The 116th Session of Congress was sworn in on Thursday and quickly moved to advance legislation to end the partial federal government shutdown that began on December 22. The House voted 241-190 to pass H.R. 21 and 239-192 to pass H.J.Res. 1, legislation that would reopen portions of the federal government that were forced to shut down two weeks ago due to a lapse in appropriations. The legislative packages largely mirror the legislation that was passed by a voice vote in the Senate on December 19. However, that legislation expired at the end of the 115th Session and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he is no longer willing to consider similar proposals that do not meet the requirements of President Trump. At this time, there are no provisions in the funding measures relevant to NAHU’s legislative priorities.
House Democrats also adopted a rules package by a vote of 234-197 that included several healthcare related measures aimed at lowering health costs and the price of prescription drugs. Among these is a provision that allows Congress to intervene in the federal court case Texas v. United States, joining a group of 17 Democratic- state attorneys general that have standing in the case to defend the law as the Trump Administration opted against its defense. Last month a federal court ruled the entire ACA unconstitutional as part of the case and it is now undergoing appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The House is expected to vote on a separate measure next week that directly instructs the chamber to join the Democratic defense of the law. Additionally, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that one of its first hearings will be on the potential impacts of the court’s ruling. As a reminder, the lower court judge issued a “stay” on his ruling and the ACA will continue to be enforced, and compliance is expected, as the case makes it’s way through the appellate courts.The House rules package also addressed several concerns raised from the previous session of Congress, specifically regarding the rushed adoption of the Republican-led healthcare reform legislation. As part of the new rules for the chamber, legislation pertaining to the rules committee will now be required to have a hearing and a markup before going to the floor, and there must be 72 hours prior to a vote being held on the floor as a means to provide time for lawmakers to read the legislation. Other non-controversial measures can be adopted quickly through a consensus calendar for legislation with broad bipartisan support. The rules package also eliminated dynamic scoring requirements and the CUTGO budgetary process and replaced it with pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO, that requires legislation that would increase the deficit to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases.
One of the consequences of instituting “PAYGO” is that long-term changes to the Cadillac Tax and Health Insurance Tax could be hampered, as the lost revenue could make passing delays or a full repeal potentially cost-prohibitive in the ability to find budgetary offsets. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that each year of delay of the Cadillac Tax costs upwards of $15 billion. NAHU is currently identifying potential bill sponsors for re-introducing our legislative priorities, including the Cadillac Tax and HIT repeals. Unfortunately, NAHU lost several champions of our priority legislation, including HIT repeal sponsor Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Cadillac Tax repeal sponsor Dean Heller (R-NV), although House HIT repeal sponsor Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) was elected to the Senate and could be a new champion in that chamber.