Nel's New Day

September 5, 2017

Congress’ Twelve-day Agenda

Congress is back from vacation—pardon me, work in their home districts. Just 80 members of the House (49 Democrats and 31 Republicans), and 13 senators (eight Democrats and five Republicans), held town halls over the break, according to the group. Of the 175 members of Congress to hold an in-person town hall in 2017, 148 are Republican.

Back in Washington, Congress faces daunting tasks with deadlines with only twelves days in session. The increasing number of attack tweets from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) DDT makes congressional duties even worse.

Federal legislative responsibilities during September –

Pass a budget to avoid a government shutdown on October 1:

DDT insists on funding his “wall” and said that he’s willing to close down the government to get it. Democrats said they will block any money for the wall, and several Republicans agree. A  “kick the can” approach with a short-term, continuing resolution funding bill may postpone the fight for a few months, but it can have serious repercussions. DDT might increase domestic spending in exchange for a start to “double fence” construction. North Korea’s nuclear tests will make legislators want more military spending, and hawks hate short-term spending bills. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he won’t support another stopgap bill, and he has nothing to lose. People won’t change their minds later in the year, and Democrats will be able to filibuster budget bills after October 1.

Raise the debt ceiling to keep paying the government’s bills before September 29:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that there is “zero chance” Congress won’t raise the debt ceiling, and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said there are lots of options. That was BH—Before Harvey. Conservatives may demand attachments of spending cuts, but Democrats will oppose these. Raising the U.S. debt limit means that the U.S. will continue to pay existing bills. Not increasing the ceiling can trigger the first-in-modern-U.S.-history default that threatens to turn the world economy on its head and destroys the world’s faith in the U.S. paying its bills, including its loans. Interest rates would go up without the increase, and stocks and bonds are already suffering from the possibility. Worst case: a serious recession. McConnell threatened to withhold an increase from President Obama in 2013 without spending cuts. Now he’s on the other side from his own party’s conservatives.

Provide assistance after Harvey:

With Harvey’s losses over $180 billion, costs for this aid will probably be tens of billions, but the source of this income is uncertain. Aid for victims of Sandy waited 91 days while congressional members squabbled about taking the money from other parts of the budget. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wants aid for Hurricane Harvey survivors connected to the bill. DDT says that the Harvey bill should be independent, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), conservative Freedom Caucus leader, doesn’t want the debt-ceiling bill attached to any other legislation—except for his restrictions on future spending. Some sources have said that the House strategy is to pass a “clean” bill to fund $7.85 billion for the first phase of Hurricane Harvey recovery during the coming week. GOP senators could attach the debt limit raise to the House bill before returning it. Meadows’ conservatives would then have to decide whether to vote against Texas’ emergency assistance.

GOP hypocrisy will affect the debate of the aid, especially the 22+ Republicans who voted against the Sandy bill. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is trying to cover his refusal to support Sandy aid by claiming that two-thirds of it wasn’t for Sandy. His falsehood came from the coverage for Sandy coverage all the way down the East Coast to Florida.

Reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program by the end of September:

Twelve days isn’t enough time to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, but the program badly needs help. People can purchase flood insurance only through the government, but it doesn’t cover the full extent of floods, encourages development in flood-prone areas, and is extremely under-funded. Storms in the past dozen years have left NFIP with a $25 billion debt to the government with $5.5 billion going to rebuilding 30,000 homes that have flooded up to five times. About 5 million properties nationwide have FEMA coverage with nearly 600,000 in Texas and 500,000 in Louisiana. Private insurance companies get commissions up to 30 percent to “service” the federal flood insurance. Needed are new maps that consider sea-level rise and storm intensity as well as better information about properties’ flooding histories. Harvey will send at least 100,000 more claims to NFIP. The program pays $400 million annually in interest to the government for debt largely incurred since Hurricane Katrina. This graph explains why FEMA is losing so much money on its flood insurance. https://www.fema.gov/loss-dollars-paid-calendar-year

Fix health care by September 27:

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are trying to stabilize insurance markets and pay for ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reductions before payments are due on September 27 and insurers must commit to next year’s plans on the exchanges. GOP leadership oppose what they call a bailout of insurance companies without any reforms. The House-passed repeal bill for the Affordable Care Act is still on its calendar without any action on it in the Senate. GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (LA), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Dean Heller (NV) are pushing their plan, and DDT wants the ACA repealed before the vote could be filibustered, something requiring at least 50 GOP votes. Senate parliamentarian has set the deadline for the bill’s simple majority status at the end of September.

“Reform” taxes:

After 200+ days of failure, Republicans are looking for a success, and DDT wants his tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy done immediately. The “reconciliation” process for purely fiscal bills is good until the end of September. Mnuchin has promised details “this month,” but DDT said he expects the House to write the bill. Tax reform: GOP leaders were scheduled to meet with DDT this afternoon about cutting taxes, and DDT is scheduled to fly to North Dakota to present another vague speech selling his “reform” and put pressure on Democratic senators in red states. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is up for re-election next year.

Confirm DDT’s nominations:

Conservatives are whining about Democrats demanding 30 hours of debate for every judicial nominee—something that Republicans did if they got around to considering any of President Obama’s nominees like his nominee for the Supreme Court.

Fix DACA:

Since DDT gave only six more months to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that allows people brought into the country illegally as children to remain here legally, Congress can reinstate the program. Chances are highly unlikely that the GOP has enough “heart” and “compassion” to do anything for the 800,000 people losing their jobs in six months. DDT had suggested trading DACA for his “wall” and greater curbs on legal immigration, which Sen. Dick Durbin (IL), second highest Democrat, called a “nonstarter.” [Note: hours after Jeff Sessions made the announcement about rescinding DACA, the trump for DDT was so bad that he tweeted that if Congress doesn’t “legalize” DACA, he will “revisit” it.]

Pass the National Defense Authorization Act:

Senators tried to pass this bill before their vacation, but Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked it by requiring a vote on his amendments to sunset the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations allowing DDT to start wars without congressional approval. Defense is one of eight appropriations bills yet to be passed that also includes funds for NASA, NOAA, FAA’s space office, Homeland Security, Education, and Veterans Affairs.  The 2011 caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending are still in effect; if they are violated, automatic across-the-board cuts go into effect like they did for FY2013. Congress voted to relax the next two budgets but not this year’s.

Make decisions about surveillance:

Section 702, amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allowing monitoring of foreign officials overseas, is due to expire at the end of December. Because it can accidentally collect communications of U.S. citizens, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants to know if his communications are being collected. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) wants to make warrantless surveillance permanent. Muddying the issue for Republicans is their concern that Section 702 allowed intelligence agencies to collect information about Russia’s connection with DDT and his family.

Reauthorize CHIP:

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Medicaid supplement providing health insurance to nine million children, expires at the end of September with legislation to continue it. Legislators hope that they have flexibility if states don’t run out of money immediately, but inaction causes instability. Conservatives may hold this program hostage in an attempt to repeal the ACA medical device tax.

Reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration:

Neither House nor Senate FAA bills have gone to the floors, and they will need to be merged into one bill and passed again. The House bill privatizes the air navigation system to a non-profit corporation which DDT wants but may not pass muster in the Senate.

So Congress has 12 working days to keep the government from closing, avoid defaulting on the nation’s payments, solve health care, resolve the air traffic control dilemma, pay for Hurricane Harvey, and maybe cut taxes. And Hurricane Irma is headed toward Florida. Tick-tock.

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