Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Congress Faces Tight Schedule on Year-End Priorities

Drew Thies

Members of Congress have only a few days to come up with solutions to many must-pass deals and 2017 priorities. Lawmakers are facing a December 22 deadline for a government funding bill rife with complications as well as pressure from Republican leadership to pass a tax reform plan through both the House and Senate.

Democrats and Republicans compromised earlier this month, passing a short-term stop gap measure to extend government funding from December 8 to December 22 but it is unclear if another deal can be struck. Because of budgetary restrictions, another stop gap measure could trigger additional cuts that both parties want to avoid.

Competing priorities between the parties are preventing a more comprehensive deal from coming into focus. Republicans would like to ensure long term defense spending, among other provisions, while Democrats have threatened to not support any legislation that does not include measures such as funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or dealing with recent executive actions on immigration.

Additionally, lawmakers are working on a package to refund a series of Medicare programs known as “extenders.” The House Committee on Ways and Means announced in November a bipartisan plan to extend or make permanent the Medicare payment policies, including therapy caps, but uncertainty still exists on how to pay for the package. The extenders were funded by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015 through the end of December.

This all comes at a time where many on Capitol Hill are still entirely focused on the tax plan that passed the Senate at the beginning of December. House and Senate members are currently in a legislative conference to reconcile the differences between the two chambers’ versions of the bill. Republican leadership has stated they’d like both chambers to pass a final bill as early as next week.

The tax timeline is overshadowed by the Alabama special election, where a Democrat, Doug Jones, was selected over the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, to replace Jeff Sessions, who vacated the seat to become Attorney General. Jones is expected to be sworn into the Senate after the winter holiday, reducing the Republican margin in the Senate to 51-49 and narrowing the chances of successful passage of Republican priorities.

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