This week: Democrats set to move health care, infrastructure proposals with eye on November
House Democrats are highlighting their own proposals on health care and infrastructure this week as they seek to build a contrast between themselves and President Trump and GOP lawmakers.
The House is set to vote on the two high-profile policy issues before leaving town for the two-week July 4 recess.
Neither of the measures is likely to be taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate, but they’ll give Democrats the chance to highlight their priorities as Washington increasingly turns its focus toward the November election.
First up, the House will vote on legislation to expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while steering clear of the Democratic debate over “Medicare for All” by avoiding any kind of public option.
The House will vote Monday on the measure, which includes Democratic priorities like expanding the health law’s subsidies to make premiums more affordable and increasing federal Medicaid funding to encourage the remaining states to expand Medicaid.
“Our Patient Protection Affordable Care Enhancement Act will lower health care costs, negotiate lower prices, expand coverage and push holdout states to adopt Medicaid expansion, combat inequity in health coverage, combat junk plans. The list goes on,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters last week.
The vote comes days after the administration argued in a legal brief filed to the Supreme Court that the ACA should be invalidated in its entirety.
Overturning the ACA would take away health insurance coverage for about 20 million people in the middle of the global pandemic sparked by the coronavirus.
The administration’s strategy immediately sparked new criticism from Democrats, who view health care as a potent political issue heading into November.
“Republicans remain unflinching in their cruel and callous campaign to eliminate Americans’ health care coverage, even as the country faces down the biggest global health crisis in recent history,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
The administration’s decision was also met by criticism from some Republicans, who are trying to hold on to their Senate majority.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who faces a difficult reelection bid, called it the “wrong policy at the worst possible time as our nation is in the midst of a pandemic.”
“The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land, and it is the Department of Justice’s duty to defend it,” she added.
Democrats will also vote on a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan before leaving Washington on Thursday, which would provide funding for transportation, the expansion of broadband and investments in schools and hospitals.
The bill would link transportation funding to states meeting certain guidelines for greenhouse gas emission goals and includes funding for public transportation, grants for zero-emissions buses and electrifying the postal service fleet.
The Senate will continue its work on a mammoth defense policy bill this week.
The Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed out of committee in a 25-2 vote earlier this month, authorizes $636.4 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $25.9 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy. It authorizes $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a war fund that isn’t subject to budget caps.
The Senate will vote to formally start debate on the bill on Monday night, but there have already been hundreds of potential amendments filed by senators. The NDAA, because of its must-pass status, is viewed as a conduit for other legislation.
The Senate’s debate is unlikely to be without controversy.
As part of the committee’s consideration of the bill, senators agreed, along a voice vote, to include language that states that within three years the Defense secretary “shall implement the plan submitted by the commission … and remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America … or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a proposal last week, which he has offered as an amendment to the NDAA, to try to get rid of that language from the defense bill. Senate Democrats introduced their own stand-alone bill to change the timeline for the Pentagon to implement the plan from three years to one.
Democrats have also introduced an amendment to require members of the military and other Defense Department law enforcement personnel to wear identifying information when carrying out crowd control, riot control or arresting individuals participating in a protest. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has also filed his legislation to limit the president’s authority to deploy active-duty troops under the Insurrection Act as an amendment to the defense bill.
The House is slated to take up legislation this week aimed at providing relief for homeowners and renters struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced on Friday.
The provisions in the bill were previously included in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which passed largely along party lines and is not being taken up in the Senate.
“This bill would authorize nearly $200 billion for the dire housing needs arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. H.R. 7301 which was included in the HEROES Act would help renters an homeowners by extending the eviction and foreclosure moratorium, provide $100 billion for emergency rental assistance and $75 billion for homeowners assistance to coverage mortgage, property tax, utilities and more than $11 billion for homeless assistance programs,” Hoyer said on the floor on Friday.
Meanwhile, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve’s response to the coronavirus. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell are scheduled to testify.
Under the March coronavirus stimulus bill both Mnuchin and Powell are required to testify before the panel on “the obligations of the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve System, and transactions entered into, under this [CARES] Act.” This hearing satisfies the statutory requirement,” according to a memorandum from committee staff.
Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on international pandemic preparedness and response and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on how to safely return to work and school.
Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is retiring at the end of the year, told CNN’s Manu Raju that he expected the amount of testing would be “going up four to five times by the fall so that schools and colleges that are planning to reopen will be able to have an adequate number of tests for systematic testing.”
Alexander also encouraged Trump to wear a mask, saying it would be “appropriate” and the “millions of Americans [who] admire him … would follow his lead.”
“There are times when he could wear a mask and the vice president could wear a mask. It would signal to the country that it is important to do so. It will help contain the disease because people admire him and will follow his lead. So I think it would be a sign of strength if he would, from time to time, wear a mask and remind everyone that it’s a good way to help deal with this disease,” Alexander added.
The House GOP’s Steering Committee is slated to meet on Monday afternoon to select the new ranking member for the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Reps. James Comer (Ky.), Jody Hice (Ga.) and Mark Green (Tenn.) are facing off in the race for the position, which was vacated by former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who left earlier this year to serve as Trump’s White House chief of staff.
Meadows was elected to fill the role as top Republican on the panel after Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was shifted to serve as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee following Rep. Doug Collins’s (R-Ga.) announcement that he was stepping down from the role to run for Senate.
Both Meadows and Jordan have served as some of Trump’s attack dogs in the House, a quality GOP leaders are looking to fill as they choose the next GOP leader for the panel.
— Peter Sullivan and Rebecca Beitsch contributed