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Obama announces one-year fix to avoid insurance cancellations

President Obama has been adamant, even in the face of growing bipartisan anger, that he would not make significant changes to the Affordable Care Act. This week, facing the possibility of bipartisan action in both chambers, President Obama reversed course and announced changes that will allow individuals to keep their health insurance plans—even if they don't meet the requirements of the new healthcare law.

Despite repeated assertions by Obama and Congressional Democrats that if individuals liked their plan or their doctor, they would be able to keep their doctor under the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans have begun receiving notices that their insurance would indeed be cancelled.

The move by the White House seemed to calm the nerves of at least some Congressional Democrats.
Despite the move, the Republican-controlled House is still set to vote today on a bill by Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, that would allow Americans to keep their existing health coverage through 2014 without penalties — as well as allow new people to continue to buy the plans, something the White House said would gut the Affordable Care Act.

The White House feared that a large block of Democrats were likely to vote for the Upton bill, however after the president’s announcement on Thursday Democratic defections are expected to be limited to a couple of dozen.

Budget Conference Committee update

This week, members of the bipartisan and bicameral Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Conference Committee met for a second time with the hope of coming to an agreement on federal funding for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The meeting, led by House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA), was a follow-up to their initial Oct.30 meeting. The committee was established as part of the agreement Congress reached last month to end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit. Under that agreement, budget conferees must reconcile their differences for by Dec. 13.

While the Conference Committee has until Dec. 13 to act, House Appropriators have urged their fellow conferees to put a plan forward by Dec. 2 at the latest, and preferably by Nov. 22 so they have enough time to iron out the details of the final agreement. At this point in time, there is no scheduled meeting of the Conference Committee between now and Nov. 22.

The Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Douglas Elmendorf, testified before this week's conference. He spoke about the need for a long-term plan to address the nation’s budget deficit and said the country is on an unsustainable path. Conferees used the meeting to reiterate their positions on taxes, spending and sequestration. However, there did not seem to be any acknowledgement by conferees of significant progress on an agreement, with government funding set to expire on Jan. 15, 2014.

Immediately following the hearing, CBO released their biannual list of over 100 options to reduce the deficit. The list includes changes and cuts to both discretionary and mandatory spending programs.

Tax reform update

Top House Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) met with Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, for an update on his progress on tax reform efforts.

The future for tax reform remains murky, despite continuing assertions by Camp and others that a bill would be released and marked-up this year.

In the beginning of 2013, tax reform was sold as a top priority for GOP leadership. Boehner reserved the symbolic designation of H.R. 1 — the first bill number of this Congress — for a tax overhaul. However, the government shutdown, the fight over the debt ceiling, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act have taken up much of the political oxygen - and time - in Washington.

Complicating reform efforts are the looming 2014 mid-term elections. It will be difficult to get members to take potentially difficult votes only months before an election.

Camp and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) traveled around the country earlier this year trying to build support for their tax reform efforts. Baucus is still expected to release a discussion draft in the coming weeks.

FDA proposes trans fat ban

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new rules that would essentially ban artificial trans fats from the food supply.

Artificial trans fats — a major contributor to heart disease in the United States — have already been substantially reduced in foods. However, according to the FDA, banning them completely could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

The FDA's new proposed rule would treat partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fats, as no longer "generally recognized as safe." This move would mean companies wishing to use partially hydrogenated oils have to prove that such oils are safe to eat. Considering that the Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of them, the proposed rule will result in a de facto ban on artificial trans fats.

 

Political bits:

House

Arizona 2nd Congressional District: Conservative activist Shelly Kais jumped into the race for the GOP nomination this week.
Washington 3rd Congressional District: McAfee executive Maureen Winningham (D-WA) is eyeing a race against Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) in this swing district.

Senate

Georgia: Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is the first GOPer up with a TV ad in the Georgia Senate race. Gingrey's ad pledges he would repeal Obamacare in his first term or not run for re-election.

Iowa: Former Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs (R-IA) is expected to announce his bid for the open Iowa Senate seat on Tuesday.

Wyoming: Liz Cheney (R-WY), daughter of former VP Dick Cheney, is up with her first TV ad in her primary challenge to sitting GOP Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY). Polls show Cheney trails Enzi by a wide-margin.

A look ahead:

House

Tuesday, Nov. 19 — The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on Is My Data on HealthCare.gov Secure? at 10:00 a.m. in 2318 Rayburn.

Senate

Tuesday, Nov. 19 — The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Housing Finance Reform: Fundamentals of Transferring Credit Risk in a Future Housing Finance System, at 10:00 a.m. in 538 Dirksen.

Tuesday, Nov. 19 — The Senate Banking Committee’s National Security and International Trade and Finance Subcommittee and Economic Policy Subcommittee will hold a joint hearing on The Present and Future Impact of Virtual Currency at 3:30 p.m. in 538 Dirksen.

Washington by the numbers

40 – The percentage of Americans who view climate change as a major threat, the lowest among surveyed countries.

254 – The number of Obamacare errors agencies have had to fix.

They said what?

"In fact, I guess I’m responsible since I plucked both of them from obscurity. To ask me to pick favorites is like asking a father to pick his favorite son.” -- former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, on criticism he didn’t do enough to help Democrats avoid a primary in that state’s Senate race. (Roll Call)

Washington humor

"Yesterday at the White House, President Obama met with various leaders of the American Indian tribes. He promised them, 'If you like your medicine man, you can keep your medicine man.' " –Jay Leno

 

 

 Steven C. LaTourette, President | 202.559.2600

McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies LLC
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