GAVEL DOWN: Closing out the Week in Congress (Jan. 23-27, 2017)
It was a dizzying week in Washington, even for the most veteran of politicos…
House passed bill related to abortion services and insurance coverage. President Trump signed several executive actions related to immigration, regulations, border security, infrastructure, refugees, manufacturing, and trade and pipeline deals. Senate approved two more Trump nominees, installing a new CIA Director and UN Ambassador. Lawmakers left town for annual retreats. House Intelligence joined in Russia hacking investigation. Three confirmation hearings, three new appointees, and four nominees progressed in Senate confirmation process. Republican senators introduced first two Obamacare replacement plans. Lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence appeared at annual March for Life.
Heard of the Hyde Amendment? It prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion or health plans that cover abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger. Currently, it's not a permanent law but rather a "rider" that's been included in annual appropriations bills since 1976.
What happens now? The legislation heads to the Senate. Let your senators know what you think!
Executive Orders and Memoranda
President Trump signed many executive actions this week in a wide range of policy areas. In general, these orders and memos explain to executive branch employees what to prioritize and how. In some areas, Congress has given the executive branch explicit authority to set the policy, such as determining the number of refugees who can enter the U.S. each year. However, spending federal money requires Congress, and changing existing rules requires the rulemaking process.
Some edicts began immediately, while others require other circumstances, such as the confirmation of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director nominee, Rep. Mick Mulvaney [R, SC-5]. As with former President Obama, many of the executive actions signed this week will face legal challenges and a long road to implementation, while others are having immediate effects.
Several of these actions will require Congressional action (such as approving supplemental funds for the border wall or to hire additional immigration and customs enforcement officers), so we've created pages for each order and memo issued in President Trump's first week as president. As always, you can use POPVOX to tell your lawmakers what you think.
Order: Regarding the "Economic burden" of the Affordable Care Act
Directs the Secretary (legal shorthand for Health and Human Services as an agency) to take all legal steps to remove "regulatory burdens" of the Affordable Care Act.
Memo: Regulatory freeze pending review
Notice to all agencies to freeze any existing rulemakings or legal actions.
Memo: Reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy
Reinstates 2001 presidential memo prohibiting nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. funding from either performing or providing counseling or information on abortion.
Memo: Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
Directs the U.S. Trade Representative to notify the signatories of the TransPacific Partnership immediately that the U.S. is removing itself as a signatory to the trade deal.
Memo: Hiring freeze for federal employees
No new hires after January 22, 2017. Directs the OMB Director to develop a long-term plan within 90 days to reduce the federal workforce.
Order: Designation of "High priority" infrastructure projects
Directs the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to decide if any infrastructure project is “high priority” and if so to coordinate with related agencies on deadlines for expedited review. If a deadline is missed, the head of the agency must write to the CEQ chairman explaining the cause for the delay and steps taken to rectify.
Memo: American-made steel
Directs the Secretary of Commerce to produce a plan within six months for mandating the use of American-made steel in pipelines within the U.S.
Memo: KeystoneXL Pipeline Expedited review
Invites TransCanada to resubmit application and orders the Secretary of State to make a decision within 60 days. Then provides for expedited environmental review after approval.
Memo: Dakota Access Pipeline Expedited review
Directs the Secretary of the Army to expedite review of the proposed pipeline, consider environmental requirements satisfied, and grant any waivers requested.
Memo: Calling for plan to reduce manufacturing regulations
Directs the Secretary of Commerce to collect public comments for 60 days on ways to reduce regulations on American manufacturers and then to produce a plan within 60 days with recommended actions.
Memo: Interior, immigration enforcement
Instructs the Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary and Attorney General to ensure sanctuary jurisdictions are not eligible for federal grants. Will publish a weekly list of "criminal actions committed by aliens" in sanctuary jurisdictions. Instructs DHS to prioritize deportations for people who have been convicted of or charged with any criminal offenses or who have "abused any program related to receipt of public benefits."
Memo: Border security, immigration enforcement
Directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border. Instructs the Secretary to immediately construct, operate, and control (or establish contracts to construct, operate, and control) new detention facilities to detain "aliens" at or near the border with Mexico. Directs the Attorney General to immediately send officers and judges to the southern border.
Order: Refugees and Visa limitations
Bars all refugees from Syria. Suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and reduces total annual refugee admission to 50,000 annually. Citizens from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) are barred from the U.S. for 90 days, during which time the U.S. will seek agreements on information-sharing with these countries.
This week the Senate voted to confirm two more Trump nominees — Rep. Mike Pompeo [R, KS-4] for CIA Director and now former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley [R] for United Nations Ambassador.
Pompeo became the third confirmed appointee on Monday after Senate Democrats called for additional debate. The final vote was 66-32. Then Tuesday evening the Senate approved Haley to serve as the next ambassador to the United Nations by a vote of 96-4.
Congressional Republicans spent three days in Philadelphia for annual policy retreat. The packed schedule included policy workshops, performance from White Ford Bronco, and addresses from President Trump, Vice President Pence, and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Lawmakers assembled in bicameral groups to discuss legislative path forward for tax reform, infrastructure, and healthcare.
There's still a lot to decide regarding the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, but House members anticipate a vote in March. Speaker Ryan laid out 200-day Congressional agenda, looking to complete health care and tax overhauls by August. Speaker Ryan said Congress will consider border wall funding before end of this fiscal year (that's September 30), but no word on whether the supplemental funding of $12-15 billion will be offset.
Meanwhile, Democratic senators headed to West Virginia for annual retreat. Not much is known about the "tight-lipped" two-day event, but there were several panels on reconnecting with rural voters. Sen. Joe Manchin [D, WV] moderated a panel of West Virginia residents who voted for President Trump. The second day focused on Democrats' legislative agenda and how to respond to executive orders and upcoming Supreme Court nomination.
House Intelligence Committee announced bipartisan investigation into Russian hacking allegations, including possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. The announcement marks the second Hill investigation into such allegations.
- Counterintelligence concerns related to the 2016 presidential election, including any links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns
- Russian cyber activity and "active measures" directed against the U.S. and its allies
- U.S. government response to Russian active measures and any possible impact on intelligence relationship and traditional alliances
- Possible leaks of classified information related to the intelligence community's assessments of these matters
The following nominees cleared committee, meaning their nominations now head to the full Senate for consideration:
- Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce
- Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
- Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State
- Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation
Senate committees held three confirmation hearing this week:
- Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director nominee Rep. Mick Mulvaney [R, SC-5] testified before Senate Budget.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator nominee Linda McMahon testified before Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
- Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price [R, GA-6] testified before Senate Finance.
Meanwhile, Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander denied request from Senate Democrats to hold a second hearing for Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos and rescheduled confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor nominee, Andrew Puzder.
Trump team announced three additional picks:
- Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman
- Cheryl LaFleur as Acting Chair of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
- Former congresswoman Heather Wilson for Air Force Secretary
Pai is the most senior Republican commissioner at the FCC and did not require Senate approval before becoming FCC Chairman. His current five-year term expires at the end of this year and then he will need to be reconfirmed by the Senate. There are still two vacancies on the commission, but President Trump would only be able to name one more Republican due to partisan restrictions. As the new head of the FCC, Chairman Pai introduced a plan to reduce net neutrality rules.
LaFleur is one of three FERC commissioners (also a five-member panel). The current chairman Norman Bay will resign from the commission effective next Friday, leaving the board with just two commissioners. So what's FERC do? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is an "independent board that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil."
Wilson, however, will need to be approved by the Senate. Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow will continue to serve until the Senate confirmation process is complete. Wilson previously served in the House representing New Mexico's first congressional district from 1998 to 2009. Wilson was the first female military veteran elected to a full term in Congress.
One of the first major actions of the 115th Congress was starting the process for repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through budget reconciliation. The budget resolution set a date of January 27 for committees to submit their recommendations. None of the four committees tasked with drafting reconciliation bills made that deadline. (Lawmakers previously described the deadline as more of a placeholder and expected it to slip.)
Reconciliation is not the usual way Congress passes legislation. Instead, it's a three-step process that begins with a budget resolution. Why is it being used for this? Well, legislation passed through this process cannot be filibustered, meaning the Senate only needs 51 votes to pass the reconciliation bill. Now would be a really good time to learn about the federal budget process, specifically reconciliation. This graphic from Roll Call demonstrates how the process will be used in this case.
So mark your calendars with a new deadline — House Ways and Means and House Energy and Commerce are expected to report legislation in mid to late February, as confirmed by interim House Budget Chair Diane Black. It is unclear when Senate Finance and Senate HELP will report legislation.
So there's still a long ways to go in this process, but this week did include the first two ACA replacement bills.
Sens. Bill Cassidy [R, LA] and Susan Collins [R, ME] introduced the first Senate replacement plan for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The proposal would let states choose whether to remain in Obamacare exchanges or opt into a new system with similar consumer protections and fewer regulations. The proposal would maintain many of the ACA's revenue streams, including the Cadillac tax and the health insurance tax.
Later in the week, Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY] introduced another replacement plan — one that eliminates the baseline regulations established by the Affordable Care Act for minimum requirements of insurers, as well as individual and employer mandates. Paul's plan includes a $5,000 tax credit per individual that could be spent on premiums or deposited in a health savings account. Senator Paul was the only Republican senator to vote against the budget resolution that includes instructions to repeal Obamacare — refusing to vote for repeal until lawmakers decided on a replacement. Catch up on the budget resolution process here.
Keep an eye out next week for the first Senate committee hearing this Congress related to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
Thousands gathered at the Washington Monument for the 44th Annual March for Life. The demonstration is held every year, marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Several lawmakers joined the program, including Sen. Joni Ernst [R, IA] and Reps. Chris Smith [R, NJ-4] and Mia Love [R, UT-4]. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the rally, becoming the first sitting vice president to do so.
- House set to repeal five rules using the Congressional Review Act.
- House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chaffetz said the committee will not join voter fraud investigation, saying there's no evidence to support the claims.
- Speaker Paul Ryan invited President Trump to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28.
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will introduce legislation that would give Congress a say in whether President Trump eases sanctions against Russia.
- Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Ben Cardin reintroduced resolution to revive the consideration of the Equal Rights Amendment.
- Sen. Tim Kaine [D, VA] spent inauguration night presiding over a same-sex wedding.
- South Dakota Republicans voted to eliminate the state's first independent ethics commission, mirroring the Office of Congressional Ethics controversy at the start of this Congress.
- Hours after fainting during his State of the State address, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced he's been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
- Trump team will announce Supreme Court nominee next Thursday, with the list narrowed down to three candidates.
- President Trump will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday.
- U.S. deficit projected to shrink in 2017 but increase by nearly $10 trillion over next decade.
- Nevada climbed from last to first in job creation.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D, MA] sent a letter to Dept. of Labor's acting secretary asking why agency-created website to help wronged Wells Fargo employees was removed.
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.