Senate to Tackle Health Care Amid Policy Chaos

Senate Republicans want to vote on their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July amid a chaotic legislative landscape with tax, infrastructure, budget and debt ceiling measures hanging in limbo in the shadow of investigations into Russian election meddling and possible charges of obstruction of justice.

Senate Republicans want to vote on their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July amid a chaotic legislative landscape with tax, infrastructure, budget and debt ceiling measures hanging in limbo in the shadow of investigations into Russian election meddling and possible charges of obstruction of justice.

The Trump administration plans to send a more detailed version of its infrastructure package to Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans want to vote on a health care bill by the August recess and a politically contentious vote looms on raising the debt ceiling.

In the background are ongoing efforts to craft tax legislation and assemble a Fiscal Year 2018 budget, while Congress awaits a Supreme Court decision on the modified Trump travel ban and manages around the shoes-keep-dropping Russian election meddling investigation. There also is continuing fallout from Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and his tweet fight with the Muslim mayor of London following a terrorist attack.

You can’t say nothing is going in the nation’s capital, but you can understand why little is getting done. Depending on your viewpoint, Capitol Hill is a target-rich opportunity or ground zero for policy chaos.

The first concrete sense of timing on GOP legislative priorities came this week when Senate Republicans said they would produce their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July and vote on it, regardless whether they had the votes to approve it, before the end of July. The announcement came as several senators expressed doubt a GOP consensus plan could be developed that quickly. There were news reports that some Senate Republicans wanted to get the issue off the table once and for all, even if they had to explain to constituents why it failed.

Senators face the same dilemma as their House counterparts in finding a way to prevent health insurance premiums from rising while not lopping off millions of Americans from health insurance. The work group developing the Senate GOP plan is reportedly working with the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to avoid a politically devastating score like what the House-passed version earned. But they are focused on curbing the cost of premiums, which could mean fewer essential services, less protection for people with chronic diseases or higher subsidies, perhaps funded by reduced Medicaid spending. 

Trump’s team dubbed this as infrastructure week as an attempt to build momentum for Trump’s proposed $1 trillion investment package and give his political base some positive news in the lead-up to former FBI Director James Comey’s much-anticipated testimony later this week. However, that plan was undermined as stories continued to drip about what Comey might say about pressure from the President to put aside the investigation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

The Russian election meddling story didn’t go away either. In her NBC debut, Megyn Kelly interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin who dropped hints about election-related hacking. There also was a report based on US intelligence sources indicating Russian military cybersecurity tried to infiltrate American voting systems.

The White House made news by appealing to the US Supreme Court to uphold travel restrictions on six mostly Muslim countries, followed by a series of tweets by Trump who insisted on calling the restrictions a travel ban. Opponents of the travel ban will file their briefs by Monday, which means there could be a decision any time after that. Some of Trump’s own legal team worried his tweets could undercut their arguments before the high court.

The infrastructure plan to be released may face additional complications because of Trump’s proposal to separate and privatize the US air traffic control system, an idea that doesn’t appear to enjoy uniform support among congressional Republicans, especially ones representing rural communities who fear the loss of air traffic control for their small airports.

There is no apparent action on a tax plan, despite the President’s tweet that it is moving along ahead of schedule, because no tax legislation has been submitted by the Trump administration. That is more or less true on the FY 2018 budget, too.

Lost in the shuffle is the vote to raise the federal debt ceiling, which Trump’s Treasury officials say must occur before the August recess. House and Senate GOP leaders generally agree on the importance of raising the debt limit, which was breached in March, but they need Democratic votes to pass it. Delaying the debt ceiling vote has given Democrats more bargaining chips and more leverage, at least in the short term.

Summers in DC are always hot and muggy outside. They may not be much cooler inside.