Bipartisan group of lawmakers prioritize health care, tax reform on fall agenda

Bipartisan group of lawmakers prioritize health care, tax reform on fall agenda
© Greg Nash

A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate known as the Problem Solvers Caucus met Tuesday night to discuss the fall legislative agenda as Congress returned to Washington for the first time since the August recess.

Legislative items set for discussion included health care, taxes and how Congress will address the debt limit.

Caucus members also discussed the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation, which the Trump administration announced earlier it will rescind. 

About 45 lawmakers were in attendance, including eight senators, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Bipartisanship will be key for Congress to complete its lengthy September to-do list.

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Lawmakers are expected to pass aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey this week, with a possible debt limit vote attached given that the costs from the storm's damage are expected to move up the date when the U.S. hits its borrowing limit.

Congress must also pass a spending bill by the end of the month to avoid a government shutdown.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, led by Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), floated a proposal in late July making changes to the health-care law in order to stabilize insurance markets.

Their proposal would create a “stability fund” to help states reduce costs for people with pre-existing conditions; repeal a tax on medical devices; increase the threshold for the law’s employer mandate from 50 workers to less than 500; and guarantee federal payments to insurers to reduce the costs for low-income consumers.

The Trump administration has been making the insurer payments on a month-to-month basis, without a long-term decision on how long they will continue.

After the Senate GOP’s bill to partially repeal and replace ObamaCare failed in July, some lawmakers have suggested a bipartisan fix may be the best course of action available.

To that end, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Sen. 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.), is holding hearings this week with state insurance commissioners and bipartisan governors to discuss bipartisan proposals to stabilize the ObamaCare health exchanges.

Time is running out for Republicans to try to fulfill a seven-year pledge to repeal the health-care law. The reconciliation vehicle that Republicans were using to pass repeal by circumventing a Democratic filibuster will expire at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, according to the Senate parliamentarian.

Many Republicans have indicated a desire to move on to tax reform, an area that could more realistically attract bipartisan support.