Earlier this week, the Senate passed a resolution amending the Title X Family Planning Grant Program to allow states to withhold family planning funds from going to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide reproductive health services. The program, which allocates money for counseling, contraception and prenatal care, cannot be used for abortion services under previous law. The measure, which had already been passed in the House, sought to go even further and restrict any (Title X) grant money from going to any clinic providing these services.
Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski joined with Senate Democrats in opposing the measure, leaving the Senate tied with a 50-50 vote count. Vice President Mike Pence, who is constitutionally designated the ‘President of the Senate’ and is entitled to break ties in the chamber, cast a vote in favor of the misguided measure, allowing it to pass.
The Supreme Court confirmation fight also escalated in the Senate this week, with 34 of the chamber’s 48 Senate Democrats lining up to filibuster President Trump’s conservative nominee, federal judge Neil Gorsuch. Some Democrats cautioned against moving forward with the nomination while some of the President’s campaign associates are currently under federal investigation, while others were concerned by Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination last year. Though judicial confirmations typically require a consensus 60-vote majority to limit floor debate and confirm a nominee, Senate Republicans are considering a ‘nuclear option’ that would amend Senate rules to confirm Judge Gorsuch by simple majority (51 votes). The Senate Judiciary committee plans to vote on the nomination on Monday, and a full vote before the Senate is expected by week’s end.
Finally, tensions between the conservative House Freedom Caucus and President Trump continued to escalate following last week’s failed attempt to hold a vote on the American Health Care Act. President Trump singled out the caucus in a string of tweets, accusing them of hurting the Republican agenda. The back and forth escalated further when the President singled out Members of Congress by name for obstructing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. The hearings are expected to last four days, with Gorsuch hoping to avoid hot-button issues like access to reproductive rights, campaign finance, and executive powers. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) hopes to have Gorsuch’s nomination voted out of committee by April 3rd and a vote before the full Senate by April 8th (before the two-week Easter recess).
Last week, House Republicans advanced the American Health Care Act (AHCA), their repeal-and-replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act, out of the House Budget Committee following a blistering Congressional Budget Office report of the impact of the legislation. The AHCA bill is expected to be considered by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, where the Republican majority on the panel is expected to approve the bill and send it to the floor for a full House vote. The full House is expected to vote on the legislation some time Thursday, which is the seventh anniversary of the signing of the current ACA law. ANA opposed the current AHCA legislation in a letter sent to Capitol Hill leaders earlier this month.
House Republican leaders are frantically whipping votes in favor of the bill, but the continued chorus of complaints from the conservative House Freedom Caucus and more moderate members has set the stage for a razor thin margin in the lead up to Thursday’s vote. House Republican leaders are expected to release a ‘Manager’s Amendment,’ which is a series of changes to the legislation that can be made by House leadership following the regular committee process to shore up support for the bill. The expected changes to be released later this week would be to:
1) Allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients (appeasing conservative members)
2) And expand health tax credits for seniors (appeasing moderate members).
Though Freedom Caucus members still take umbrage with the current bill for not going far enough and moderates are concerned with the number of Americans that could lose coverage, the changes could be enough to get Republican to the 216 votes needed to pass the bill.
Stay tuned to the Capitol Beat for further updates on health reform and other activity happening on Capitol Hill.
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.