Health care, bud­get await US congress law­mak­ers

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Congress is still try­ing to send Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump his first un­qual­i­fied leg­isla­tive tri­umph, nearly six months after Repub­li­cans grabbed full con­trol of Washington. Now, law­mak­ers are re­turn­ing from their July 4 re­cess with an added ob­jec­tive - avert­ing some full-blown po­lit­i­cal dis­as­ters.

The GOP cam­paign to re­peal Demo­crat Barack Obama’s health care law is bogged down in the Se­nate and flirt­ing with col­lapse. Ef­forts to pass a bud­get are stuck, there’s no tax code over­haul pack­age, spend­ing bills are in limbo and it’s un­clear how lead­ers will find the votes to avert a fed­eral de­fault.

The dif­fi­cul­ties flow from Repub­li­can di­vi­sions. Col­lec­tively, the prob­lems are threat­en­ing to sink top GOP pri­or­i­ties and undermine the party’s abil­ity to show it can gov­ern ef­fec­tively. Law­mak­ers have three weeks of work be­fore an Au­gust re­cess. Some Repub­li­cans are mak­ing noise about short­en­ing that respite, but do­ing so would be a step shy of sac­ri­lege on Capi­tol Hill.

Health care nail-biter

It took the House sev­eral tries to pass its bill aim­ing to an­nul much of Obama’s health care law. Now, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell is strug­gling to find GOP votes for a sim­i­lar pack­age re­plac­ing that 2010 statute with one eas­ing in­sur­ance cov­er­age re­quire­ments, cut­ting Med­i­caid, eras­ing penal­ties on peo­ple not buy­ing in­sur­ance and re­peal­ing tax in­creases on the well-off.

McCon­nell, R-Ky, un­ex­pect­edly called off a pre-re­cess vote on the mea­sure - which he’d writ­ten pri­vately - as it be­came clear it would lose. With Democrats ar­rayed unan­i­mously against him, McCon­nell needs at least 50 of the 52 GOP sen­a­tors to vote yes or wit­ness the mor­ti­fy­ing crum­pling of his party’s high­deci­bel pledge to up­root Obama’s law.

McCon­nell has been cal­i­brat­ing changes that might win over wor­ried Repub­li­cans, but there’s no sign he’s made progress. Re­vi­sions un­der con­sid­er­a­tion would lessen the bill’s Med­i­caid cuts, boost spend­ing for pro­grams com­bat­ing drug abuse, fat­ten health care sub­si­dies for low earn­ers and make it eas­ier for in­sur­ers to sell skimpier, lower-cost poli­cies. A vote is ex­pected no ear­lier than the week of July 16. McCon­nell has said if the mea­sure flops, he’d push a nar­rower bill prop­ping up ail­ing health in­sur­ance mar­ket­places.

A bud­get morass

Repub­li­cans are stuck on a fis­cal blueprint for the com­ing bud­get year, with dis­putes be­tween con­ser­va­tives and mod­er­ates over how deeply to cut pro­grams like food stamps. None of the 12 an­nual spend­ing bills fi­nanc­ing fed­eral agen­cies is fin­ished.

Dis­agree­ments have slowed work on a tax over­haul. And no one knows what bargains will be needed to as­sure au­tumn pas­sage of a bill ex­tend­ing gov­ern­ment bor­row­ing author­ity and avoid­ing a crush­ing fed­eral de­fault. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, told re­porters Fri­day that he’d “pre­fer” to pass the bud­get in July, sug­gest­ing it might linger un­til fall, adding to Congress’ late-year moun­tain of work.

Bil­lions more for mil­i­tary

De­fense hawks scoffed at Trump’s pro­posed 2018 mil­i­tary bud­get as in­suf­fi­cient. They’re adding bil­lions more. The House is slated to vote this week on a sweep­ing policy bill that takes is­sue with Trump’s pro­posed trim to mis­sile de­fense spend­ing as North Korea pushes its de­vel­op­ment of weapons ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the United States.

The de­fense bill would pro­vide $696 bil­lion for the Pen­tagon. It has $28.5 bil­lion more for core Pen­tagon op­er­a­tions than Trump re­quested, in­clud­ing an ad­di­tional $2.5 bil­lion for pro­grams aimed at shield­ing the home­land from mis­siles. There’s ex­tra money for new jet fight­ers, ships and ad­di­tional ac­tive duty troops. Less cer­tain is how quickly Repub­li­cans move on leg­is­la­tion passed by the Se­nate that would hit Rus­sia and Iran with new sanc­tions. Democrats are press­ing for fast ac­tion, but the mea­sure was not on the House sched­ule for the week. The leg­is­la­tion eas­ily cleared the Se­nate in June. Christo­pher Wray gets his turn in the spot­light as a Se­nate panel holds a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing on Trump’s choice to re­place ousted FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey. Wray, a white-col­lar de­fense lawyer with a strong law en­force­ment back­ground, was a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial in Ge­orge W Bush’s Jus­tice De­part­ment.

He later rep­re­sented New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie in the Bridge­gate scan­dal. Trump fired Comey in May as the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion pressed on. Mem­bers of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee are cer­tain to press Wray on how in­de­pen­dent he would be from Trump.

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