Federal Relations

May 30, 2017

Memorial Day Recess, Health Care & Tax Reform Slowly Move, Omnibus Already?

The House and Senate are in recess to observe Memorial Day this week. Members returned to their home districts to work as efforts continue behind the scenes in DC on health care and tax reform.

Health care continues to be a big unknown in the Senate. According to the most recent impact analysis released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the amendments to the AHCA do little to improve the bill. The AHCA would lead to 14 million people without insurance in 2018 and 23 million uninsured in 2025. The bill also hurts the Medicaid program, cutting $834 billion over 10 years.

The bill is now with the Senate where various Senate Republicans have indicated that any health care measure will undergo a dramatic overhaul in the coming weeks. Senate Republicans ca not ignore CBO completely — they have to pay attention to the cost estimates to make sure they comply with budget rules.

A specific timeline for the bill has not yet been set or made public. Currently, Senate staffers are drafting legislation intended to jump-start conversation when the Senate reconvenes next week.

House and Senate leaders and the White House going to try to put their heads together and cook up a single tax plan – instead of allowing each chamber to craft its own bills, like Republicans are doing now on health care and as happened with the 1986 tax revamp. However, the timeline to accomplish reform is slipping due to several factors (including the need to raise the debt ceiling much earlier than previously anticipated) and a failure to reach consensus about what provisions should actually change. All politicians hate the tax code, but there is not agreement on which provisions exactly what they hate. Voters gripe about complexity but are opposed to losing any breaks that benefit them.

Looming over tax reform is federal government’s need to raise the debt ceiling now, several months before Congress was prepared to act. At the beginning of 2017, Treasury estimated that the Department could use extraordinary measures until the Fall so that the federal government could continue to operate.

Now, senior White House officials are requesting Congress address and raise the debt ceiling prior to the August Recess. The request sets up a potentially monumental political fight. It is something that will not just be a fight between Republicans and Democrats but within each of the parties. The GOP is torn over whether to combine spending cuts with the debt ceiling lift, and Senate Democrats are already signaling they may push for their own concessions since their votes are going to be needed to avoid a devastating government default.

Rumor of the Week! House Appropriators are floating the idea of passing a 12- bill omnibus before the August Recess. Such a move would certainly accelerate the FY 2018 process, which is significantly behind this cycle due to the late completion of the FY 2017 appropriations in May. To complete such a package would put tremendous pressure on the House Appropriations committee to craft, mark up and combine all 12 bills (none of which are currently in public draft form) and would be a significant accomplishment if any of the bills were already available. FY 2018 begins October 1 and right now, lawmakers have just 12 legislative days planned when both chambers will be in session in September. Stay tuned!!