Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule

Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Tuesday night in Washington, where the Senate Republican tax bill is expected to include a repeal of ObamaCare's individual mandate, and where Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE faced a tough grilling from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

 

THE BIG STORY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that the Senate tax bill will include language to repeal ObamaCare's individual mandate. The move had been pushed by President Trump and some conservative senators, but could make it tougher for moderate Republicans to support the tax bill.

McConnell told reporters that adding the individual mandate repeal will make it easier to muster 50 votes to pass the bill.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We're optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful and that's obviously the view of the Senate Finance Committee Republicans as well," McConnell said.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (S.D.), the Senate's No. 3 Republican, told reporters there has been a whip count and he is confident Republicans can pass a tax bill that includes a measure to repeal the mandate.

Why would they do this? While conservatives have been pushing for a mandate repeal, leadership had previously been worried about complicating their tax bill. But they need the money. Repealing the mandate will raise an estimated $300 billion to $400 billion over the next year that could be used to pay for lowering individual and business tax rates even further.

Will moderates get on board? Multiple GOP senators said that nobody openly objected when the idea was presented during their weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday afternoon. And a bipartisan market stabilization bill from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Wash.) might be used to entice some moderate votes.

Peter Sullivan has the full rundown here.

 

ON TAP FOR WEDNESDAY

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider legislation that would open the door to drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on "reducing air emissions through innovation."

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee holds a hearing on Trump administration nominees, including Kate O'Scannlain to be the Labor Department's solicitor and Preston Rutledge to be assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

The House Oversight Committee hears "recommendations and reforms" from inspectors general from the Peace Corps, Justice Department, and Department of Homeland Security.

The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on bills for the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will take up legislation to delay new rules on brick makers.

 

REGULATORY ROUNDUP

Technology: Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday refused to say whether he has discussed the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger with anyone at the White House.

"I'm not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House," he said in response to a question from Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineOvernight Tech: FCC won't delay net neutrality vote | Google pulls YouTube from Amazon devices | Biden scolds social media firms over transparency Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule AT&T wants to probe Trump's role in Time Warner merger: report MORE (D-R.I.) at a Tuesday House Judiciary Committee meeting.

The White House and Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, have both denied that there has been any interference in the merger negotiations.

According to multiple news reports that emerged last week, the Justice Department's antitrust division had demanded that AT&T and Time Warner sell off CNN in order to get their merger approved. CNN is a Time Warner subsidiary and a frequent target of President Trump who claims its coverage is biased.

Earlier in Tuesday's hearing, Sessions declined to comment on the merger discussions but threw doubt on the reports.

Harper Neidig has the story here.

 

More merger news: Two top House Judiciary Committee Democrats are pushing their panel to hold a hearing examining the White House's role in what they call a "troubling pattern of potential political interference by President Trump" in the Department of Justice's (DOJ) review of AT&T's merger with Time Warner.

DOJ sources recently said that antitrust officials had rejected an offer from AT&T to divest from CNN in order to win approval for the $85 billion deal. AT&T officials flatly denied that the offer was ever on the table -- or would be.

The top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersAbortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Democrats turn on Al Franken Michigan state senator to run for Congress MORE Jr. (Mich), and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) expressed their concern with Trump's possible involvement, noting that he "has repeatedly criticized CNN for the nature of its coverage of him." In their letter, the lawmakers also highlighted Trump's tweets disparaging CNN as "#FakeNews."

Ali Breland has the details here.

 

Also on the merger: AT&T also reportedly wants to investigate if the White House influenced the Justice Department's review of its merger with Time Warner should the pending deal fail.

Sources told Bloomberg that AT&T will seek court approval to access communications between the Justice Department (DOJ) and the White House if the administration sues to block the deal.

More from Ali Breland here.

 

Education: Democrats are pressing Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosTrump considering spy network to combat 'deep state' enemies: Intercept Bharara, Yates top Twitter list of most followed new political accounts GOP higher-ed bill would eliminate Obama rule on career-prep programs MORE for more transparency as her department rewrites an Obama-era rule that could put predatory schools on the hook to repay unfair student loans.

In a letter to DeVos on Tuesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroGOP could punt funding fight to January Overnight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule Dems call on DeVos to make rewrite of student protection rule public MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said they are "deeply concerned" about the lack of full transparency surrounding the borrower defense to repayment rule.

DeVos announced plans in June to redo the rule, which was aimed at better protecting student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices. The rule would have created consistent, clear, and transparent procedures to file claims.

DeLauro and Murray said the department created a subcommittee on financial responsibility and solicited nominations from individuals with expertise in financial accounting standards. But they say the department decided, without any stated reason or legal rationale, that subcommittee meetings will not be open to the public.

Read Lydia Wheeler's story for more.

 

Transportation: Federal investigators ripped Amtrak on Tuesday for its poor safety culture, which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed for a deadly train crash that killed two workers near Philadelphia last year.

The safety board held a hearing in Washington to discuss the probable cause of the incident, in which an Amtrak engineer struck a piece of construction equipment parked on the tracks.

The train derailed, killing two employees who were working on the track bed and injuring dozens of passengers.

During the hearing, the NTSB slammed Amtrak for failing to randomly drug test employees, consistently use safety equipment and ensure communication among its employees during shift changes -- all of which the panel said could have prevented the fatal crash.

Melanie Zanona has the full story here.

 

Environment:  President Trump's chief official at the United Nations climate summit said Tuesday his top priority at the meeting is ensuring all nations, including large polluters such as China, play the same role in international climate change deals.

"We want to make sure that we do what we can to avoid bifurcation," George David Banks, Trump's special assistant for international energy and environment, told reporters in Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday, according to Climate Home News.

"Bifurcation is a major flaw in the framework convention, and we certainly don't want to see it in the Paris agreement," he said. "So I would say that's probably the No. 1 priority."

Banks is referring to the structure of the underlying international deal setting the course for United Nations work on the climate.

That agreement includes different classes of countries, with major economies -- such as the United States -- committing to work more aggressively to address climate change than other nations.

The Paris deal does not present that format. Instead, nations agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as they determine they can.

Devin Henry has the story here.

 

Administration: President Trump will nominate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting Director Thomas Homan as his pick to permanently lead the agency, the White House announced Tuesday.

Trump appointed Homan as acting ICE director after taking office in January. The Senate must still hold confirmation hearings and approve his nomination to serve in the role permanently.

Homan has served with the agency for three decades, including time spent in Dallas and San Antonio as an immigration officer.

Brett Samuels has the rest of the story.

 

Finance: A group of Senate Democrats want the Commerce Department's top watchdog to launch an investigation into Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOvernight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Wilbur Ross sued by former colleagues Bloomberg drops estimate of Commerce secretary's wealth to 0M MORE to determine if he is following the department's ethics requirements.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDemocrats turn on Al Franken The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (N.H.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Dems put hold on McFarland nomination over contradictory testimony: report Corker: McFarland's nomination 'frozen' over contradictions in her testimony MORE (N.J.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments Live coverage: Senate Republicans pass tax bill MORE (Wash.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDemocrats turn on Al Franken The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (Wis.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Dems resurface Flynn's 'lock her up' comments after Mueller charges Watchdog says agents violated court orders in initial travel ban rollout: report MORE (Ill.) sent a letter to Peggy Gustafson, the inspector general of the Commerce Department, asking that she open an investigation into Ross's compliance.

The senators' request includes asking the inspector general to determine the "true value" of Ross's personal wealth, if he has complied with his ethics agreement including divesting his assets, if the agreement is adequate and if senior Commerce Department officials have been allowed to serve despite conflicts of interest.

Jordain Carney has more here.

 

Elsewhere in the news:

Determining the threshold at which large banks face higher regulation (The Wall Street Journal)

HHS nominee oversaw big drug price increases at Eli Lilly (The Wall Street Journal)

FDA chief warns about kratom to treat opioid addiction; will seek more regulatory power (USA Today)

US banking regulator cautions against regulatory rollback (Reuters)

Volkswagen agrees to pay $69M to settle New Jersey emissions suits (Reuters)

 

Send tips, story ideas and your favorite cover of "Crazy Train" to nweixel@thehill.com and follow me on Twitter @NateWeixel