters, and courage made this possible.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted “Thanks to Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and John McCain for showing such strong leadership tonight.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted “The nightmare is over, at least for now.”
Caught in the Crossfire, HHS Secretary, Tom Price
On its website, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a statement the Trump administration will pursue its healthcare goals through regulation; “This effort will continue.”
This came days after Trump veered from his prepared remarks at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree on Monday to press Senate Republicans to move forward with a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act; Trump joked he would fire Price if the effort fails.
“By the way, you’re going to get the votes?” Trump asked Price. “He better get ’em. He better get ’em. Ah, he better – otherwise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired!’”
Trump also pressed Price to win the support of West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R), who has expressed skepticism of the GOP plan due to its drastic cuts to Medicaid. A few hours earlier, Trump claimed Senate Republicans had “not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare.”
“He’d better get Senator Capito to vote for it,” the president said of Price at the Boy Scout Jamboree. “We could really use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”
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Trump Criticizes Sessions
Last Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that although President Donald Trump’s recent criticisms of him were “kind of hurtful,” he intends to remain in his job as long as Trump wants him to stay.
Sessions said, “[Trump] has had a lot of criticism and he’s steadfast determined to get his job done. ... And he wants all of us to do our jobs, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Sessions’ loyalty to President Trump has been “severely tested” but is “seemingly intact.” Sessions stated that he and the President have a “harmony of values and beliefs” and he will stay on “and fight for the president’s agenda ‘as long as he sees that as appropriate.’
Additionally, last Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters that “there will be holy hell to pay” if Trump fires Sessions.”
In his own warning Wednesday night, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley said in a tweet that his panel would not take up the nomination of a replacement for Sessions this year and that “there will be no confirmation hearing for a new attorney general in 2017.”
Reacting to Graham’s comments, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I think Sen. Graham has a pretty heavy lift and he should probably stay focused on his job and getting some of the things done in healthcare and not worry so much about other people.”
In what can only be describe as another “sharp warning” to President Trump, Senator Graham also said yesterday that it “could be the beginning of the end” of his presidency if he makes moves to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.” Graham said, “Trump would be crossing a serious ‘red line’ by ordering” Mueller’s ouster.
Graham plans to introduce legislation that would prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review; however, it is unclear if this is constitutional as it may infringe on presidential powers.
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Don’t Forget Tax Reform
Last Thursday, the principle Republican tax negotiators in Congress and the White House – known as the “Big Six” – released a joint statement outlining broad principles of tax reform and promising to pass tax overhaul legislation by the end of the year.
The most notable aspect of the statement “was the dropping of the proposed border adjustment tax on imports,” an item that House Speaker Ryan had suggested last year as a “central plank of the Republican tax plan” but that has drawn criticism from energy companies, retailers, and many congressional Republicans in recent months.
According to House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, Republicans will convene next month to begin discussing drafting the legislation.
In a statement, Brady promised to reduce corporate and individual tax rates “as much as possible.” He offered few details on how that would happen and reiterated the guidelines the White House had released in April, which specified lower corporate tax rates and federal income tax brackets. The lack of detail raises some doubts about how the Trump administration can meet its deadline of rewriting the tax code this year in order to deliver an economic boost in 2018.
The statement offered little insight into how the overhaul would avoid increasing the deficit after a decade, but Doug Andres, an aid to Speaker Paul Ryan, said Republicans believed the plan would not increase the deficit.
Last Thursday, Republicans also announced they are dropping their proposed border tax. The joint tax statement released abandoned the border adjustment tax (BAT) on imports championed for the past year by Ryan and Brady, delivering a victory to retailers’ groups that had strenuously opposed the measure.
Legislation without a BAT, however, “leaves a key challenge: how to balance desired tax-rate cuts with new sources of revenue. The BAT would have raised more than $1 trillion over a decade, according to estimates.” Retailers, Americans for Prosperity and the House Freedom Caucus praised the decision to omit the BAT.
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