GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Jan 9-13, 2017)

6 min read

To say this week on the Hill was a lot is an understatement…

Congress passed first step in repealing the Affordable Care Act in the form of a budget resolution. Senate committees took on six confirmation hearings for presidential nominees. Congress passed a waiver to permit Ret. Gen. James Mattis to serve as defense secretary. President Obama bid farewell and surprised Vice President Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Senate Intelligence Committee announced a bipartisan investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. President Obama ended special immigration policy for Cubans.

ObamaCare  |  Confirmation Hearings  |  Waiver Exemption 
Obama Farewell  |   Cuba  |  Russia Investigation 
Biden Presidential Medal of Freedom  |  ICYMI

Congress passes first step in repealing the Affordable Care Act 

This week, Congress voted to begin a process that could lead to repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

In the Senate, the vote came at the end of a long day of confirmation hearings and after an all-night “vote-a-rama” on amendments. The final vote was 51 YES, 48 NO, with Sen. Rand Paul [R-KY] voting no (refusing to vote for repeal until there is a replacement) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] not voting (recovering from minor surgery). In a breach of the Senate rules, Democrats cast their votes from their desks, each rising and saying a short “why I am voting no” while Sen. Cory Gardner, serving as President of the Senate, gaveled over them, in accordance with Senate rules.

On Friday, the House followed suit and passed the budget resolution largely along party lines, with 10 members not voting. All Democrats voted against the measure, along with nine Republicans. The measure passed 227-198.

While the process has begun, the timing and structure of repeal or changes to the ACA are still very much under discussion. The votes this week do not yet impact the ACA in any way.

That’s because, despite all the ACA talk, the vote this week was not on a health care bill at all, but on a budget resolution that sets spending levels. The budget has a special filibuster-free process to let Congress change policies to meet those spending levels, known as “reconciliation.” So, the important ACA-related piece of the budget resolution was that it contained “reconciliation instructions” calling for the plans to repeal the ACA in line with the spending levels in the budget. Those plans are due January 27th (but the date is not binding) and then the new policy gets a vote that is not subject to filibuster in the Senate. This process, by the way, is the way the ACA passed in the first place, through the reconciliation process with only votes from Democrats.

So, there's a long process ahead and many hurdles to overcome before this budget process results in actual repeal of the ACA:

  • The House and Senate must come up with their repeal plans.
  • Those plans must be merged together into one “reconciliation” bill.
  • According to the "Byrd Rule," a reconciliation bill cannot add to the deficit (after ten years)
  • Several Republicans say they will not vote for a reconciliation bill to repeal unless there is a replacement plan.
  • A replacement plan cannot go through the reconciliation process, so it will require Democratic votes in the Senate and a lot more discussion.
  • Discussions on the replacement plan won't start in earnest until a new HHS Secretary is confirmed, which will not likely happen until February.
  • State governors will be influential in these discussions (see: Where GOP Governors Stand on 'Repeal and Replace')
  • The replacement plan will take a lot tradeoffs and will likely be the subject of many hearings, votes on different versions, and much public discussion.

So, the process of repealing the ACA has started, but it has a long way to go. As POLITICO put it, "…a quick and nearly simultaneous repeal and replacement of Obamacare [is] a task that's technically almost impossible."

We at POPVOX will keep you posted — and help you share your input — every step of the way!




Six confirmation hearings and counting… 

We know — this week was A LOT. At one point, we had our screens on three confirmation hearings, House floor, Senate floor, and President-elect Donald Trump's first press conference since July. Whoa! The good news is we can catch you up in no time. Special thanks to our talented interns from Brown University who attended all of the confirmation hearings and produced explainers for our users!

Catch up now:

Congress passes waiver for defense secretary nominee

This week Congress passed a waiver to allow retired Gen. James Mattis to serve as defense secretary. The legislation was required because there is a federal law, meant to ensure civilian control of the military, that requires that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. 

The Senate Armed Services committee passed the waiver on Thursday and House Armed Services approved the waiver  on Friday afternoon. 

  • See how your senators voted.
  • See how your representative voted.


President Obama bids farewell

President Obama delivered his farewell address, mixed with optimism and fears about threats to democracy abroad and at home.

"For all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title, Citizen…Ultimately, that's what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there's an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime."

Here are some of the biggest takeaways, as well as a full transcript and video.




President Obama ends special immigration policy for Cubans

President Obama ended a 22-year-old policy that exempted Cuban migrants who arrived in the U.S. without visas to stay and get legal status. Ever heard of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy? This is that. The policy meant Cubans who reached the U.S. by foot could stay but those picked up at sea were returned to Cuba. The U.S. and Cuba negotiated the change for several months, and Cuba agreed to allow those turned away from the U.S. to return to Cuba. Learn more about the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and what this changes.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence announces Russia hacking probe

Friday afternoon, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced a bipartisan investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 elections. The investigation will include hearings and interviews of Obama and Trump administration senior officials "including the issuance of subpoenas if necessary to compel testimony. The committee will publish its findings in a report. The scope of the investigation includes (but is not limited to):

  • Reviewing intelligence behind the Intelligence Community report “Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections;”
  • Counterintelligence concerns related to the 2016 U.S. election, including any links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns;
  • Russian cyber activity and other “active measures” directed against the U.S., both as it regards the 2016 election and more broadly.


Vice President Joe Biden receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction

In a surprise ceremony, President Obama awarded Vice President Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction — "a designation most recently given to President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Gen. Colin Powell."

Before becoming Vice President, Biden spent more than three decades in the Senate, serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee. Last month the Senate paid tribute to Joe Biden, spending twice the allotted time with members from both parties honoring Biden. Watch the Senate tribute.


Please keep in mind that highlighting specific legislation does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.