Trump Declares National Emergency

Last Friday, the President signed an omnibus spending bill that funds the federal departments and agencies subject to last month’s partial government shutdown through the end of fiscal year 2019, averting another shutdown. The bill included nearly $1.4 billion for physical barriers along the southern border, less than the $5.7 billion the President initially requested. At the same time, the President declared a national emergency under which the Administration will seek to redirect federal funds to build additional security barriers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the declaration “unlawful” and pledged to fight it in court. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voiced support for the declaration, some Senate Republicans have called it unnecessary.

Crisis in Venezuela

President Trump was in Miami on Monday for a speech about the crisis in Venezuela. He reiterated his demand that Nicolas Maduro abandon his claim to the presidency, again voicing the United States’ support for opposition leader Juan Guaido. In the meantime, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer led a series of trade meetings this week with a Chinese delegation in Washington. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Larry Kudlow, and Assistant to the President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro also participated.

Deputy Attorney General Nomination

With new Attorney General Bill Barr in place at the Department of Justice, the President announced this week his intention to nominate Deputy Secretary of Transportation Jeff Rosen to replace outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

With Congress in recess this week for Presidents Day, many members traveled to Europe to attend the Munich Security Conference and to meet with senior NATO and EU officials.

Read more in our Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

Rep. Bobby Scott Discusses Priorities of House Education and Labor Committee at MWC Event

McGuireWoods Consulting’s National Education team recently hosted an event with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-03) in Washington, D.C. Having recently assumed his role as Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Scott discussed the committee’s priorities for the 116th Congress. Chairman Scott emphasized that the main focus of the Committee would be on providing all Americans, regardless of their background, the opportunity that comes with a quality education. In early learning and K-12 education, the Committee will take steps to hold the Department of Education accountable for implementing the Every Students Succeeds Act, ensuring that states and school districts are meeting their legal obligation to address achievement gaps.

Rep. Scott also discussed expanding the use of evidence-based strategies to improve school safety and school climate, while protecting students’ civil rights. He also plans to focus on investing in child care, early learning and K-12 public schools to ensure students and their families have the basic foundation they need to be successful.

In the higher education realm, the Committee will work to provide every student with a quality education, without the burden of unaffordable debt. Rep. Scott provided details on the Aim Higher Act, which provides every student a path to an affordable, high-quality degree or credential. Other priorities include protecting students and taxpayers from predatory, for-profit institutions and public service loan forgiveness.

Federal Updates

  • The House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing examining educator pay and school infrastructure needs. Committee Chairman Scott said additional hearings will follow that focus on the sufficiency of ESSA, Title I and IDEA funding.
  • The Department of Education is hosting the second negotiated rulemaking session on accreditation and innovation from Tuesday, February 19 to Friday, February 22.
  • New education bills include:
    • H.R.1168 To advance STEM education, provide for improved worker, training, retention, and advancement, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. Ryan, Tim [D-OH-13]
    • H.R.1197 To establish a pilot program to promote public-private partnerships among apprenticeships or other job training programs, local educational agencies, and community colleges, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. Larsen, Rick [D-WA-2]
    • H.R.1190 To prohibit an alien who is not in a lawful immigration status in the United States from being eligible for postsecondary education benefits that are not available to all citizens and nationals of the United States. Sponsor: Rep. Gosar, Paul A. [R-AZ-4]
    • H.R.1094 To authorize the Secretary of Defense to make grants to support the study of world languages in elementary schools and secondary schools. Sponsor: Rep. Price, David E. [D-NC-4]

Read more on education policy on the McGuireWoods Consulting website.

House Hearings

House Ways and Means Committee: The Cost of Rising Prescription Drug Prices
On Feb. 12, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the work that would need to be done to pass Medicare price negotiation. Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the hearing live feed here.

Why is this important: Health subcommittee Chair Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) promoted his price-negotiation proposal (H.R.1046), yet maintained his stance that he is open to other negotiation models, including compulsory arbitration.

Doggett’s price-negotiation bill is the highest-profile proposal thus far with more than 100 House cosponsors. It allows the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate prices for all drugs, though Republicans largely inquired about how to address the costs of expensive, single-source drugs. House Republicans oppose Medicare negotiation, especially if the plan were to let the government exclude coverage of drugs.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce: Strengthening Our Health Care System—Legislation to Reverse ACA Sabotage and Ensure Pre-Existing Conditions Protections
On Feb. 13, the House Energy and Commerce committee held a hearing on threats to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how to protection patients with pre-existing conditions as a result of ongoing legislation and federal court cases that could dismantle the law.

Why this is important: The House Energy & Commerce Committee identified three pieces of legislation to reverse the Trump administration’s actions to unravel the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The package, which the health subcommittee reviewed at the hearing, would revoke the administration’s short-term plan rule, strike the revised state innovation waiver guidance and restore ACA outreach funding. In addition, there appeared to be bipartisan interest in legislation introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) to inform consumers about the shortcomings of short-term plans. 

The bills reviewed include:

  1. The Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act of 2019, (H.R.986), introduced by Democratic Reps. Ann Kuster (NH), Joe Courtney (CT) and Don Beyer (VA).
  2. Legislation to restore ACA market and outreach funding back to $100 million and disallow the money from being used to promote products that do not comply with the ACA (H.R.987), introduced by Democratic Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE), Dan Kinder (MI), Lucy McBath (GA) and Kathy Castor (FL).
  3. Legislation to overturn the Trump administration’s expansion of short-term health plans (H.R.1010), introduced by Democratic Reps. Lauren Underwood (IL), Kathy Castor (FL), Mark DeSaulnier (CA) and Gwen Moore (WI).

Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the hearing live feed here.

Senate Hearings  

Senate HELP Committee: Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis
On Feb. 12, the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the opioid crisis, discussing research and approaches to pain management amid efforts to curb opioid abuse. Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the hearing live feed here.

Why is this important: Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) shared during the hearing a report released in 2018 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that says about 50 million Americans have chronic pain and nearly 20 million of those have high-impact chronic pain. This hearing is part of an effort to make dramatic reductions in the supply and use of opioids, while taking care of Americans who are in pain.

Read more on healthcare policy on the McGuireWoods Consulting website.

Funding the Government

On Monday evening, congressional negotiators announced a deal in principle on border security to avert a government shutdown at midnight tomorrow, provided it passes both chambers and the President agrees to sign it into law. The agreement provides $1.375 billion for 55 miles of physical barriers on the southern border, well below the President’s initial $5.7 billion request. The funds are included in a seven-bill omnibus appropriations package that also funds the departments and agencies that were subject to last month’s partial government shutdown, including the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, and Justice, among others.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure this afternoon. Assuming it passes, the House, where the package faces more opposition, will vote this evening. The White House has not said whether or not the President will sign the bill.

Barr Nomination

Elsewhere, the Senate voted 55-44 on Tuesday to end debate on William Barr’s nomination to be the next Attorney General. Senators Jones (D-AL), Sinema (D-AZ), and Manchin (D-WV) joined most of the Republican caucus in support; Senator Paul (R-KY) opposed. The Senate then voted 54-45 this afternoon to confirm Barr’s nomination. The Senate also voted 92-8 on Tuesday to pass a sweeping bipartisan lands package that permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. On the other side of the Capitol, House committees held hearings this week on drug prices and the impact of the partial government shutdown on aviation. The House Judiciary Committee also advanced two bills aimed at improving background checks for gun purchases.

FTC Announces Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century

On Wednesday, the FTC announced series of hearings in March and April on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century, some of which are rescheduled sessions from events that were cancelled during the government shutdown. Of note, the Commission will hold a roundtable with state attorneys general on March 25.

House Hearings

House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health: Texas v. United States: The Republican Lawsuit and Its Impacts on Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions

On Feb. 6, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on health held a hearing on how a federal judge’s ruling in Texas could affect protections of pre-existing conditions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the hearing live feed here.

Why this is important: The Texas v. United States ruling cited the ACA as unconstitutional—the case is in a high-profile appeals process. Members of the committee spent more time debating whether to hold a hearing on Medicare for All than discussing the implications of the ongoing federal case. Republicans pledged support to protect coverage of pre-existing conditions and to fix the ACA, using much of the hearing to highlight Democrats’ not bringing Republican single-payer proposals before the committees of jurisdiction.

House Committee on Education and Labor: “Examining Threats to Workers with Pre-existing Conditions”

On Feb. 6, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing to examine the threats to affordable health care for workers with pre-existing conditions and the protections offered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the hearing here.

Why this is important: While there was general consensus among the panel that the Texas ACA ruling would not hold in the Supreme Court, there remains a clear partisan divide on support for the law. Republican Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (NC) led the charge against the ACA, while the new Democratic majority sought to emphasize the law’s importance through witness testimonies of those needing pre-existing condition protections to survive.

House Appropriations Committee; Labor-Health Subcommittee: Impact of the Administration’s Policies Affecting the Affordable Care Act

On Feb. 6, the House Appropriations’ Labor-Health subcommittee held a hearing on the impact of the administration’s policies on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), specifically with regards to affordability, the increasing number of uninsured and the quality of the benefits available to people. Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the hearing here.

Why this is important: The subcommittee’s new chairwoman, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), said her intention with the hearing was to bring attention to the administration’s attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to find ways to reverse the administration’s initiatives.Republicans on the panel invited as their witness Ed Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a group that has pressed for the repeal of the ACA.

Senate Hearings

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee: How Primary Care Affects Health Care Costs and Outcomes

On Feb. 5, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on the importance of primary care in managing chronic conditions and preventing future health care costs. Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the hearing here.

Why this is important: The hearing gave examples of various employer groups and primary care entrepreneurs that are bending the cost curve through the delivery of high-value care. Those testifying in front of the committee included primary care physicians and academics leading innovative primary care models such as Direct Primary Care (DPC) practices and an expert in employer health benefits.

Read more on healthcare policy on the McGuireWoods Consulting website.

State of the Union

Congress convened a joint session on Tuesday evening for the President to deliver his State of the Union address, themed “choosing greatness.” The President focused on five policy areas: immigration, trade, infrastructure, healthcare, and national security. Of note, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation aimed at lowering prescription drug prices and to produce an infrastructure package. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding its first in a series of infrastructure-focused hearings today with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee following suit next Wednesday.

Senate Judiciary Advances Barr’s Nomination

Today, the Senate Judiciary advanced Bill Barr’s nomination to serve as Attorney General on a 12-10 party-line vote. Earlier this week, the Committee held a hearing to receive testimony from the President’s two nominees to sit on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Aditya Bamzai and Travis LeBlanc.

On the floor, the Senate voted 77-23 to pass a Middle East policy bill before moving to a lands package. The House moved a number of non-controversial Transportation and Infrastructure Committee bills this week on suspension.

Read more in our Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

House Hearings

Oversight and Reform Committee: Examining the Actions of Drug Companies in Raising Prescription Drug Prices
On Jan. 29, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing to determine business practices of pharmaceutical manufacturers as well as possible explanations for and solutions to rising drug prices. Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the entire hearing here.

Why this is important: Committee members emphasized major concerns that are widespread in both the House and Senate—a lack of transparency surrounding pharmaceutical drugs manufacturers, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and the negotiation process for these costs, the same concerns raised in the Senate Finance committee held on the same day. However, members disagreed on methods to intervene and the extent to which the federal government should play a role in this process.

Ways and Means Committee: Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions
On Jan. 29, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing to discuss pre-existing conditions and their impact on health care coverage. With the Texas federal court ruling that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be struck down, protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions is high on the docket of multiple committees. Find a link to witness testimonies and member statements here. Watch the hearing here.

Why this is important: Protections related to pre-existing conditions are the most popular part of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to the 2018 election, Republicans introduced legislation stating that it would provide individuals with protections from pre- existing conditions. However, these bills had significant shortcomings in comparison to the ACA. Republican committee members expressed support for guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and called on Congress to lower health care costs. Democrats on the panel pushed back on that, criticizing Republicans for a previous lack of support for pre-existing conditions protections in the ACA. One witness testified concerning the benefits of Association Health Plans, which the Administration supports and many Republicans see as part of the answer to the coverage problem. 

Budget CommitteeCBO’s Budget and Economic Outlook: FY 2019-2029
On Jan. 29, the House Budget Committee held a hearing on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) updated budget and economic outlook. Watch the hearing here.

Why this is important: Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) highlighted that the CBO projects a deficit this year that is $118 billion higher than last year’s. Average deficits over the next decade are projected to rise. The national debt is expected to reach 93 percent of GDP by 2029, before rising to an unprecedented 150 percent of GDP in 2049. CBO Director Keith Hall testified before the committee.

Senate Hearings

Finance Committee: Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part I
On Jan. 29, the Senate Finance committee held the first in a series of hearings for a bipartisan reform effort and increased transparency in the face of rising drug prices. Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the entire hearing here.

Why this is important: Witnesses suggested reforms to the Medicare Part D program, the 340B program and rebate programs as a few methods to lower prices. Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) discussed his bipartisan bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2019 (S.64). This legislation would permit the importation of prescription drugs from approved pharmacies in Canada. There was frustration on both sides of the aisle because drug manufacturers refused to testify. 

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee: Access to Care: Health Centers and Providers in Underserved Communities
On Jan. 29, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing to learn more about community health centers, the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education programs, which all currently receive mandatory funding from the federal government that is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year. Find a link to witness testimonies, member statements and the entire hearing here.

Why this is important: With the federal funding to the highlighted programs expiring at the end of the fiscal year, the HELP committee’s hearing gave a platform to better  understand the importance of these programs. Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced S. 192, the Community and Public Health Programs Extension Act, to the floor last week.

Budget Committee: CBO’s Budget and Economic Outlook: FY 2019-2029
On Jan. 29, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) updated budget and economic outlook. Watch the hearing here.

Why this is important: The CBO outlook projects a deficit this year that is $118 billion higher than last year’s. Average deficits over the next decade are projected to rise. The national debt is expected to reach 93 percent of GDP by 2029, before rising to an unprecedented 150 percent of GDP in 2049. CBO Director Keith Hall testified before the committee.

Read more on healthcare policy on the McGuireWoods Consulting website.

The House convenes Wednesday, February 6, 2019 at 2pm.

On the floor this week in the House

Items that may be considered under suspension of the rules:

H.R. 876          Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2019

H.R. 866          Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019

H.R. 543          To require the Federal Railroad Administration to provide appropriate congressional notice of comprehensive safety assessments conducted with respect to intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation

H.R. 831          Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019

H.R. 66            Route 66 Centennial Commission Act

H.R. 494          Tiffany Joslyn Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program Reauthorization

H.R. 450          Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act of 2019

H.R. 507          Putting Trafficking Victims First Act of 2019

H.R. 752          Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act

Items that may be considered pursuant to a rule:

H.R. 840          Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act

Key House Hearings and Meetings

Education

  • House Education & Labor Committee – Full Committee
    Hearing: “Examining Threats to Workers with Preexisting Conditions.”
    Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019
    Time: 10:15AM
    Location: 2175 Rayburn House Office Building
  • House Education & Labor Committee – Full Committee
    Hearing: “Gradually Raising the Minimum Wage to $15: Good for Workers, Good for Businesses, and Good for the Economy.”
    Date: Wednesday, February 7, 2019
    Time: 10:15AM
    Location: 2175 Rayburn House Office Building

Energy

  • House Energy & Commerce Committee – Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change
    Hearing: “Addressing the Environmental and Economic Effects of Climate Change.”
    Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019
    Time: 10AM
    Location: 2123 Rayburn House Office Building
  • House Energy & Commerce Committee – Subcommittee on Health
    Hearing: “Texas v. U.S.: The Republican Lawsuit and its Impacts on Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions.”
    Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019
    Time: 10:15AM
    Location: 2322 Rayburn House Office Building
  • House Energy & Commerce – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
    Hearing: “Examining the Failures of the Trump Administration’s Inhumane Family Separation Policy.”
    Date: Thursday February 7, 2019
    Time: 10:30AM
    Location: 2123 Rayburn House Office Building
  • House Energy & Commerce – Subcommittee on Communications & Technology
    Hearing: “Preserving an Open Internet for Consumers, Small Businesses, and Free Speech.”
    Date: Thursday, February 7, 2019
    Time: 11:00AM
    Location:  2322 Rayburn House Office Building

Judiciary

  • House Judiciary Committee – Full Committee
    Hearing: “Preventing Gun Violence: A Call to Action.”
    Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019
    Time: 10AM
    Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building
  • House Judiciary Committee – Full Committee
    Hearing: “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
    Date: Friday, February 8, 2019
    Time: 9:30AM
    Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Transportation

  • House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee – Full Committee
    Hearing: “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.”
    Date: Thursday, February 7, 2019
    Time: 9:30AM
    Location: HVC 210, Capitol Visitor Center

Ways and Means

  • House Ways & Means Committee – Full Committee
    Hearing: “Improving Retirement Security for America’s Workers.”
    Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019
    Time: 10:00AM
    Location: 1100 Longworth House Office Building

Government Reopens

Last Friday, the President announced that he would sign a three-week continuing resolution to reopen the government through February 15 while a bicameral, bipartisan committee negotiates a homeland security spending package. The House and Senate both passed the bill shortly following the President’s announcement and federal employees returned to work this week. The conference committee convened for the first time yesterday, though it remains to be seen if it will be able to find consensus on an approach that the President will sign.

Barr Nomination Postponed

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed until next week a vote on Bill Barr’s nomination to serve as the next Attorney General while Democrats push for additional information on his stance on the Mueller investigation. Leadership is anticipating a floor vote the week of February 11. On the floor, Senators took up a Middle East policy bill that stalled amid the shutdown and votes today on an amendment offered by Leader McConnell (R-KY) expressing disapproval for withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

Administrative News

FCC Chairman Pai swore in Geoffrey Starks on Wednesday as the Commission’s fifth member, bringing it to capacity. Starks, a Democrat, fills the seat vacated by former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. The FCC also moved up its February open meeting to February 14, which will ensure it takes place in case of another shutdown.

Elsewhere, the President nominated former DocuSign CEO Keith Krach last week to be Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, the position responsible for serving as the ombudsperson for the EU-US Privacy Shield. European officials have been pushing the Administration to appoint a permanent replacement for since the previous Undersecretary resigned over two years ago.

New Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics Team

This week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced a new Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics Team in response to increasing congressional demand for information on emerging technologies issues like artificial intelligence and quantum computing. GAO also plans to double the size of its team working on science and technology issues in the coming years.

Read more in our Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

This Week: Congress begins hearings on drug issues; Ways and Means focuses on preexisting conditions.

House

Ways and Means Chairman Schedules Hearing Next Week on Preexisting Conditions
The House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) announced a hearing on protecting individuals with preexisting conditions to be held on Jan. 29. The hearing is the first for the Ways and Means Committee since the Democrats gained the majority in the House. This hearing also begins their work on how to stabilize the marketplace. Find details for the hearing here.

Bipartisan Introduction of Cadillac Tax Repeal Bill in 116th Congress
On Jan. 24, a bipartisan effort out of the House reintroduced legislation to fully repeal the 40 percent excise tax on high-cost health plans, known as the “Cadillac tax.” The Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act is led by Reps. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Mike Kelly (R-PA), with Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) also signing on as original sponsors. In the last Congress, more than 300 representatives and 33 senators from both parties cosponsored a similar Cadillac tax repeal bill. Read and monitor H.R. 748 here.

Senate

Senate Finance and House Oversight Committees to Hold Drug-Pricing Hearing on Same Day
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will hold a drug-pricing hearing on Jan. 29, the same day the House Oversight Committee will also hold a hearing on the same topic. Grassley reintroduced bills with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) early this month to ban pay-for-delay patent settlements between brands and generics and to permit Canadian drug imports. Find details for the Senate Finance Committee hearing here. Find details for the House Oversight Committee hearing here.

Read more on healthcare policy on the McGuireWoods Consulting website.