Last week, we mentioned that there was hope that Congress would be able to quickly come to an agreement on a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through mid-December to avoid a government shutdown. But typical partisan squabbling has kept that from becoming a reality and instead Congress is expected to stick around another week to hash out details of the plan. The Senate is currently expected to vote on Tuesday on a CR that would last through December 9, with the House following suit on Wednesday. Congress has until the end of the day next Friday to get legislation passed and signed into law by President Obama to avoid a shutdown.
The two major issues that have dominated discussions in Congress over the past few months have largely been resolved: providing funding for opioid and Zika prevention and response. The major issue over Zika funding relating to Planned Parenthood was settled as both Republicans and Democrats were able to placate their members with language that would allow clinics to access roughly $95 million of funds from various government accounts but only for reimbursement of medical services, including for Zika prevention and response. This allows clinics to be funded without having Republicans be scored against the bill by anti-abortion groups.
Instead of this recurring ideological battle, the CR is being held up by more nuanced issues, including language that would block the Obama administration from relinquishing authority over the internet domain system and repealing current law that prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose political spending. Republicans are claiming that Democrats are only dragging their feet as a way to keep endangered Republican senators in Washington and not out campaigning. Regardless, NAHU remains hopeful that Congress will be able to settle these differences and pass a short-term CR to give time to work on a larger legislative package where we will be able to advocate for our federal policy priorities to be included similarly to the year-end package last year that included delays of the Cadillac/excise tax and the health insurance tax.
While congressional leadership hammers out a final agreement on those items, Republicans have opened an investigation into the Obama administration’s plans to settle lawsuits from the risk corridor program. A letter sent by House Energy and Commerce leaders on Tuesday to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell requests information on the possible settlements, claiming that doing so would directly “circumvent the congressional intent to prohibit the expenditure of federal dollars on this program.” Insurers have filed five lawsuits over the $2.5 billion shortfall in the risk corridor program, where the administration paid out only 12.6% of what was due to insurers in 2014. Healthcare Co-Ops were hit especially hard by this and many blamed the shortfall for their closures. Democrats have charged that Republicans are the reason why payments fell short as Republicans included language in major budget deals that prevented the program from being fully funded.