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Nominee May Set Up Fight over Export Subsidies

 

A Senate fight may be brewing over one of President Trump’s nominees. But this fight may be different from the usual partisan wrangling we see in Congress.

 

The nominee is former U.S. Representative Scott Garrett. The agency is the Export-Import Bank. Garrett is an unconventional pick to head the Export-Import Bank because of his past opposition to the bank’s operation.

 

The Export-Import Bank is an independent federal agency that loans money to foreign companies that are making purchases of products made in the U.S. The former president of the bank, Fred Hochberg, left office in January.

 

Arrayed against Garrett’s nomination are Republican-friendly entities like the National Association of Manufacturers and Boeing, the aircraft maker. They contend that the Export-Import bank is essential for the competitiveness of American companies abroad and should not be led by someone who fought against it while in Congress.

 

Export-Import Bank opponents say that the institution is a way to steer corporate subsidies to big businesses that could operate fine without them. They note that Garrett cannot shut down operations of the bank if he is confirmed, but could bring a critical eye to ensure that the bank is run better.

 

Over the past two years, conservatives in Congress have tried various ways to shut down or hobble the bank’s operation. They refused to renew the bank’s charter for five months, effectively shuttering it. They have also refused to confirm members to its board, which makes it impossible for the bank to make loans in excess of $10 million.

Garrett’s nomination could result in a Senate vote that has not yet been seen in the Trump presidency. If pro-business interests succeed in persuading Republicans to oppose Garrett, this could be the first instance of large-scale GOP defections on a Trump nomination. There is also criticism about the Export-Import Bank from liberals, so Garrett may find some support from the more liberal Senate Democrats. Generally these liberals have been steadfast in their opposition to Trump nominees.

 

Do you think that Scott Garrett should be confirmed as the president of the Export-Import Bank? Or do you think that someone who is a strong supporter of the agency should be leading it?

 

Opposition to Trump’s Nominees Continues

 

 Is consistently voting “no” on President Trump’s nominees obstructionism or is it principled opposition?

 

That is a question being asked about votes on executive branch nominations. As we noted in a previous blog, some senators were voting against almost all of President Trump’s cabinet nominations.

 

This trend has continued with even lower-level nominees, which are generally far less controversial than cabinet picks. Consider some of the recent tallies for these nominees:

 

  • Brock Long, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration – 95 to 4
  • Scott Brown, Ambassador to New Zealand – 94 to 4
  • Courtney Elwood, General Counsel to the CIA – 67 to 33
  • John Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of State – 93 to 6
  • Terry Branstad, Ambassador to China – 86 to 12
  • Rachel Brand, Associate Attorney General – 52 to 46
  • Jay Clayton, Security and Exchange Commission – 60 to 36

 

Unlike Ben Carson or Jeff Sessions, none of these nominees has a divisive public record. And yet all received votes in opposition.

 

There are a handful of senators who vote “no” on almost every nominee put forward by President Trump. Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Kristin Gillibrand (NY), and Kamala Harris (CA) are generally consistent votes in opposition to any Trump nominee. This includes the nomination of Scott Brown, a former senator, to be ambassador to New Zealand. Other senators, however, save their “no” votes for only select nominees.

 

There are some questions if senators are opposing these nominees for political reasons or policy reasons. Rachel Brand, for instance, has a fairly standard record for an appointment to the Justice Department – Supreme Court clerkship, private firm work, and Justice Department experience. But she received the opposition of 46 senators. Patrick Leahy, senator from Vermont, said that Brand “carries a heavily skewed, pro-corporate agenda that would do further harm to the Justice Department and its independence.” Few senators made statements opposing the nomination of Courtney Elwood to be the CIA’s general counsel, but 33 of them voted against her.

 

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, defends his vote against a large number of Trump nominees as being about policy, not politics:

 

“Lost in all of the obvious concern about Russia is the fact that Trump is pushing an extremely, extremely right-wing, reactionary agenda: tax breaks for billionaires, throwing 24 million people off health insurance, and massive cuts to programs that working people need. And many of his appointees are pushing exactly that agenda, and I’m not going to support that.”

 

Republicans aren’t buying it. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell points out the similarities to votes in the past by senators who eventually ran for president:

 

“When President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton were in the Senate, they often voted against nominees — even though those nominees had wide bipartisan support — as a means of protecting themselves from their base and setting themselves up for a primary.”

 

What do you think? Are Democrats who are consistently opposing President Trump’s nominees playing politics? Or are they offering principled opposition to a dangerous policy agenda?

 

Senate Fails to Repeal Obamacare

 

After considerable debate and intense media attention, efforts in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, failed last week. This represents a huge blow to President Trump’s agenda, a pillar of which was to kill Obamacare. It is also a defeat for Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader who could not marshal enough votes to pass a repeal bill.

 

Here are some of the votes taken during Senate debate on Obamacare:

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Consider legislation to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare: Passed 50 to 50 To proceed with consideration of legislation that would repeal and modify portions of the Affordable Care Act. This motion passed because Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of it.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Donnelly amendment to send Obamacare repeal to committee: Failed 48 to 52 To end consideration of legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and instead allow the bill to be considered in a Senate committee.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Heller amendment to repeal the tax on expensive health insurance: Passed 52 to 48

To repeal the 40% tax on some employer-sponsored health insurance plans that offer benefits exceeding a certain amount. This tax is also known as the “Cadillac tax.”

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Amendment to express support for Medicaid expansion: Failed 10 to 90

To express the sense of the Senate that expanding Medicaid is important and that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, should be improved.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Daines amendment to mandate government-run health insurance: Failed 0 to 57

To expand the Medicare program to cover all Americans, or alternatively to create a “single payer” health insurance system. This would be paid for by increasing income taxes, imposing a new payroll tax, and creating a tax on stock and bond transactions. The amendment would prohibit private health insurance that competes with government insurance. Forty-three Senate Democrats voted “present” instead of “yes” or “no” on this amendment.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Paul amendment to repeal most of Obamacare: Failed 45 to 55

To repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the expansion of Medicaid and the mandate on individuals to buy health insurance. This amendment would also end the health insurance exchanges and repeal taxes imposed to fund the ACA. It would take effect in two years.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Partially repeal and replace Obamacare: Passed 43 to 57

To repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act. This amendment would end the Medicaid expansion, increase Medicaid spending by $100 billion, and restructure Medicaid so that states are given a capped amount of federal dollars per recipient. It would also reduce subsidies for health insurance purchases, allow health insurance to be sold without as many government mandates, and end the mandates requiring individuals to purchase health insurance and employers to provide health insurance.

 

U.S. House Bill 1628, Amendment to repeal parts of Obamacare but leave Medicaid portion: Failed 49 to 51

To repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act, including the mandates that individuals purchase health insurance and employers provide health insurance, as well as the tax on manufacturing medical devices. The amendment would also end Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year. This amendment would leave in place the ACA's Medicaid expansion, subsidies for the purchase of health insurance, and mandates on what types of health insurance can be sold. This amendment was known as “skinny repeal” of Obamacare.

 

 

Are you glad that the Senate failed to uproot the Affordable Care Act? Or do you think that keeping Obamacare in place is the wrong move?

 

U.S. Senate Bill 722

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 722, Impose sanctions on Iran: Passed 98 to 2 in the U.S. Senate on June 15, 2017

 

To impose sanctions blocking the assets of individuals who contribute to Iran’s ballistic missile program or who sell military equipment to Iran. The bill also gives the president authority to impose sanctions on anyone in Iran who engages in torture or extrajudicial killings.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. Senate Bill 722!

 

What Congress Has Left Undone

 

Members of Congress are leaving for a one-week recess to celebrate Independence Day. When they return to Washington, they will have three weeks in July before their August recess. If they aim to tackle all the big items on their agenda, this will be a very busy time.

 

One of the issues that Congress must deal with is raising the debt ceiling. This has been an ongoing fight in recent years, with conservatives asking for a number of concessions for them to go along with increasing the government’s ability to borrow. Conservatives are pressing for more spending cuts in order for them to go along with increasing the debt ceiling, which plays into both unresolved budget issues as well as the start of the annual passage of appropriation, or spending, bills. There are calls from Democrats and the president to exceed spending caps that currently exist, but the House Freedom Caucus members may demand more fiscal discipline.

 

The Senate has yet to pass a budget resolution that will serve as a guide for the appropriations bills that must be passed to keep the government running. In the House, efforts to craft a budget resolution have stalled in the Budget Committee. Conservatives want large cuts in entitlement programs, such as food stamps. More moderate members oppose these efforts. It is unclear whether Chairman Diane Black will be able to find a way to satisfy both wings of the party, or whether this will be another year without a budget resolution.

 

Efforts to deal with the government’s spending will be paramount during July, but some members of Congress also want to work on the issues of tax reform and infrastructure spending. There is no consensus in either body (or in either party) on how to approach those, but the president and Congress have made these issues a priority. That gives both branches of government an incentive to start work on them soon if they want to have legislative victories prior to the end of President Trump’s first year in office. However, failure to pass a budget resolution makes tax reform much more difficult.

 

What do you think the focus of Congress should be in July? Do you want to see the debt ceiling raised? What should federal spending look like? How important is it that work on tax reform and infrastructure spending be started?

 

Senate Unveils its Answer to Obamacare

 

After weeks of bill drafting behind closed doors, Republicans in the Senate have released their proposal to partially repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.


The bill departs from Obamacare in some key ways:

 

  • No government mandate to purchase health insurance.
  • No government mandate on employers to provide health insurance.
  • It would create a $112 billion fund to reimburse insurance companies who suffer losses.
  • Medicaid would be turned into a per capita block grant.
  • Funding would be frozen for Planned Parenthood.

 

However, the bill also keeps some key aspects of Obamacare in place:

 

  • It retains the mandate that insurance companies allow children to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26.
  • It retains the mandates on insurance companies that they may not deny insurance to someone due to pre-existing conditions.
  • It also continues the mandate that insurance companies cover certain conditions, although states could alter what is defined as an “essential health benefit.”

 

No Democrats have signaled that they would support this legislation. In fact, there are some questions on whether there are enough Republican votes for this bill to pass the Senate.

 

Do you think this health care legislation is an improvement over Obamacare? Or do you think senators should oppose these changes?

 

U.S. House Bill 10

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 10, Repeal portions of Dodd-Frank financial regulations: Passed 233 to 186 in the U.S. House on June 8, 2017

 

To repeal a ban on banks investing in securities and derivatives, end limits on fees charged to retailers for debit card transactions, exempt banks from some regulations if they maintain certain capital-to-asset ratios, remove the Financial Stability Oversight Council's authority to regulate non-bank financial institutions under “too big to fail” rules, and expand congressional oversight over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, among other things.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 10!

 

More Offshore Drilling May be Coming

 

 

In late April, President Trump signed an executive order that could open up more areas in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Arctic to offshore drilling. This move comes in sharp contrast to President Obama, whose actions sought to place more areas off-limits to oil and gas exploration off of America’s coastline.

 

President Trump’s order does not mean that offshore drilling in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf or other areas will happen; instead, it begins a regulatory process that could eventually lead to oil and gas production in these areas. This would take years, perhaps over a decade, to happen.

 

Reaction from energy companies has been supportive, while environmental groups have expressed their displeasure. Politicians from the affected states are falling on both sides of this issue.

 

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Mark Warner, both Democrats, support offshore drilling as long as Virginia receives a share of the revenue from it. Republican Representative Barbara Comstock from that state has introduced legislation that would provide this revenue-sharing for the commonwealth. Other Republican members of that state’s delegation support offshore drilling, while Democratic members from the House delegation oppose it.

 

Alaska’s elected officials, such as Republican Rep. Don Young, are strongly in favor of expanded oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. At the opposite end of the country, Florida Democrats such as Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schulz have vowed to fight the president on this issue.

 

North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, has expressed concerns about offshore drilling but has not stated that he opposes the President’s action. GOP Congressman Richard Hudson has praised the president for his move.

 

Do you support offshore oil and gas exploration? Or do you think that drilling for oil and gas off of our nation’s coast is the wrong direction for our energy policy?

 

U.S. House Bill 1039

 

Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in D.C., check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 1039: Allow probation officers to make arrests with no warrants: Passed 220 to 177 in the U.S. House on May 19, 2017

 

To allow a probation officer to arrest someone without a warrant if there is probable cause that the person assaulted or obstructed a probation officer.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 1039!

 

U.S. House Bill 115: Increase penalty for killing police

 

Check out this key bill passed by elected officials in Washington D.C., check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 115, Increase penalty for killing police: Passed 271 to 143 in the U.S. House on May 18, 2017

 

To make the killing or attempted killing of a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or other first responder an aggravating factor in death penalty cases. In essence, this bill would increase the chances for people who commit these crimes to receive the death penalty.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 115!

 

What’s in the Trump Budget?

 

President Trump released his budget proposal this week. As may be expected from someone who promised to shake up Washington, his spending plan outlines some big changes to federal spending.

 

One of the major differences between Trump and previous presidents involves entitlement programs. These are programs such as Medicaid and welfare that do not require an annual appropriation from Congress. Instead, if you qualify for them, you are entitled to receive them, and the federal government must find money to pay. Over the next ten years, the president’s budget lays out major alterations to these programs that could result in some big savings:

 

Medicaid – $880 billion. These reductions come from ending the expanded Medicaid matching rate for childless adults that was put in place by the Affordable Care Act. The budget also assumes that states will be given a capped amount of money per enrollee starting in 2020 (right now, states receive a matching rate for every person on Medicaid with no cap).

 

Food stamps – $191 billion. This assumes savings from allowing states to impose work requirements on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) recipients.

 

TANF - $21.6 billion. The budget calls for reducing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states as well as eliminating the contingency fund that states can access if there is more demand for the program.

 

For some programs, such as Medicaid, the spending projected by the Trump budget is a reduction in the future growth of the program. That is, there is a certain baseline spending growth that is assumed right now. Trump’s budget offers policy recommendations that would alter this baseline, reducing future growth. For other programs, such as SNAP, the Trump budget projects actual spending to be lower in 10 years (you can find more detailed charts on this here).

 

While entitlement programs would face reductions and many federal agencies would see their budgets reduced, there are a few increases built into the budget. The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs would receive increases.

 

It should be remembered, however, that this budget proposal will not necessarily have any real effect. As we wrote in a previous blog post:

 

"Even after the president submits his budget, this does not mean that his spending plan will go into effect. Under the federal budget procedure, the president submits a budget, but Congress must pass its own budget resolution. The congressional budget resolution may or may not incorporate what the president wants to see happen. Each chamber passes its own resolution, and these two versions must be reconciled by the two chambers."

 

The president’s budget is more like a vision of where he thinks federal spending should proceed over the next decade. It does not mean that spending will actually follow along those lines. Congress has the power to determine funding levels for both discretionary programs (like defense) and make policy changes for entitlement programs (like Medicaid). Only action by the legislative branch can alter the direction of federal spending.

 

What do you think of the president’s budget proposal? Do you like that he has called for a reduction in these programs? Or do you see his priorities as being too draconian for the poor?

 

U.S. House Bill 1628: Partially repeal Obamacare

 

Check out this key bill passed by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 1628: Partially repeal Obamacare: Passed 217 to 213 in the U.S. House on May 4, 2017

 

To pass the American Health Care Act, which is a compromise between House Republican moderates and conservatives that would change federal insurance regulations, modify Medicaid coverage, and alter taxes and fees. This legislation is a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Every House Democrat and 20 Republicans voted against it.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 1628!

 

Trump Names Lower Court Nominees

 

 

Let the fight over judicial nominations begin.

 

President Trump recently sent the names of 10 people for the Senate to consider as federal judges. With more than 100 vacant federal judge positions, Donald Trump has an opportunity to make a significant impact on how federal laws are interpreted and applied.

 

According to John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation, “They are all highly regarded in conservative legal circles and by practitioners in the states where they reside.” During the election, many conservative voters said that federal court nominations were one of the most important reasons they were backing Trump.

 

As we saw with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, however, these appointments are likely to be made over significant Democratic opposition in the Senate. Democrats say that Republicans took steps to delay or hinder judicial nominations under President Obama, which is why there are so many vacancies for Trump to fill. They view this as ample reason to fight these new nominations.

 

However, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominees in 2013. That means Senate Democrats, who are now in the minority, have no tools to stop Trump’s appointments. Some are vowing to use every tool they can to slow them down, though.

 

Do you support President Trump’s judicial nominees? Or do you support efforts by Democratic senators to hold up and possibly stop these nominations?

 

The FBI: Now What?

 

In early May, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Considering that a president has fired an FBI Director only once previously in the modern era, many people have questions about what this means for the future of the FBI.

 

We’re here to provide some context.

 

The FBI is part of the Department of Justice, but the FBI Director is under the authority of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. The president appoints the FBI Director and the Senate must confirm the nominee. The Director serves for one ten-year term, although Congress can pass legislation to extend this term. The president has authority to fire the FBI Director for any reason.

 

The presidential appointment authority for the FBI Director dates back to reforms made in 1968. The fixed 10-year term was legislated in 1976. The agency’s activities during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement raised concerns about the power of the FBI Director. After the death of iconic FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972 after 48 years of service, there was a consensus that long tenure for a Director was not desirable. Limiting the term and bringing that appointment under the president were ways to place limits on this power.

 

On the whole, the FBI Director has generally remained generally independent of the president and partisan politics. A ten-year term means that a Director will outlast any president who appoints him or her. Prior to Comey, the only FBI Director who has been fired was William Sessions, whom President Clinton removed due to ethical issues. It remains to be seen if President Trump’s action will set a new precedent that leads to more dismissals of future FBI Directors.

 

President Trump will have the task of naming a new FBI Director. The Senate will have the power to confirm or reject that nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nominee, and then vote whether to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for consideration. Most nominees for FBI Director have been confirmed unanimously. In fact, the only one not to be confirmed without opposition was James Comey, who received one dissenting vote from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

 

Do you think that President Trump should have fired Director Comey? Who should President Trump appoint as the new Director of the FBI?

 

Some Senators Say “No” to (Almost) All of Trump’s Nominees

 

Part of a new president’s job is to fill a variety of jobs that require Senate confirmation. Donald Trump is no exception, but some of his nominees have been controversial and faced nearly-united opposition from Democratic senators. Many other nominees have been less controversial, and have won over votes from most of the Senate Democratic caucus. However, there is a small band of senators who are committed to opposing almost every nominee put forward by the president.

 

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, for instance, has voted against all of the president’s high-profile nominees except Nikki Haley to be U.N. ambassador. Every other senator voted to approve Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, but Sen. Gillibrand voted “no.”

 

For other nominees, Sen. Gillibrand is reliably joined by Cory Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California), and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts). They all voted against Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture, Elaine Duke to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Dan Coats to be Director of National Intelligence. Sen. Harris voted for Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Labor, but the others all voted “no.”

 

At times, other senators such as Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Cortez Mastro (Nevada) are part of another small group of senators who reliably oppose Trump nominees. For other votes, such as the Perdue nomination or the Coats nomination, Ron Wyden of Oregon will join them.

 

These votes are on nominees whom the majority of other Democratic senators support. Gillibrand has justified her votes in this way: “For many of them, I found them to be either unqualified or so far outside my world view and what I think is important and my view of morality that I had to vote against them.” Other observers suspect that these votes may be a way to please the Democratic base in case the senators are looking to run for president in 2020.

 

What do you think? Are you glad these senators are standing up against President Trump’s nominees, even the lower-profile ones? Or do you view this as obstructionism for political purposes?

 

Build the Wall or Shut the Government Down?

 

A wall that has not even been built could have been the obstacle that may have prevented many federal employees from going to work today.

 

The Trump Administration’s insistence that funding for a wall on the Mexican border be included in spending legislation was seen as a potential sticking point that prevents that legislation from passing Congress. If that had happened, it will mean portions of the federal government will not have funding to operate. A partial government shutdown would have been the result.

 

We have been in this position before. Clashes between the executive branch and legislative branch over federal spending bills have caused government shutdowns twice in the past. Those instances occurred when the two branches were controlled by different parties. Now, however, Republicans hold both the White House and Congress.

 

While Republicans control Congress, Democrats are playing a key role in this situation. Any spending legislation needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate. With only 52 Republicans, Senate Majority Leader McConnell needs to attract some Democratic votes for any bill that would avert a government shutdown.

 

Gaining those votes is proving difficult, as Democrats resist President Trump’s desire to have funding for a border wall (or at least funding to start on a wall) included. Some Democrats point to the president’s promise that Mexico would pay for a wall, wondering why the American taxpayers should pick up the tab for this. Others oppose the wall on principle.

 

The federal government is at this point because Congress and President Obama did not agree on long-term spending bills prior to the start of this fiscal year on October 1. Instead, they passed short-term funding measures. These measures end on April 28. Congress must either pass legislation that funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, or it must pass a continuing resolution that would provide short-term funding. If these things do not happen, then “non-essential” government personnel will not be reporting to work next Monday.

 

What do you think that Congress and the president should do? Should disputes over a border wall hold up funding for the rest of the federal government?

 

What’s Next for Health Care?

 

In early March, Republicans in the House of Representatives released their health care legislation. Intending to live up to their promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), Republican congressmen and President Trump tried to get majority support to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which they said would improve America’s health care system.

 

Ultimately, they failed to persuade enough Republicans to get a winning margin in Congress. However, they said that reform efforts weren’t over with the failure of this bill.

 

It is unclear what will happen now. There are differing perspectives on this issue from conservatives and liberals. With the GOP controlling Congress, the conservative direction seems more likely to prevail if some health care bill emerges in the legislative branch. But with an election occurring next year, it is possible that Democratic wins in 2018 could produce a liberal direction on health care reform in future years.


Here are some of the options being discussed in DC now:

 

Conservative ideas

 

Replace Obamacare: This is what the AHCA tried to do. It would have repealed some of Obamacare’s provisions and then enacted new provisions that tried to meet different health care goals. With the demise of the AHCA, President Trump and members of Congress have said they are continuing to work on ideas that would approach this issue from a different direction.

 

Repeal Obamacare: On the surface, this option is simple – all Congress has to do is repeal the legislation passed in 2010. Then, in theory, the health care marketplace would go back to its pre-Obamacare days. However, a lot has changed in the health care world in the past seven years. Individuals and companies have taken steps to comply with the ACA. Even in the world before ACA, there was heavy government involvement in health care. Many conservatives would like to see reforms that deal with the problems they saw in 2010 with the level of government regulation at the time. Repealing the ACA will not be enough for them.

 

Block-grant Medicaid: Instead of a wholesale repeal and/or replacement of the ACA, some conservatives would like Congress to focus on block granting Medicaid. The Medicaid program provides health coverage for people with disabilities, the poor and the near-poor. As a joint state-federal program, some conservatives see Medicaid as an opportunity to give states an ability to experiment with different methods of providing health care. Right now, the federal government provides funds to states based on the state’s income level and enrollment. Under a block grant, states would receive a set amount of money, but in return would have more freedom to innovate.

 

Liberal ideas

 

Single-payer: Under “Medicare for All” legislation, the federal government would pay for every American’s health care. Private companies could offer supplemental insurance, but health care would largely be a government-run system.

 

Expanded Medicaid: Under the ACA, the federal government provides incentives for states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover people who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Some liberals have called on the federal government to raise that cap, which would likely lead to more states expanding Medicaid to larger groups of people.

 

The status quo

 

Until Congress passes legislation, the ACA is still the law of the land. Its provisions will continue to be in effect. The federal government will enforce the law. However, that raises some issues, since the executive branch tasked with overseeing the ACA is headed by President Trump.

 

The new president has two options. One would be to do all he can to make the law work efficiently. Another would be to direct federal agencies not to fix issues as they come up with the law. The second seems more likely, as the president has tweeted “ObamaCare will explode…” However, it’s unclear exactly what path the Trump Administration will take when it comes to implementing the ACA. Regardless, the ACA will exist and be operational until there is a change in federal health care law.

 

What do you think Congress should do about health care reform?

 

Tax Reform May be Next on DC’s Agenda

 

Taxes are forefront in the minds of millions of Americans today. As you rush to file your taxes, you may be thinking that there should be an easier way. The idea of tax reform is a popular one, but the consensus breaks down over details. Reduce rates, hike taxes on the rich, simplify the code – there are numerous ideas about how the tax code could be modified.

 

These issues may soon be taken up by members of Congress. President Trump has said that he would like to see a tax reform bill on his desk by August. That is unlikely to happen, given the complexity of the issue and the fact that real work has yet to start. However, changes to the tax code are probably the next big thing that lawmakers in Washington will be discussing.

 

Here are some of the ideas being considered:

 

Lower tax rates: In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump was clear that he wanted tax rates cut. He sees these cuts as a way to stimulate economic growth. President Trump also campaigned on consolidating tax brackets from seven into three. The questions for Congress to work out include how low should rates be cut, should revenue losses from rate cuts be offset with higher taxes elsewhere, and what group of taxpayers should benefit from cuts?

 

Increasing the standard deduction: If you don’t itemize your income tax deductions, you get to deduct a portion of your income right at the start. President Trump’s campaign plan called for more than doubling this standard deduction.

 

Border adjustment tax: Some House Republicans have floated the idea of changing the way taxes are collected from businesses. Right now, the U.S. government collects taxes on what companies produce in the U.S. Under this proposal, the U.S. government would collect taxes from what companies sell in the U.S. That means no taxes on goods that are exported but new taxes on goods that are imported for purchase by American consumers.

 

Cutting payroll tax: The taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare are called payroll taxes. Unlike the income tax, these taxes aren’t progressive – that is, they don’t increase as income goes up. Some in Congress have proposed cutting these taxes as a way to lighten the tax load on lower-income workers. However, if this happens they would need to find other tax streams to pay for Social Security and Medicare.

 

Eliminating deductions: Removing provisions of the tax code that give breaks for certain behavior is one of the main ways to simplify the code. Eliminating these tax breaks also means more revenue, which could help offset any tax rate cuts. That is what happened during the tax code rewrite in 1986, a bipartisan effort that many hail as a good blueprint for future action. One thing being discussed is the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes.

 

Cutting the corporate tax rate: Compared to other countries, the U.S. has a high corporate income tax rate. There has been bipartisan support for lowering this rate. For instance, President Obama proposed lowering it from 35% to 28%.

 

Given that it is early in the process, there are certain to be many other ideas for altering the tax code. It may even prove to be too contentious to achieve majority support around a single reform package, which will leave us with the current tax code in place. However, after the failure of legislation that would have repealed Obamacare, President Trump and congressional Republicans have significant motivation to score a victory on this issue.

 

What do you think that tax reform should include?

 

Neil Gorsuch’s Road to the Supreme Court

 

After enduring a barrage of questions from senators on the Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch has a clear path to take his seat on the Supreme Court. However, Senate Republicans may have to change Senate rules to get him there.

 

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination today, April 3. The committee, controlled by Republicans, is almost certain to approve him. That means his nomination will move to the full Senate for consideration.

 

Some Senate Democrats have said they will filibuster the nomination. To overcome a filibuster, Republicans must prevail on what is called a cloture vote. Such a vote requires 60 senators. There are only 52 Republican senators. But there is a way to overcome that 60-vote threshold.

 

Republicans faced with a filibuster can change the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat who was then majority leader, did this for lower court nominees facing Republican filibusters in 2013. It is a big step to change Senate rules in this way, however, and many senators are uncomfortable with doing so.

 

Both Republicans and Democrats have an interest in preserving the filibuster. Republicans may be in the majority today, but that could end with the 2018 election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has always been a strong supporter of retaining the filibuster to protect the minority party. The Democrats’ interest in retaining the filibuster is more obvious, since they are in the minority today. Preserving it for future Supreme Court nominees could be useful for them if President Trump names someone to the court in the future who is less distinguished than Gorsuch. In a case like that, moderate Republicans could join Democrats in using the filibuster to stop that nominee. With three GOP defections, there would be no chance to end Senate rules in this scenario.

 

Facing the serious implication of changing Senate rules, some Senate Democrats may not support the filibuster of Gorsuch. They can support moving to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination but still vote against him being placed on the Supreme Court. That would preserve the ability to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees

 

Democrats are facing pressure from their base to do everything possible to stop this nomination, however. If they don’t filibuster, they could be accused of being too soft on what many see as a “stolen” Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by Barack Obama. If more than 40 Democrats decide to filibuster, however, Republicans are likely to change the Senate rules like Harry Reid did in 2013. Even though many have expressed reservations with doing this, Republicans have a greater interest in putting Gorsuch on the court than preserving a Senate tradition.

 

Either way, it appears that Neil Gorsuch will be taking his place on the Supreme Court. The only unknown is if Republicans will end the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees to get him there.

 

The Arcane World of Senate Rules

 

Filibuster. Cloture. Table. Civility.

 

The world of the U.S. Senate is one that may seem somewhat strange to outsiders. A variety of rules and norms operate in the upper body of the legislative branch. Most of the time the general public doesn’t pay attention to them. But sometimes an action happens on the Senate floor that causes people to notice. If you want to keep an eye on what your state’s senators are doing in Washington, then it may be good to become acquainted with how this body works.

 

Unlike the House of Representatives that operates more or less under majority rule, the Senate uses rules that are designed to give single members significant power to stop or delay many actions. However, these rules can be suspended under certain circumstances. To do this requires unanimous consent by the members, which is how many things get done in the Senate. However, if one member objects to suspending the rules, then the Senate must follow the process laid down for completing that specific matter.

 

Much of the business of the Senate is uncontroversial and is done under unanimous consent. However, when there is controversy, then senators invoke Senate rules in an attempt to stop passage of measures with which they disagree. One of the most common tactics under the rule to do this is the filibuster. The Senate rules allow for unlimited debate on a measure. If a senator or group of senators disagrees with a bill or a nomination, they can attempt to talk for as long as possible to stop it. That is a filibuster. Another senator can invoke cloture to stop a filibuster, which requires the approval of 60 senators.

 

The filibuster used to be relatively rare in the Senate. Today, its use has increased to an extent that senators threaten a filibuster over any item where there is disagreement. In 2013, Senator Harry Reid, who was the Democratic Majority Leader, engineered a change in Senate rules to end the ability to filibuster judicial nominees for positions below the Supreme Court. Some senators have indicated a willingness to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If that filibuster cannot be broken with the 60-vote threshold, it is likely that Mitch McConnell, who is currently the Republican Majority Leader, would follow in Reid’s footsteps and eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.

 

At times, senators will vote not on whether to pass a bill, but to lay a bill or resolution on the table to delay its consideration (to “table it”). Technically, anything tabled can be brought up for consideration again (or taken off the table, in parliamentary terms). However, most of the time a vote to table a measure is a vote to kill it. Last year, for instance, the Senate held a vote to table Senate Joint Resolution 39. This resolution expressed disapproval over selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The vote to table it was a vote to kill it, so the vote was effectively a vote to support the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

 

The Senate also has rules about how members should act during debates and floor action. There are also norms of civility in the Senate, which is why you may hear senators referring to someone with whom they are debating as “my good friend” or the “honorable gentleman.” A notable example of this aspect of Senate behavior coming under public scrutiny was when Senator McConnell invoked Rule 19 to prevent Senator Elizabeth Warren from continuing a speech about Senator Jeff Sessions. That rule specifies that one senator may not disparage another. Senator Warren appealed the ruling of the chair. In cases like this, the majority of the Senate can decide whether the chair was right. On a party-line vote, the Senate did uphold the decision that Senator Warren broke Rule 19.

 

The Senate is a deliberative body that prides itself on giving significant power to individual members and to having a strict code of civility. Some see the Senate’s rules and traditions as making it the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Others view them as byzantine procedures that frustrate the will of the majority. What do you think about how the Senate operates?

 

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