This week, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the permanent Medicare doc-fix bill, 92-8, and the White House has indicated that President Obama will sign the bill, which would put an end to one of Congress's most-hated rituals.
Two of the eight votes against the measure came from senators running for president - with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) opposing the bill. The third GOP presidential hopeful in the Senate, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), voted for the legislation.
Cruz derided the bill for not being fully paid for, citing an estimate that it could add as much as $500 billion to the federal deficit in the next 20 years. According to the official Congressional Budget Office score, the bill is expected to cost about $210 billion in the next 10 years, with $70 billion directly offset through cuts to providers and beneficiaries.
Cruz, Rubio, and Paul all backed an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) that would have required the bill's full costs to be offset. The amendment, pushed by deficit hawks unhappy about the bill's costs, failed.
All three senators voted for an amendment to pay for the bill by repealing Obamacare's individual mandate, though it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass.
The doc fix, negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, permanently repeals the Medicare "sustainable growth rate" formula, which routinely threatened 20-percent pay cuts to doctors unless Congress fixed it once or twice a year. It also sets up a transition to performance-based Medicare payments to doctors.
The measure reforms Medicare in several other ways, enacting a deductible for Medigap plans and expanding means-testing for Medicare's outpatient and drug programs. Cost became an issue during the congressional debate. Supporters assert it will pay for itself in the long term, but opponents argued that it would add even more to the deficit across a longer timeline.
GOP eyes reconciliation
The House and Senate have both passed budgets, both chambers have selected conferees to hash out the diffferences, and now Republicans eye the budget reconciliation process as a way to get something "big" done. The reconciliation process allows a simple majority vote to pass legislation through the Senate, removing the threat of the filibuster and the usual 60-vote threshold.
The question for Republicans now is what do they decide to tackle through reconciliation? Some want to use it for comprehensive tax reform, some want to use it for entitlement reform, others want to use it to rollback President Obama's executive action on immigration, and still others say the process should be used to gut the Affordable Care Act.
While publicly most Republicans say they are still committed to using reconciliation to pass an Affordable Care Act-related bill, privately some are beginning to question how much such a move would make sense given that President Obama would most certainly veto such a bill.
The House version of the budget gives reconciliation instructions to about a dozen committees overseeing not just health care but things like agriculture and transportation, instructing them to find billions in savings in their domestic programs. GOP leaders say they want “flexibility” to find savings down the road and are leaving their options open.
Senate budget writers, however, give instructions to just two committees with jurisdiction over health care. They want to keep the focus on the Affordable Care Act repeal because conservatives took back the Senate campaigning on such a promise.
Senate flexes muscles on Iran
In a rare show of bipartisan unanimity, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, by a vote of 19-0, passed legislation that gives Congress the power to approve or shoot down the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement that the Obama administration has been negotiating.
The bipartisan love fest over what had been a controversial proposal was made possible by a last minute deal by Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Ben Cardin - the committee's ranking Democrat. Indeed, by the end of the day, even the Obama White House, which had been threatening to veto any legislation, was on board and supportive.
Senate GOP leadership signaled that the bill could now come to the Senate floor as early as next week.
The Corker-Cardin deal jettisons controversial language in the bill that would have required President Obama to certify that Iran has not been supporting or carrying out terrorist acts against the United States or American citizens.
That and other changes to the bill, including language that could shorten the congressional-review period for the measure, could help draw more Democrats to support it.
Several Democrats—and the White House—had objected to the terrorism language in the bill that Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez initially introduced.
Human trafficking bill continues to run into opposition
If you thought the recent outburst of bipartisanship would clear the way for a human trafficking bill - a bill that in theory enjoys almost unanimous support - you would be wrong.
The bill became bogged down in a battle over abortion funding language, and the new plan, from Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), includes abortion language but would use the same language that was used in the "doc fix" bill that easily passed the House and Senate with large bipartisan majorities.
Republicans may just need to pick off two moderate Democrats to reach the 60 needed to beat a filibuster. Thus far, four Democratic senators have broken ranks and voted in favor of the human trafficking bill: Sens. Robert Casey, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin.
However, it remains unclear if Republicans will be able to pick up the additional votes. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) blasted the new proposal and said Democrats would fight any effort to extend Hyde amendment language to non-taxpayer dollars.
Democrats have offered nine proposals of their own—all which have been rejected, Murray said, adding that using the language in the doc-fix bill doesn't resolve the problem.
"It was unnecessary, I don't believe it should be in [the doc-fix bill]," Murray said, "but it is the same language that has always been used on appropriations—very different on the trafficking bill that is now on the Senate agenda at this time, which for the very first time ever uses non-taxpayer dollars and applies Hyde to them. That is a bridge we are not going to allow to be crossed."
House GOPers try to block net neutrality
This week, a group of House Republicans introduced legislation aimed at blocking the Federal Communications Commission's net-neutrality regulations.
The measure, authored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) would take advantage of a procedural fast-track under the Congressional Review Act, allowing it to bypass Democratic opposition in the Senate. It would need only a simple majority to pass, instead of the usual 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
But it would still face an almost certain veto from President Obama. Other attempts to fast-track repeals of regulations in the past have largely been unsuccessful.
The push for a clean repeal of the agency's Internet regulations comes as other Republicans focus instead on trying to craft a bipartisan compromise on the issue. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) are working on a bill that would enact net-neutrality protections, while also curbing the FCC's powers. None of those lawmakers are backing the Collins measure.
Thirteen Republicans have signed on as cosponsors, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and Reps. Bob Latta and Steve Chabot. Collins said he has discussed the proposal with House leaders and expects that a Senate counterpart will soon be introduced.
The FCC enacted the rules in February, and they were published in the Federal Register on Monday. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress will now have 60 days to consider the resolution of disapproval. After that period, Congress could still try to repeal the rules, but they would no longer be able to fast-track the measure over Democratic opposition.
The FCC's rules aim to ensure that users can access whatever legal online content they want. They bar Internet providers from blocking websites, throttling traffic, or creating special "fast lanes" for sites that pay. Critics consider them an unnecessary government takeover of the Internet that will stifle investment in the industry.
Transportation in Focus
TSA Grope-Gate Scandal in Denver
The Transportation Security Administration is often under fire from travellers - sometimes its warranted and other times it isn't. For an agency that desperately needs some good ink, the revelations that resulted in the firing of two screeners at Denver's International Airport are the last thing they needed.
The two screeners were fired for an alleged scheme to identify and conduct pat-down searches on attractive male passengers. The TSA was tipped off by an employee in November who told the agency that a male TSA screener had told her that he had a system in place that allowed him to grope male passengers that he found attractive.
The TSA sent an investigator to the Denver airport who observed the male TSA agent signal to a female co-worker when certain male passengers approached the TSA screening area. According to a police report, the female TSA screener would intentionally trigger a manual pat down of these male passengers by her male colleague.
According to the TSA report, this pat-down scheme occurred on at least 10 different male passengers.
TSA fired both of the screeners and called the acts "egregious and intolerable."
The TSA also turned the case over to local Denver police who are attempting to identify and contact the passengers illegally groped by the screener - in hopes of bringing charges of unlawful sexual contact against the pair of agents. So far, Denver police have been unable to do so.
Colorado Senate: A new Quinnipiac University poll out this week shows Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) with a three-point lead over Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), 43 percent to 40 percent — within the poll’s margin of error.
Florida Senate: State CFO Jeff Atwater (R-FL) surprisingly announced Saturday that he will not run for Senate. Atwater was considered the leading GOP contender to replace Marco Rubio in the Senate in 2016.
Illinois Senate: Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) said he will not run for Senate, instead backing Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
Ohio Senate: The Ohio Democratic party endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH) over Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld (D-OH). "This is not a Little League Baseball game. This is a U.S. Senate race," Strickland told party delegates. "I think I am the guy who is best positioned to have a possibility of winning this seat."
Montana Governor: Businessman Greg Gianforte (R-MT), an outspoken social conservative and billionaire, is laying the groundwork to challenge Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT).
West Virginia Governor: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is still considering a bid for the Governor’s mansion in 2016. Polling shows Manchin would be the overwhelming favorite if he ran.
Marco Rubio (R-FL): Senator Rubio announced his bid for president in Miami, Florida on Monday. Rubio used his announcement speech to cast the 2016 race as a “generational choice.”
Hillary Clinton (D-NY): On Sunday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her bid for president. She kicked off her campaign by heading to Iowa for a series of small events.
A LOOK AHEAD
Tuesday, April 21
4:00 p.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Markup. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee markup of pending legislation.
Wednesday, April 22
9:30 a.m. House Natural Resources Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Innovations in Safety Since the 2010 Macondo Incident."
10:00 a.m. House Agriculture Committee - Hearing. General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee hearing on reauthorization of the U.S. Grain Standards Act.
10:00 a.m. House Education and the Workforce Committee - Hearing. Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee hearing on "Examining the Challenges Facing Native American Schools."
10:00 a.m. House Ways and Means Committee - Hearing. Oversight Subcommittee hearing on the 2015 tax filing season and general operations at the Internal Revenue Service.
10:00 a.m. House Financial Services Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing - A Survey of Global Terrorism and Terrorist Financing."
10:00 a.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Nuclear Agreement with Iran: Can't Trust, Can We Verify?"
10:00 a.m. House Homeland Security Committee - Hearing. Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee hearing on "Strategic Perspectives on the Bioterrorism Threat."
10:00 a.m. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Hearing. Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hearing on "A Review of the President's FY2016 Budget Request for the United States Army Corps of Engineers and Tennessee Valley Authority."
10:30 a.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Philadelphia and Oakland: Systemic Failures and Mismanagement."
11:00 a.m. House Small Business Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Small Business, Big Threat: Protecting Small Businesses from Cyber Attacks."
1:30 p.m. House Agriculture Committee - Hearing. Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act.
1:30 p.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing. Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on "Accountability and Transformation: Tier Rankings in the Fight Against Human Trafficking."
2:00 p.m. House Appropriations Committee - Hearing. Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on the budget for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2:00 p.m. House (Select) Intelligence Committee - Hearing. Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture Subcommittee closed hearing on the budget for the Office for the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.
2:00 p.m. House Homeland Security Committee - Hearing. Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee hearing on "Acquisition Oversight: How Effectively Is DHS Safeguarding Taxpayer Dollars?"
2:30 p.m. House Armed Services Committee - Markup. Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee markup of H.R.1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2016.
3:00 p.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee - Hearing. Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee hearing on "Poaching and Terrorism: A National Security Challenge."
4:00 p.m. House Natural Resources Committee - Hearing. Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee hearing on "The Obama Administration's Part 83 Revisions and How They May Allow the Interior Department to Create Tribes, not Recognize Them."
4:00 p.m. House Armed Services Committee - Markup. Readiness Subcommittee markup of H.R.1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2016.
Thursday, April 23
9:00 a.m. House Armed Services Committee - Markup. Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee markup of H.R.1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2016.
9:30 a.m. House Armed Services Committee - Markup. Military Personnel Subcommittee markup of H.R.1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2016.
10:00 a.m. House Appropriations Committee - Hearing. Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on the budget for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
10:00 a.m. House Appropriations Committee - Hearing. Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the budget for programs supporting Native Americans.
10:00 a.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing. Health Subcommittee hearing on legislation to improve reproductive treatment provided to certain disabled veterans; legislation to direct the VA to submit an annual report on the Veterans Health Administration; the "Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015"; H.R.271, the "Creating Options for Veterans Expedited Recovery Act"; H.R.627, to expand the definition of homeless veteran for purposes of benefits under the laws administered by the VA secretary; H.R.1369, the "Veterans Access to Extended Care Act of 2015"; and H.R.1575, to make permanent the pilot program on counseling in retreat settings for women veterans newly separated from service in the Armed Forces.
10:30 a.m. House Armed Services Committee - Markup. Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee markup of H.R.1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2016.
12:00 p.m. House Armed Services Committee - Markup. Strategic Forces Subcommittee markup of H.R.1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2016.
Monday, April 20
3:00 p.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "2020 Census: Challenges Facing the Bureau for a Modern, Cost-Effective Survey."
Tuesday, April 21
9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on the nomination of Peter Levine to be deputy chief management officer of the Defense Department.
10:00 a.m. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing. Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet Subcommittee hearing on "Advancing Telehealth Through Connectivity."
10:00 a.m. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Opportunities and Challenges for Agriculture Trade with Cuba."
10:00 a.m. Senate Judiciary Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Improving Accountability and Oversight of Juvenile Justice Grants."
10:00 a.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing. State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development Subcommittee hearing on "Improving the Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Department of State."
10:00 a.m. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Building on the Successes of MAP-21 to Deliver Safe, Efficient and Effective Public Transportation Services and Projects."
2:30 p.m. Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing. Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing on Defense Department policy and programs to counter threats to the United States from terrorism and irregular warfare.
2:30 p.m. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing. Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, focusing on certification and U.S. aviation manufacturing competitiveness.
2:30 p.m. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Fulfilling the Promise to Women Veterans."
Wednesday, April 22
9:30 a.m. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on the nomination of Vanessa Lorraine Allen Sutherland to be a member and chairperson of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
9:30 a.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "State Department Reauthorization: Ensuring Effective U.S. Diplomacy Within A Responsible Budget."
10:00 a.m. Senate Appropriations Committee - Hearing. Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2016 for Transportation Department.
10:00 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Securing the Border: Understanding Threats and Strategies for the Northern Border."
10:00 a.m. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on reauthorization of and potential reforms to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
10:30 a.m. Senate Appropriations Committee - Hearing. Defense Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2016 for defense innovation and research.
2:00 p.m. Senate Appropriations Committee - Hearing. Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2016 for Federal Emergency Management Agency.
2:30 p.m. Senate Indian Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on tribal transportation and safer roads in Indian country.
2:30 p.m. Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing. Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing on "Air Force and Navy Nuclear Programs and the Implementation of Nuclear Enterprise Review Recommendations."
2:30 p.m. Senate Armed Services Committee - Hearing. Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing on "Reform of the Defense Acquisition System."
Thursday, April 23
10:00 a.m. Senate Appropriations Committee - Hearing. Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2016 for the Health and Human Services Department.
10:00 a.m. Senate Finance Committee - Hearing. Health Care Subcommittee hearing on "A Fresh Look at the Impact of the Medical Device Tax on Jobs, Innovation and Patients."
10:00 a.m. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Hearing. Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, focusing on airport issues and infrastructure financing.
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
$20 - The cost of Hillary Clinton's now famous lunch at an Ohio Chipotle.
$1.25 million - The amount of money raised by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in the 24 hours after he announced his bid for the White House.
THEY SAID WHAT?
“I think Bill de Blasio should have his head examined." - Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), needling the New York City mayor for declining to endorse Hillary Clinton's presidential bid immediately after she announced, via WAMC radio in Albany.
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