Congress will break for two weeks for the Easter Recess. The Senate will be back in session on Monday, April 24, and the House will be back in session on Tuesday, April 25.
LAST WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House came back into session on Monday evening, and took up and passed H.Res. 92 and H.R. 479 under Suspension of the Rules. H.Res. 92 condemns North Korea’s development of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles, and H.R. 479 designates North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
On Tuesday, the House took up and passed the rule for consideration of H.R. 1343, the Encouraging Employee Ownership Act of 2017, and the rule for H.R. 1304, the Self-Insurance Protection Act.
Then the House passed H.R. 1343. The vote was 331-87. This bill simply raises to $10 million the current threshold of $5 million for companies that issue securities as a means to compensate their employees without having to register with the SEC.
On Wednesday, the House took up and passed the rule for consideration of H.R. 1219, the Supporting America’s Innovations Act of 2017. Then the House took up and passed H.R. 1304, the Self-Insurance Protection Act. The vote was 400-16. This bill clarifies that federal regulators cannot redefine stop-loss insurance as traditional health insurance, and thereby protects access to affordable health coverage for employees who get their insurance through their employer’s self-insurance plan.
On Thursday, the House took up and passed H.R. 1219, the Supporting America’s Innovators Act. The vote was 417-3. This bill amends the Investment Company Act of 1940 to increase the number of investors who can participate in certain venture capital funds before those funds are required to register with the SEC as investment companies. The current threshold is 100 investors; under this amendment, the threshold would rise to 250.
And then they were done.
THIS WEEK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR:
The House is in recess.
LAST WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate came back into session last Monday evening, and took up and passed S. 89, the Delta Queen bill. The vote was 85-12.
On Tuesday, the Senate took up the confirmation of Elaine Duke to be Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. The vote to confirm was 85-14.
Then the Senate moved to consider the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. That consumed the rest of the Senate’s week, and we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
THIS WEEK ON THE SENATE FLOOR:
The Senate is in recess.
House Republicans made progress on the ObamaCare repeal front last week, but not enough to bring an amended repeal bill to the floor.
On Monday, Vice President Pence met with key members of both the House Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group. Word spread all day Tuesday that a potential deal was in the works, and that if one could be agreed to, House leadership would put the bill up for a vote before the House broke for the Easter Recess at the end of the week.
The contours of the deal were simple. The Freedom Caucus’ objection to the original draft legislation was that it didn’t actually repeal the core elements of ObamaCare – the insurance regulations that have led to skyrocketing premiums. But the Tuesday Group was opposed to repealing them, because they are “popular.” So the potential deal split the difference, by giving states the option to decide on their own if they wanted to repeal the insurance regulations in their own states, courtesy of waivers they could apply for. Community Rating and Essential Health Benefits were definitely on the table, and Guaranteed Issue was, too, depending on whom you asked.
And that was part of the problem – it depended on whom you asked. Members of the Freedom Caucus seemed to be under the impression that the states could apply rather easily for the waivers, while members of the Tuesday Group say they were told that there would be stringent conditions placed on the waivers.
Members of the Freedom Caucus believe they were told Community Rating would be repealed except for gender, so women could not be charged more than men (even though women consume more health care than do men). But members of the Tuesday Group believe they were told that the only flexibility on Community Rating the governors would receive would be flexibility on age – not illness, or medical history, or other factors.
No one seems to know whether the White House was playing a double game, or if members of the two caucuses just heard what they wanted to hear.
By Wednesday, it was clear there was no legislative text to look at. Members of the Freedom Caucus refused to commit themselves to agreeing to vote for an amended bill until they could see the language, and the Tuesday Group was upset that the deal was even being considered.
At a Wednesday night meeting, White House officials pressed Speaker Ryan hard for a vote to pass the amended bill (which still did not yet exist on paper) before allowing the House to leave for recess. Ryan demurred, but House GOP leaders eventually agreed to send the package to the House Rules Committee to let the Rules Committee vote to add the amendment to the package that had been sitting there for almost two weeks.
On Thursday afternoon, the Rules Committee met and, by a party-line vote, added the amendment to H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act. The amendment – offered by Reps. Dave Schweikert and Gary Palmer – creates a $15 billion program to help insurers cover the costs of high-cost patients, beginning in 2018. The fund is meant to subsidize coverage for those high-cost patients with pre-existing conditions so that premiums for other patients can come down.
On Monday, we learned that White House lawyers learned in February that former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice had requested the “unmasking” of Trump transition team officials whose communications were surveilled “incidentally” during conversations with monitored foreign nationals. A few weeks ago on PBS, she said, “I know nothing about this;” now she’s retreated to claiming that she wasn’t the one leaking that information to the press.
On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes announced that he would be stepping down from the lead on the committee investigation of Russia’s activities in the presidential election. He was doing so, he said, because the House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into whether or not he revealed classified information when he revealed that Obama Administration officials had collected and shared information on Trump transition team officials. TX GOP Congressman Mike Conaway will be taking over the lead on the committee’s investigation.
Senate Democrats refused to yield to common sense, and instead filibustered the confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch to become the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The vote to end the filibuster was 55-45, with four Democrats – Michael Bennet of CO, Joe Donnelly of IN, Heidi Heitkamp of ND, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voting to end the filibuster. The reason the total vote in favor of ending the filibuster was 55 instead of 56 is because Majority Leader McConnell switched his vote to join the losing side, so he could offer a motion to reconsider. He did, and the Senate then voted 55-45 to reconsider the cloture vote they had just taken.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wasn’t through fighting. First he offered a motion to postpone the second cloture vote. That motion failed, by a vote of 48-52. Then Schumer offered a motion to adjourn, which takes precedence over everything. That motion failed, too, by the same 48-52 party-line vote.
Having disposed of Schumer’s stalling tactics, Leader McConnell then raised a point of order and declared that under Harry Reid’s decision of November 2013 to invoke the nuclear option and lower the confirmation threshold to a simple majority, the threshold for Supreme Court nominees was the same as for executive branch and other judicial nominations. Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch of UT, sitting in the chair, upheld the precedent of the Senate and ruled against the point of order. McConnell then asked for an appeal of the ruling of the chair, and by 52-48, the Senate voted to overrule the ruling of the chair and establish the precedent that Supreme Court nominees only require a simple majority to be confirmed.
Having established that a Supreme Court nominee could be confirmed with a simple majority, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the confirmation debate. The vote was 55-45. Michael Bennet of CO went back to the Democratic side, while Sens. Donnelly of IN, Heitkamp of ND, and Manchin of WV voted again to invoke cloture.
Then the Senate held the vote to confirm Judge Gorsuch. The final tally was 55-44. Again, Bennet voted with the Democrats, while Donnelly, Heitkamp, and Manchin voted with the Republicans. One Republican was missing – Senator Johnny Isakson of GA, who is still recovering from back surgery.
Judge Gorsuch will be sworn in on Monday morning at the Supreme Court in a private ceremony, then will be sworn in later Monday in a public ceremony where the oath of office will be administered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, one of the two Supreme Court justices for whom Gorsuch clerked. For the trivia buffs among you, this will be the first time that a former law clerk has joined his former boss on the Supreme Court.
On Thursday morning, Politico Playbook hosted a public interview with Freedom Caucus members Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Justin Amash. I’ve included a link to the broadcast in the Suggested Reading, and commend it to your attention.
JENNY BETH MARTIN/TEA PARTY PATRIOTS:
MISCELLANEOUS:Read the complete text here: Tea Party Patriots Weekly Report from Washington for 4/9/17