An expected push for a vote this week in the Senate on a GOP bill that overhauls the Obama health law seems to be on hold now because of a major health issue for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), as President Donald Trump’s agenda continues to need a jump start from both the House and Senate, with legislative stumbling blocks in the way of health care, a budget blueprint, next year’s government funding bills and much more.
Here’s the latest on where things stand in the Congress:
1. Health care on hold in the Senate. If you tuned out this weekend from political news, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announced on Saturday night that he had a blood clot removed from just above one of his eyes; his office said the Arizona Republican would be staying in his district to deal with further medical treatment. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but since every single vote counts for the GOP on health care, the Republicans can’t move forward on that bill until McCain returns – and even then, there might be problems. But for now, the word is that the Senate debate on health care won’t start on Wednesday as originally planned by GOP leaders, and no CBO score of the newly refined Republican plan is now expected to be released on Monday. But all of that is subject to change. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says in the meantime, the Senate will keep working on legislation and nominations from President Trump – and health care is on hold.
2. Even if McCain returns, health care is no gimme. Republican leaders in the Senate now have some more time for arm twisting, and it is focused on a series of GOP Senators who remain undecided on the revised GOP bill: Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia seem to be the most important votes. Also making some rumblings has been Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. If language designed by Cruz on selling health insurance plans that cover less options (and therefore cost less) is stricken from the bill, then the votes of Lee and Cruz could be in jeopardy as well. Two GOP Senators have said they will vote against starting debate – Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and neither seems to be someone who will change their stance. At this point, the GOP cannot afford to lose another vote in the Senate on health care.
3. Budget resolution remains uncertain in House. Republicans in the House will try again this week to get a budget blueprint for 2018 through the House Budget Committee. On Friday, the House GOP leadership promised it would happen, but the chair of that panel wasn’t so sure. (Now on Monday morning, a committee session has been scheduled on Wednesday.) The internal wrangling over this non-binding measure has been going on for weeks, as Republicans have not been able to agree on how to set the outlines of next year’s funding plans for the government, along with any reductions in mandatory spending programs. This is the legislative vehicle that will be used to authorize work on a tax reform bill in the Congress under budget reconciliation – if you can’t pass it through a House committee, then you aren’t going to be bringing up a tax reform bill for a vote later on this year. Remember – the budget resolution is supposed to be done by April 15 – not April of next year, but April 15, 2017. That’s how far behind the GOP is on the budget for 2018. And if you hear Republicans talking about tax reform – they can’t have votes on that any time soon.
4. No funding bills leads to Omnibus speculation. When House members left the Capitol on Friday, there was talk that in the last week of July, GOP leaders might lump all twelve spending bills for 2018 into one giant Omnibus measure, and have lawmakers vote on that before leaving on their summer break. Usually, the Omnibus is a method of last resort, but the idea of the pre-August Omnibus was floated weeks ago by conservatives as a way to show some action on the budget, knowing full well that the House was never going to bring all 12 bills to the floor individually (there are none on the House floor schedule this week). Like the budget resolution, the Omnibus in July sounds like something that should win easy GOP approval – but there are all sorts of land mines in the bill, like funding for the border wall, many provisions that fund items the White House is opposed to, and not enough in the way of spending cuts – and those have some conservatives wary of going this route. What this reporter would love is the idea of an Omnibus on the House floor with all amendments in order. Now that would be some Legislative Nerd fun.
5. Democrats continue to slow walk nominations in the Senate. Yes, the Trump White House has not exactly filled the pipeline with nominations to the Senate, but of those that did get done, Democrats are taking their sweet time to allow votes for confirmation. Last week, the Senate confirmed three Trump nominees, and that schedule is likely to be repeated this week – that’s because of the time involved in parliamentary motions to shut off debate, with extra time for debate that then is used in full by Democrats to force further delay, and a refusal to simply approve nominations by voice vote. According to a Washington Post review of President Trump’s nominations, the President has made 139 nominations, and 48 have been confirmed – but 370 spots remain unfilled. Even though Democrats can’t filibuster, they can still slow the Senate down. As of now, 42 of the President’s nominees are ready for a Senate floor vote – Republicans have not moved the rest through committee.
6. Trump ready to move on his own agenda. While the Congress struggles to get moving on health care, tax cuts, infrastructure, the budget and more, the President is not sitting idly by. Maybe his biggest successes so far have been in reducting regulations – something he’s in charge of via the Executive Branch – and in enforcement of immigration laws, where statistics continue to show the crackdown on the border and internally has resulted in a large drop in the number of people trying to illegally make it into the United States. While health care will be the big focus on Capitol Hill this week, the President signaled on Sunday night that he has his own plans: