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 EnziProgressives seek defense freeze in budget talks Five takeaways from Trump's budget Trump releases budget calling for 5 percent cuts in domestic spending 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 FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership 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 SchumerWhy we need to build gateway now Campaign to draft Democratic challenger to McConnell starts raising funds Schumer congratulates J. Lo and A-Rod, but says 'I'm never officiating a wedding again' 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 eye 'nuclear' move to change rules on Trump nominees Senate GOP goes down to wire in showdown with Trump Overnight Defense: Pentagon seeks B over five years for Space Force | Trump says Warmbier comments 'misinterpreted' | GOP bristles at Trump plan to pay for wall MORE (Okla.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRepublicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP 12 Republican senators defy Trump on emergency declaration  MORE (N.C.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchNY's political prosecution of Manafort should scare us all Congress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders The FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate MORE (Utah) introduced legislation that they are pitching as a “conservative” alternative to the DREAM Act.

Bipartisan insurance deal

Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Trump issues first veto, warning of 'reckless' resolution Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayJury orders Johnson & Johnson to pay M to woman who claimed baby powder gave her cancer Overnight Health Care - Presented by Kidney Care Partners - FDA chief Scott Gottlieb resigns | House Dems to take up drug pricing bills next week | Planned Parenthood, doctors group sue over Trump abortion rule Insurance group urges Congress to boost ObamaCare subsidies 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 CruzO'Rourke faces pressure from left on 'Medicare for all' O'Rourke not planning, but not ruling out big fundraisers O'Rourke: Being a white male not a disadvantage in 2020 Dem field 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 CarperDems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Lobbying world Koch-backed group pushes for new limits on Trump's tariff authority MORE (Del.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain Sixteen years later, let's finally heed the call of the 9/11 Commission  Senate Dems introduce bill demanding report on Khashoggi killing MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Murkowski, Manchin call for 'responsible solutions' to climate change Trump formally taps David Bernhardt to succeed Zinke at Interior MORE (W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 MORE (Mo.), Gary PetersGary Charles PetersDems seeking path to Senate majority zero-in on Sun Belt Lawmakers push to award Aretha Franklin the Congressional Gold Medal Congress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump MORE (Mich.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSanders, Ocasio-Cortez back 'end the forever war' pledge Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ White House pleads with Senate GOP on emergency declaration 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