House/Senate Action: Weeks of 1/13/14-1/26/14
The House will be in session Monday through Wednesday of next week.
The Senate will be in session Monday through Thursday of next week.
The President’s State of the Union Address will take place Tuesday evening at 9 PM. The House Republican retreat in Cambridge, Maryland will begin place the following day.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington – the
highest-ranking Republican woman in the Congress – will deliver the official Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address.
As he did last year, Sen. Rand Paul will offer his own response, via YouTube and other social media channels. And Sen. Mike Lee will offer a Tea Party response, sponsored by Tea Party Express.
Note: In recent weeks, we've heard a lot about the content of the President’s address, with much speculation indicating that he would again focus on income inequality. But in the last few days, the White House has been leaking information suggesting that because polling by outside allies shows that “income inequality” leads too many people to think he’s really talking about income redistribution (which he is), the language has been tweaked, and instead he’ll talk about “expanding ladders of opportunity,” which is language right out of the old Jack Kemp/Ronald Reagan playbook.
The House took up and passed H.R. 3362, the “Exchange Information and Disclosure Act,” requiring the Administration to provide regularly weekly updates on the status of the ObamaCare rollout. The measure passed by a vote of 259-154, with 33 Democrats joining 226 Republicans in support.
As we predicted two weeks ago, Senate Republicans – including the six who voted to proceed to consideration of the extension of emergency unemployment benefits – held firm in insisting that the $6.4 billion measure be paid for realistically. (You may recall, Majority Leader Harry Reid had offered to “pay for” the me asure by extending the Sequester for two more years – a joke of a “pay for” that the Senate GOP immediately rejected.) So far, there’s been no further movement.
As per the October agreement that reopened the federal government, the debt ceiling was suspended until February 7. That’s less than two weeks from now.
In the past, the Treasury has employed what it calls “extraordinary measures” to continue paying federal bills beyond the reaching of the national debt limit. In some cases, this ability has extended for literally months, and early projections this time around indicated that Treasury would be able to use these cash-management gimmicks to buy time through late spring – possibly as late as May or even early June. But February is typically a heavy deficit-spending month, as tax refunds are sent out by the Treasury, so Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to the Hill last Wednesday informing Congress that Treasury’s ability to use these “extraordinary measures” to continue paying federals bills will run out by the end of February, and, therefore, Congress must take action early next month. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell – no doubt influenced by the fact that he faces a competitive
primary challenge from his right in his reelection campaign – appeared on FOX News Sunday this morning to reiterate his insistence that any debt ceiling increase also include policy riders.
Meanwhile, House Republicans – led by Speaker Boehner – are on the same page, and continue to search for consensus in the House GOP Conference as to what those policy riders might be. Among the possibilities: repealing the “risk corridor” provisions in ObamaCare, to ensure that taxpayers are not stuck with the bill for a massive bailout of health insurance companies; approval of the Keystone XL pipeline; and repealing the medical device tax in ObamaCare.
The White House announced on Thursday that it would release the President’s budget proposal on March 4, roughly a month later than the February 9 deadline required under law. It attributed the delay to the December budget deal. News reports indicate his budget will propose higher taxes on wealthy Americans, and more spending on infrastructure and early education programs.
Meanwhile, there’s been some talk on Capitol Hill that Republicans in the House may decide not to propose and consider a budget for FY2015 at all. Near as I can tell, it’s coming from operatives at the National Republican Congressional Committee and associated consultants, who seem to think that taking votes on a GOP budget is unnecessary (since the budget deal concluded in December includes top-line spending guidelines for FY2015 already), so why risk giving Democrats campaign fodder?
Nevertheless, top House Republicans – including Speaker Boehner and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan – indicate that they plan to move a budget, as the law requires.
Week before last, a study by McKinsey & Co. revealed that the ObamaCare exchanges had made little progress in actually extending insurance to those who had previously been uninsured. In fact, according to the study, of the roughly 2.2 million people who had signed up for insurance on the federal and state exchanges through the end of December, only 11 percent had been previously uninsured. Those who failed to use the exchanges to enroll cited two big reasons – the high cost of insurance premiums (cited by 52%), and the difficulty of navigating the web sites (cited by 30%).
That same week, Gary Cohen, the director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at HHS, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that the back end of Healthcare.gov is still under construction, and he refused to pin down an estimated completion date. The “back end” is the automated system that sends payments to insurance companies after someone enrolls on one of the exchange web sites. Without this information, the insurance companies literally have no idea who’s enrolled, and who gets a subsidy. They’re flying blind.
Documents released by HHS last week show just how serious a problem this is – to justify firing CGI Federal (the main contractor on Healthcare.gov) and awarding the contract on a sole-source basis to Accenture, HHS revealed that they believe this problem puts “the entire health insurance industry at risk” … “potentially leading to their default and disrupting continued services and coverage to consumers.” Then the memo went even further, saying that if the problem isn’t fixed by mid-March, “they will result in financial harm to the government,” and went on to add that without the necessary fixes, “the entire health care reform program is jeopardized.”
Also that same week, Speaker Boehner announced that House Republicans would offer – and possibly vote on – a replacement for ObamaCare. That promises to be one of the main topics of conversation at the House Retreat that begins Wednesday.
Support for an alternative comes, generally, from the conservatives in the House GOP Conference, who want an issue agenda to run on, not just something to run against. And, as virtually always happens, the GOP consultant class, whose thinking generally runs along the lines of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” opposes them. These consultants see a continued bad economy and a continued disastrous rollout for ObamaCare as their tickets to victory in the 2014 midterm elections, and they seek to minimize opportunities for the Democrats to turn things around.
As we discussed in our call two weeks ago, House Republican leaders have begun quietly circulating a set of principles on immigration reform that includes a proposal to offer legal status to illegal immigrants. Their thinking is simple – no one believes you can round up and deport 11 million illegal immigrants, so we’ve got to find a way to create a legal status for them short of citizenship.
We expect the one-page document will be released at the House GOP Retreat later this week.
The new principles will envision a legal process by which illegal immigrants can admit guilt and pay fines and any back taxes, and then gain the right to live and work in the U.S. and travel abroad. It will insist that no legalization provisions take effect until border security and other enforcement measures are in place, sources familiar with the draft said.
Unlike under the Senate bill, they will not automatically qualify for citizenship – what critics call a
"special path." But legislation being crafted by Republican lawmakers, apparently with the support of House leaders, would let newly legalized immigrants apply for legal permanent residence, also known as a green card, using the pathways available to anyone else. And here’s the problem for us – once someone has a green card, he or she is eligible to apply for citizenship.
Some House conservatives are planning to introduce their own alternative immigration proposal, which will focus on enforcement of current laws and providing economic assistance to unemployed citizens before providing legal status to illegal immigrants. The alternatives being circulated properly take note of the fact that the White House- and Senate-approved legislation isn’t problematic just because it creates an amnesty for the illegal immigrants who are already here, but it drastically increases the number of foreign unskilled guest workers who could be imported, which would depress wages across the board.
On Thursday, 15 of these conservative House Republicans met with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to discuss ways to block the House GOP Leadership’s efforts.
As a reminder, Tea Party Patriots put our own principles for immigration reform last summer. They can be found by clicking on this link. Stay tuned as this plays out.