This week, Members of Congress across the country held town halls during this week’s district work period. These town halls largely focused on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the future of healthcare. Congressional Republicans, who hope to have the ACA repealed later this spring, faced throngs of constituents concerned over the uncertain future of the law. One of the most pointed moments came on Tuesday, when Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was confronted by a farmer in his state who protested that he wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance if it weren’t for the law’s healthcare subsidies. Other constituents pleaded with the Senator, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, to simply reform the law rather than repealing it. Polls have recently shown the law’s growing popularity.
On Thursday, former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) predicted that Congressional Republicans would not fully repeal and replace the ACA. Boehner insisted that changes would be made to the law, but that the structure would largely stay the same. He alleged that in his 25 years in Congress, “Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like.”
Congress is back in session next week. On Wednesday, the House Education and Workforce Committee are having a hearing on “Legislative Proposals to Improve Health Care Coverage and Provide Lower Costs for Families,” and on Thursday the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will have a hearing “Examining FDA’s Generic Drug and Biosimilar User Fee Programs.”
ACA Replacement Leak:
On Friday, a leaked draft bill from the House Energy & Commerce committee on an ACA replacement bill was making the rounds in Washington. The bill, dated February 10th, would phase out federal funds by 2020 for those states that expanded Medicaid. The draft also eliminates federal subsidies for individuals to obtain coverage, while adding a tax credit that would increase based on an individual’s age. The tax credit, which has been a longstanding Republican healthcare idea, would do away with income-based thresholds and would range between $2,000 and $4,000. The draft legislation is expected to go through several iterations before it’s sent to markup in mid-March. ANA’s Government Affairs and Health Policy teams will continue monitoring healthcare legislation; stay tuned for updates on Capitol Beat.
The Senate Finance Committee held it’s hearing on Seema Verma’s nomination to become Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Verma has deep ties to Indiana, Vice President Pence’s home state, where she worked with his predecessor (Gov. Mitch Daniels) to transform the state’s Medicaid program into the current Healthy Indiana Plan that emphasizes health savings accounts. The more contentious moments of her hearing focused around conflict of interest issues. Verma, who until recently ran a consulting firm (SVC), worked to reform Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion program to include a work requirement for beneficiaries. Disclosures also showed that Verma was consulting on healthcare reforms with nine other states, while also having health industry clients that would in turn be impacted by state reforms. Verma is expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Following Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal from consideration to run the Department of Labor, President Trump nominated Alexander Acosta to become Secretary of Labor. Acosta is currently a Florida law school dean, and was previously a National Labor Relations Board member and Assistant Attorney General for civil rights under the President George W. Bush. Though Puzder’s nomination was plagued with scandals over allegations of domestic violence and a failure to pay taxes after employing an undocumented nanny, Acosta’s nomination is expected to win swift confirmation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee set March 20th as the hearing date for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that hearings will last three to four days, which is in-line with past Supreme Court confirmations.
On Thursday, Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Greg Walden (R-OR) introduced the Pre-Existing Conditions Protection Act of 2017. The bill aims to preserve the popular provision memorialized in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which protects Americans with pre-existing conditions from discrimination when seeking health insurance coverage. The Chairman’s bill seeks to temper growing fears over ACA repeal efforts Congressional Republicans are hoping to repeal the ACA sometime later this year.
Next week, Congress will be in recess for a week-long district work period. If you plan on attending a town hall or want to engage with your member, check out our ANA Advocacy Toolkit. You can also learn more about the Republican’s ACA repeal plan with this factsheet.
Earlier this week, we recapped the flurry of confirmation activity we expected during the week of February 6th-10th. Congress barnstormed through a series of contentious confirmation votes.
On Tuesday, the Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, was confirmed by a slim 51-50 vote in the Senate with Vice President Pence casting the tie breaking vote. The following day, Senator Sessions was confirmed almost entirely along party lines with a 52-47 vote to have him lead the Justice Department as Attorney General. In a procedural move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) from reading a letter opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship written by civil rights icon Coretta Scott King to the U.S. Senate back in 1986; McConnell invoked Rule 19 of the Senate Rules. The rule, which states that ‘No senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator,’ is rarely invoked and thus drew widespread criticism. Unsurprisingly, the procedural silencing only drew wider attention to the now famous letter.
On Wednesday, the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, told Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that he found the President’s comments on the judiciary both “demoralizing” and “disheartening.” Senate Democrats, however, continue to cast doubt over Gorsuch’s ability to be an independent judicial check on the President’s authority.
Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), on Friday, was confirmed by a vote of 52-47 to become Secretary of Health and Human Services. Following extensive debates over ethics and Price’s investments in healthcare companies he had jurisdiction over as a member of Congress, Republicans called the early morning roll-call vote at about 2:00 AM. He was sworn in later that morning by Vice President Mike Pence.
Lastly, the ninth circuit federal court of appeals unanimously ruled to uphold a lower court’s ruling blocking President Trump’s travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries. The lawsuit was filed by the Washington state Attorney General, and is a significant setback for a Presidency that’s only three weeks old.