Congressional Update — October, 2017
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BUDGET RESOLUTION: House Speaker Ryan and Senate Budget Chairman Enzi worked together on a strategy that resulted in Enzi offering an amendment to the Senate legislation that changed the House reconciliation instructions and added House enforcement provisions to the Senate budget resolution.  The additions to the Senate budget were designed to allow the House to adopt the Senate budget quickly, avoiding the need for a conference committee to iron out differences. Under the Enzi language, the House will move a tax reform reconciliation bill through the House Ways and Means Committee and then to the House floor, which would remove some administrative steps that would have slowed action on tax reform. Houses Ways and Means Chairman Brady said that his committee will announce plans for releasing and marking up the tax overhaul bill as soon as the House adopts a final budget resolution. Sen. Hatch (R-UT) said the Senate goal is to produce a draft of its tax legislation within the next two weeks, but he said that “we need to know what the President wants to do, try to coordinate with him.  I have one timetable, 2017.  I want to get this to the President’s desk by the end of the year, and we’re on schedule to do that.”

TAX BILL:Speaker Ryan stated that the tax overhaul bill will include a fourth bracket for high-income earners, but he declined to reveal what that tax rate will be. The unified tax framework Republicans released last month proposed collapsing the existing seven tax brackets into three with rates of 12, 25 and 35 percent. It left open the possibility of the final tax bill including a fourth tax bracket if needed to ensure the primary benefits of proposed tax cuts were reaching middle-income earners.

HEALTH CARE:Senate Majority Leader McConnell, said he's open to bringing a bipartisan health care deal crafted by Sens. Alexander and Murray to the Senate floor for a vote if President Trump will sign it into law. Senate Minority Leader Schumer said the plan, designed to stabilize Affordable Care Act markets with measures including funding for cost-sharing reduction payments, is supported by at least 60 senators.

Some Senate Republicans say they want to see additional conservative changes to a health care deal brokered by Sens. Alexander (R-TN) and Murray (D-WA).  After the Senators announced a deal, conservatives have said they want more changes.  President Trump suggested the deal would benefit insurance companies and House Speaker Ryan said he was not supportive. The plan would fund cost-sharing subsidies that reimburse insurers who lower low-income consumers' out-of-pocket costs like deductibles. Sen. Thune (R-SD) said one major question was whether the legislation would prevent insurance companies from increasing prices for 2018 policies because of the uncertainty around the cost-sharing subsidies receiving additional benefits under the measure in line with the President’s concern. Under the draft legislation, states could direct companies who raised their rates, assuming that the administration would not make the CSR payments, to set up a rebate system or not receive the reimbursements. Under a rebate system, companies would have to refund both consumers and the federal Treasury.  The rebates to the government would make up for additional government spending on premium tax credits because of the higher cost of premiums. Democrats have suggested delaying the start of the open enrollment period so that insurance companies could re-file their 2018 rates. Senator Hatch (R-UT) stated that he would not co-sponsor the legislation "because I don't agree with it." Some Republicans have announced support for the Alexander-Murray proposal, Sens. Collins (R-ME) and McCain (R-AZ) would vote for the plan.

DRUG TASK FORCE:President Trump is considering launching a bipartisan task force to investigate the rising cost of prescription drugs.  The drug industry sources caution that discussions remain in the early stages and are still fluid. They say it could be part of an expected announcement on the opioid crisis that President Trump hinted at earlier this week.  President Trump has long chastised the drug industry and the skyrocketing cost of treatments. Should President Trump choose to launch a task force on the issue, it would likely receive bipartisan support. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has held a series of hearings on the issue. The likelihood of any bills addressing the price of medical treatments moving this year is unlikely given the legislative calendar.