This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform
© Greg Nash

Republicans are set to take their first legislative steps this week to advance tax reform, days after the clock ran out for plans to fulfill their pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

The House is set to vote this week on a fiscal 2018 budget, which will pave the way for Republicans to pass tax reform by a simple majority and avoid a Democratic filibuster.

The House Budget Committee advanced the budget in July, but it lacked the votes to pass on the floor due to reluctance from conservative Freedom Caucus members to move forward without a tax reform blueprint.

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House and Senate GOP leaders last week unveiled their tax reform framework crafted with the White House, which received widespread support from Freedom Caucus members.

“Our Republican budget balances within 10 years, provides for a strong national defense, eliminates burdensome regulations, and cracks down on waste, fraud, and abuse. Passing this budget will also enable tax reform, which is the key to economic growth and seeing that Americans take home more of their hard-earned dollars,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said while announcing the vote.

The House budget would increase military spending and call for $203 billion in mandatory spending cuts, mostly to anti-poverty and agriculture programs, over the next decade.

The budget relies on certain assumptions in order to calculate that it will balance in 10 years, but none are guaranteed to actually happen. Economist say, for example, that it is unrealistic to assume that the economy will grow at an average rate of 2.6 percent over the next decade.

Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziGOP senators ask Trump for meeting on biofuels mandate Senate budget just the latest attack on seniors Week ahead: GOP's next steps on tax reform | Fed chief speculation heats up | Senate to vote on disaster relief MORE (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, released his version of the fiscal year 2018 budget on Friday. The panel is expected to mark it up on Wednesday and Thursday, with a full Senate vote expected in mid-October.

The Senate GOP budget paves the way for $1.15 trillion in tax cuts. It excludes instructions for the Senate Health Committee, suggesting Republicans are punting on a large-scale repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But it does include a "reserve fund" in case a committee decides to tackle some elements of repeal, though lawmakers have appeared skeptical of linking health care and tax reform.

Some major differences between the House and Senate GOP budgets will have to be reconciled before tax reform can move forward.

The Senate budget would cut non-defense spending starting in 2019 and result in up to $106 billion by 2027. It would also only cut mandatory spending by $1 billion, compared to the House version’s $203 billion.

For now, House Republicans agree on the need to get started on tax reform. Faced with a dearth of major legislative accomplishments after nine months with across-the-board control of government, GOP leaders are aiming for an ambitious timeline of finishing tax reform by the end of the year.

20-week abortion ban

The House will vote Tuesday on legislation, titled the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” that would ban abortion after 20 weeks.

The bill's consideration comes as anti-abortion groups fume over the GOP’s failure to defund Planned Parenthood as part of an effort to repeal ObamaCare.

The vehicle originally envisioned by Republicans to repeal and replace the health care law under special budgetary rules that prevent a filibuster expired on Saturday, the end of the fiscal year.

Advocacy groups opposed to abortion now want the measure that the GOP is using for tax reform for the next fiscal year in order to defund Planned Parenthood.

In the meantime, the House will consider the 20-week abortion ban that is again expected to be blocked by Senate Democrats like it was in 2015.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksAdoption tax credit restored after conservative backlash Push to restore adoption credit gains steam Flake's exit gives GOP new hope in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.), would make performing or attempting an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy punishable by a fine, up to five years in prison, or both. It contains exceptions for rape, incest or if the woman’s life is in danger.

It is expected to pass largely along party lines. In the 2015 vote, only four Democrats and four Republicans defected from their parties.

DACA

The Senate is poised to dig into the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children to live and work without the threat of deportation. 

The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday with officials from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security on the move to wind down the Obama-era program.

The hearing comes as lawmakers are grappling with how to pass a legislative fix for DACA. Current DACA recipients whose work permits expire before early March face a Thursday deadline to submit applications for renewal.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump is right: The visa lotto has got to go Schumer predicts bipartisan support for passing DACA fix this year No room for amnesty in our government spending bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are publicly doubling down on the plan supported by many Democrats and outside activists of passing the DREAM Act.

"This is not, and should not be, a partisan or political issue. Congress has a duty, and an obligation, to protect these Dreamers. We are ready to work with Republicans to get the bipartisan DREAM Act signed into law," Schumer and Pelosi wrote in a CNN op-ed.

Schumer and Pelosi announced earlier this month that they had gotten a deal with Trump to negotiate an agreement that paired a DACA fix with tougher border security measures.

But Schumer acknowledged late last week that the talks were slow going.

"Now they haven't negotiated much since then and [President Trump] got a load of blowback from the right wing. ... We're trying to get those negotiations going again," Schumer told Pod Save America, a podcast run by former Obama staffers.

Republicans have largely dismissed passing the DREAM Act, and are floating alternative bills that could be paired up with a border security package.

GOP Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP senators raise concerns over tax plan Cornyn: Senate tax vote likely after Thanksgiving Senate GOP reveals different approach on tax reform MORE (Okla.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell: 'I don't hear much pressure' to pass bill protecting Mueller from Trump Trump, GOP senators: No DACA deal in spending bill Senators back Trump's call to end visa lottery program MORE (N.C.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchRead Senate GOP's tax bill Senate panel to start tax bill markup on Monday Senate set for clash with House on tax bill MORE (Utah) introduced legislation that they are pitching as a “conservative” alternative to the DREAM Act.

Bipartisan insurance deal

Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderObamaCare becomes political weapon for Democrats Senate passes resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training Sen. Warren sold out the DNC MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayA bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Overnight Health Care: ObamaCare sign-ups surge in early days Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (D-Wash.) are zeroing in on a deal aimed at stabilizing the individual health insurance market after the latest GOP effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare failed.

Schumer said late last week that both senators had indicated to him that they were close to an agreement.

“They both inform me that they're on the verge of an agreement, a bipartisan health care agreement to stabilize markets and lower premiums,” the Democratic leader said from the Senate floor.

The deal would provide ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. The Trump administration has repeatedly flirted with canceling the payments in an effort to make the Affordable Care Act “explode.”

Republicans, in return, are expected to get more flexibility for individuals to buy so-called “cooper plans”—which would include less coverage but are cheaper—and more flexibility for state waivers.

Even if Alexander and Murray, who have a history of negotiating deals together, are able to reach an agreement they would need to win over the majority of the Senate, the House and the White House—where leadership has been skeptical they could get behind an agreement they believe helps prop up ObamaCare.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it Anti-gay marriage county clerk Kim Davis to seek reelection in Kentucky MORE (R-Texas) appeared to take a preemptive swing at any potential deal on Friday, saying he couldn’t vote to “bailout” insurance companies.

“It would be a serious mistake to bail out insurance companies, rather than provide relief to the millions of Americans who are hurting under Obamacare," Cruz said in a statement.

FCC nominee

The Senate is poised to reconfirm Ajit Pai to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Pai cleared a procedural hurdle late last week in a 55-41 vote, with Democratic Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate confirms top air regulator at EPA Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick Overnight Energy: Senators grill Trump environmental pick | EPA air nominee heads to Senate floor | Feds subpoena ex-Trump adviser over biofuels push MORE (Del.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMcConnell: 'I don't hear much pressure' to pass bill protecting Mueller from Trump Bipartisan lawmakers can rebuild trust by passing infusion therapy bill Democrats double down on calls for Congress to protect Mueller MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell A bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic Homeland Security members request additional DHS nominee testimony Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick Steve Israel: ‘We had a better time at the DMZ than we’re going to have tonight’ MORE (Mo.), Gary PetersGary Charles PetersGOP tax bill has transportation advocates scrambling GOP tax bill ends electric vehicle tax credit, overhauls other energy taxes Cities grapple with how to protect soft targets from new attacks MORE (Mich.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell No room for amnesty in our government spending bill Trump bank nominee gets rough reception at confirmation hearing MORE (Mont.) joining Republicans to end debate on his nomination.

A final vote is scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m., where Pai will need the support of 51 senators.

Democrats have urged their colleagues to oppose Pai’s nomination because of his opposition to the Obama-era net neutrality rules and his deregulatory record.

Pai, who was tapped by President Trump in January to lead the FCC, is pushing through a repeal of the 2015 net neutrality rules, which require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally.

– Niv Elis contributed