The Senate will delay its August recess, the shape of a revamped GOP health care bill was released and Republicans said they would include funding for President Trump’s border wall in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. And another shoe dropped on the ongoing story of Trump team collusion with Russians in the 2016 presidential election.
It was quite a beginning to a week after Members of Congress returned from their July 4 break.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the senatorial August recess would be delayed until the third week of the month to allow time to consider legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare and confirm presidential nominees. The lack of major legislative victories prompted several members of the Senate GOP caucus to urge McConnell to shrink the month-long August recess.
The Republican bill to replace Obamacare will be released later this week and, according to McConnell, voted on next week. However, its basic outline surfaced today. Senior Republicans said the Medicaid cuts in the earlier version would remain. What’s different will be retaining at least two of Obamacare’s taxes – the 3.8 percent investment tax and 0.9 percent Medicare surtax on upper-income earners – to boost the amount available by $230 billion for tax credits to push down premium costs – and woo wavering Republican colleagues.
They also said an alternative version pushed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, which would allow insurers to sell bare-bones policies, could be an amendment that is considered. Neither the emerging GOP health care plan or the Cruz amendment will have scoring from the Congressional Budget Office until early next week.
At least two Republican senators – Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins – gave reactions to the media that didn’t sound like they had been convinced by the changes in the bill. If McConnell loses another Republican vote, the bill can’t pass.
Democrats, including Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, have urged McConnell to ditch the current GOP approach and engage in bipartisan negotiations. Wyden expressed willigness to find ways to bolster the individual health insurance market and the health exchanges. He also said pressure on insurance premiums could be relieved by pursuing strategies to curb the price of prescription drugs. Trump and, later, Vice President Mike Pence have suggested repealing Obamacare now with an effective date in 2020 to allow more time to reach a consensus on how to replace it.
GOP leaders signaled their FY18 budget will contain funding for Trump’s controversial border wall. Before the July 4 congressional break, conservative Republican lawmakers threaten to vote against any budget without funding for the wall. Now the political calculus may change with Democrats refusing to back a budget containing wall funding.
Nobody mentioned voting to raise the debt ceiling, which was breached in March. Instead, McConnell and other GOP Senate leaders deplored Democratic foot-dragging on confirming Trump administration nominees. According to The Washington Post, there are 145 formally submitted Trump nominations pending in the Senate. Only 48 Trump nominees have been confirmed, but Trump’s team has failed to submit a nominee for 382 of 564 key federal appointed positions.
President Obama by the same time in his first year in office had 200 of his nominees confirmed, with another 151 awaiting confirmation by the Senate. The average confirmation time for Obama nominees was 37 days, compared to an average of 44 days for Trump nominees.
The big news of the week, however, will probably be the release of an email string by Donald Trump Jr. that shows he agreed to meet last June with a Russian attorney after being lured by the promise of sensitive material detrimental to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The emails indicate the material was from the Russian government and was intended to boost Trump’s candidacy.
Trump Jr. says no material was transmitted at the meeting, which Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort also attended, but critics and some legal experts say that may be irrelevant. They noted it is illegal to solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals, which presumably would include politically embarrassing dirt on an opponent. Some of the reactions on Capitol Hill ranged from calling the younger Trump’s behavior “problematic” to stronger references that included “treason.” Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the emails remove any question about whether there was collusion between Trump and Russian officials and leave it to all Members of Congress to find out the extent of the collusion.
Hanging over congressional Republicans is the nightmarish possibility of heading home later this summer with no major legislative victories, little progress on priorities such as tax cuts and infrastructure investment and a president under siege. Trump officials said they won’t submit a tax proposal until September and details of an infrastructure package until next year.