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 SessionsPress: Ukraine's not the only outrage To understand death behind bars, we need more information White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations MORE faced a tough grilling from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

 

THE BIG STORY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Fireworks on health care expected at Dem debate | Trump FDA pick dodges on vaping ban | Trump to host meeting on youth vaping Friday | AMA calls for immediate vaping ban GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal 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 TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE 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.

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"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 ThuneSenators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Tensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' Overnight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul 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 Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Overnight Energy: Mark Ruffalo pushes Congress on 'forever chemicals' | Lawmakers spar over actor's testimony | House Dems unveil renewable energy tax plan | Funding for conservation program passes Senate hurdle Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump FDA pick dodges questions on Trump's flavored vape ban Overnight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures 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 CicillineHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Top antitrust Dem presses DOJ, FTC on Google's Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks 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 ConyersThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems release first transcripts from impeachment probe witnesses Hispanic Caucus dedicates Day of the Dead altar to migrants who died in US custody Today On Rising: The media beclowns themselves on Baghdadi 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 DeVosEducation Department releases wage, debt data for specific college majors DeVos forgives 1,500 student loans amid federal lawsuit Warren campaign launches 'a calculator for the billionaires' after Gates criticism 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 DeLauroCongress feels heat to act on youth vaping Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule On The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm 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 BanksGeorge (David) David BanksOvernight Energy: House energy panel to address climate change at first hearing | DOJ investigating whether Zinke lied to watchdog | Landmark greenhouse gas agreement takes effect Novel international greenhouse gas commitment goes into effect White House nominating new science adviser with extreme-weather background MORE, 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 RossHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal Trump administration begins issuing licenses for sales to Huawei MORE to determine if he is following the department's ethics requirements.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanHillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Senate Democrats urge DHS to fund cyber threat information-sharing programs Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars MORE (N.H.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (N.J.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Hillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Senate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill MORE (Wash.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote MORE (Wis.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDuckworth celebrates Veterans Day with deported veterans in Mexico Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect military families from deportation Nuclear command nominee sidesteps questions on arms control treaties 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)