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Capitol Correspondence - 12.03.18

Irresolution on Health, Budget, Tax Issues Marks Congressional 2018 Lame Duck Period

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The current (115th) Congress is struggling to check items off its to-do list in the remaining days before January 3, 2019 when the 116th Congress is introduced. Many items are still in flux as members of Congress who will not be returning seek to finish business while juggling competing political demands. Below is a snapshot of ANCOR priorities and the bills our issues have to compete with as we head into December.

ANCOR’s MFP Priority: ANCOR will be “pulling all stops” to obtain the passage of the EMPOWER Care Act (S. 2227 / HR 5306), which renews the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program. While the bill has passed through the committee of jurisdiction in the House, it awaits a floor vote there as well as Senate action. The bill has recently hit a hurdle posed by a higher Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on how much it will cost the government. If the bill does not pass, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that half of states will expect to end their programs by 2019 due to lack of funding. We encourage our members to ask their members of Congress to renew the MFP program – take action here!

Race is On! The December 7 Deadline to Avoid a Partial Shutdown: While Congress already funded the largest portions of government – including the departments of Defense (DOD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) – before the election, seven funding bills remain that are set to expire on December 7. If this funding expires, those departments will have to shut down, leading to a partial federal shut down. While most essential services of government, including Medicaid, will not be affected, the deadline is generating a lot of political pressure on Congress because one bill that does remain is the one funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DHS oversees border security, which is subject to tense discussions between Congress and the President given the President’s stated desire to build a controversial wall along the US-Mexico border. To quote Politico Pro: “If Congress simply extended the current funding for Homeland Security, it would still deliver $1.3 billion in border money. That bipartisan deal, approved this March, includes money for various border activities including fencing, drones and other technology.” However, the President has since requested $5 billion in spending on a border wall, leading to dissent from Democratic members of Congress. GOP Congressional leaders met with the President last Tuesday to discuss the shutdown issue. As of the time of this writing, the President shared he would support a bill extending the budget deadline by two weeks due to the passing of former President George H.W. Bush, laying in state at the U.S. Capitol this week prior to his funeral. At this time, it is unclear if that is the course Congress will take.

Sorting Out Hold-Ups on Popular Health Care Priorities: Congress is facing pressure to address the Medicaid payments “donut hole” – a pharmaceutical industry priority – before the change in leadership. A procedural stand-off between Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) is leading to holds on bills concerning over the counter medications and pandemic readiness. The Senate is also discussing resurrecting a 2017 bipartisan bill led by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) to fix errors in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As shared by Politico Pro: “Though the HHS package delivered a measure of certainty, it also took away incentives to revisit health policy during the year-end crunch. Aides and lawmakers told POLITICO that allowing health care riders to be tacked on to must-pass legislation could prompt demands for other concessions.”

New Tax Bill Emerges: ANCOR is flagging this tax bill because it contains a “manager’s amendment” by U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) to repeal changes to the UBIT statute made by last year’s tax bill, which could be relevant to our members in their roles as employers. Additionally, more tax cuts had been a presidential promise in the final weeks of the 2018 election, so this is going to be a point of focus for the outgoing Congress.

As shared by The Hill: “The year-end tax bill from outgoing House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) isn’t getting a House floor vote this week as had been expected — the latest sign of trouble for a package that already faces stiff odds in the Senate. […]

The bill, which is about 300 pages long, includes several different priorities that Brady has expressed interest in completing by the end of the year, including the renewal of expired tax breaks known as ‘tax extenders,’ disaster tax relief, technical corrections to the 2017 GOP tax law, incentives for retirement savings and reforms to the IRS. The bill only needs a simple majority to pass the House, so the delay of the vote suggests that there aren’t enough Republican votes.”

ANCOR will keep members informed of the outcomes of the lame duck session in the coming weeks.