This week: GOP tries to move ahead with ObamaCare repeal

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House Republicans who have so far kept a tight lid on their plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare could move forward with the first public markups on their proposals this week.

Some fellow GOP lawmakers have been upset with the lack of transparency with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s draft bill, which is apparently being limited to private viewings for certain members.

The secrecy set off stunts by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Democratic lawmakers who searched, with reporters in tow, for the rumored mystery room in the Capitol where the draft bill is being kept. 

{mosads}The House Energy and Commerce Committee has not announce any markup yet, but one could occur in the coming days.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) downplayed the notion the committee keeping lawmakers in the dark, saying the panel is adhering to a “regular process of keeping its members up to speed on latest developments.”

But one member of the committee, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), said the markup might go forward before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has time to estimate its cost and how many people would lose or gain health insurance coverage. 

Democrats have accused the GOP of trying to hide its plans from the public, noting that they spent months holding hearings and multi-day markups before sending healthcare reform legislation to the floor in 2009.

“Maybe it’s no surprise that Republicans are hiding this bill,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in the weekly Democratic address. “If Washington Republicans thought their plan would get praise, they’d let in the cameras.”

Some details of possible provisions in the draft GOP repeal-and-replace plan have leaked to the media, including a proposal to exclude the wealthy from tax credits to help people buy health insurance. 

Republicans are under a self-imposed tight schedule to repeal ObamaCare. 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)—the No. 2 Senate Republican—said that the Senate will take up and pass the House bill by April 7, when Congress leaves for a two week Easter recess. 

“No, we’re working with the House. The goal is for the House to pass a bill that we can then take up and pass here in the Senate,” Cornyn told The Hill, when asked if Senate Republicans were working on their own plan. 

Senate Republicans have a narrow margin to get repeal legislation through the upper chamber, and multiple GOP senators are signaling that they aren’t yet sold on the forthcoming House bill. 

GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Ted Cruz (Texas) said last week that they would demand “full repeal” of the Affordable Care Act with the 2015 repeal bill as a “bare minimum” for what Republicans should do now that they have a president who will sign the legislation. 

“It is already bad enough that it appears House leadership wants us to settle for ‘Obamacare Lite,’ but now we can’t even expect full transparency during the process,” Paul said in a statement. 

Paul’s hunt for the House bill, copy machine in tow, garnered scores of media attention and spawned a parody Twitter account for the copy machine. 

If Paul, Lee and Cruz vote together they have the ability sink any ObamaCare repeal bill that they oppose. Republicans have a 52-seat majority and can only afford to lose two GOP senators if they want to pass the bill. No Democrats are expected to vote for repeal.

But the 2015 legislation could spark backlash from some moderate Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), because it cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. 

Some centrist Republicans are also raising concerns about what a repeal will mean for ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion in their home states. 

Defense spending, lawsuit reform

With seven weeks to go before a major government funding deadline, the House on Wednesday will take up the first spending bill of 2017. 

The House will consider a $578 billion measure providing funds for defense programs through the rest of the current fiscal year. Lawmakers are hoping to pass it quickly so they can move on to a pending supplemental defense funding request and the budget for fiscal 2018.

Congress faces an April 28 deadline to keep the entire federal government funded, but isn’t expected to consider each of the 11 remaining individual appropriations bills by then.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged at a Capitol press conference last week that “we don’t have the time” to take up that many appropriations measures by the end of next month and still deal with all of the House GOP’s other policy priorities. That means an all-encompassing “omnibus” package or some version of it is likely. 

The defense spending bill is expected to be approved on a largely bipartisan basis, since it adheres to the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill signed into law late last year under then-President Obama.

Spending for defense programs is being prioritized by lawmakers because they say the Pentagon should have budget certainty as soon as possible. Like the rest of the federal government, the Pentagon is currently running on spending levels from fiscal 2016. That’s because Congress passed a short-term stopgap measure at the end of last year.

“The reason we think we need to move defense as quickly as possible is a continuing resolution is uniquely bad for the military,” Ryan said. “They need to have the flexibility through an appropriations bill that you don’t have in a continuing resolution to be able to customize what they need. Whether it’s supplies, munitions, bullets, missiles, you name it.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said it was “disappointing” the defense spending bill wasn’t moving forward until more than five months into the 2017 fiscal year. But she otherwise didn’t express objections to the bill itself. 

The House is also expected to take up three litigation reform bills this week. They would ensure that only similarly injured parties can be in the same class in a class-action lawsuit, create a uniform standard to determine whether a defendant fraudulently joined a lawsuit, and sanction lawyers for filing baseless lawsuits.

“Our federal litigation system is plagued with broken rules that unnecessarily harm American businesses and consumers. With these measures, we will follow through on our pledge to take on trial lawyers and crack down on lawsuit abuse through meaningful litigation reform,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.

‘Blacklisting rule’

The Senate is poised to continue dismantling Obama-era regulations. 

Senators will vote Monday on repealing the Labor Department’s so-called blacklisting rule, which requires federal contractors to disclose proven or alleged labor violations from the last three years when bidding on contracts over $500,000. 

The Senate took a party-line vote on Thursday afternoon to lay the groundwork for nixing the regulation. 

Under the Congressional Review Act, Republicans can overturn some late-term Obama-era regulations with only a simple majority and without Democratic support. 

Proponents argue the rule helps the federal government from awarding lucrative contracts to companies that treat their employees poorly. But critics argue that the rule subjects companies to unfair pressure from unions.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — referred to the rule as “federally sanctioned blackmail.”

The House already voted to roll back the rule. If it passes the Senate as expected it would then to Trump’s desk for his signature. 

The resolution of disapproval is one of approximately 10 that have passed the House and are now awaiting action in the upper chamber. Other proposals the Senate could take up includes resolutions to overturn a Labor Department rule on drug testing and Education Department guidelines on teacher preparedness. 

Peter Sullivan contributed.

Tags Chris Murphy John Cornyn Mike Lee Paul Ryan Rand Paul Ron Johnson Susan Collins Ted Cruz

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