Washington Watch - 3/27/17
As you have likely heard dozens and dozens of times in the last 72 hours, the House pulled the American Health Care Act (AHCA) bill from the floor when it became apparent that the bill would not have enough votes to pass. President Trump was all-in, and I was all-in, but we simply couldn’t find enough votes in the House to pass it.
I believed—and still believe—that this bill represented America’s best opportunity to: (1) save the individual health care market from the destructive death spiral in which it is trapped with Obamacare, (2) escape one-size-fits-all federal solutions and provide complete flexibility to Georgia and other states to craft a Medicaid safety net program that can make an even more powerful difference for its citizens in crisis, and (3) repeal as many of the economically damaging and innovation-draining Obamacare taxes, penalties, and mandates as possible through the “reconciliation process.”
That last sentence is the key: “as possible through the reconciliation process.” Reconciliation is a special process with special rules and restrictions. While it doesn’t allow me the flexibility to pass any language that I choose, it does offer me the certainty of avoiding a Senate filibuster, by allowing the bill to pass the Senate with only 51 votes (not 60), and putting a bill on the President’s desk to become the law of the land. The AHCA was a reconciliation bill, and it was the product of hundreds of hours of committee hearings and votes and thousands of hours of conversation and negotiation. Ultimately, it fell short because every Democratic member committed to vote “no”, and in our Republican majority, a few members on the left of our conference thought it did too much and few members on the right of our conference thought it did too little, leaving us without enough votes to pass it. In the final hours, as negotiations concluded, changing the language to appease one end of the spectrum resulted in lost support on the other end of the spectrum, and vice versa, so without enough votes to pass, the bill was pulled.
Candidly, like many Americans, I’m still pretty upset about the outcome. I’m here for results. I’m here to make a positive difference. I’m here to vote yes or no—not on easy issues but on the incredibly hard ones. That said, recrimination and blame won’t change the law or help any American family. Only hard work can do that. So today, I am right back to it. Last week is defined by missed opportunities, but this week need not be.
Undoubtedly, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) received the majority of attention both in Washington and around kitchen tables across the nation last week, and though we were unable to push it across the finish line in the House, two other health care reform bills moved across the floor last week with bipartisan support. The first bill, H.R. 372, the “Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act,” was passed by a vote of 416-7. H.R. 372 would modify a decades-old federal anti-trust law exemption provided to insurance companies in order to prohibit things like price-fixing, bid rigging, other collaborative efforts that stifle competition and harm consumers, while recognizing that certain types of information sharing remain essential to the operation of functional insurance markets. What’s more, H.R. 372 paves the way for consumers to search for and purchase insurance policies across states lines, a reform that will inject more competition into the insurance market and drive down premiums for more Americans.
- The Hill. The right approach to promoting competition in the health care marketplace
- Washington Examiner. GOP hails House vote as down payment on 'phase three' of healthcare plan
The second bill, H.R. 1101, the “Small Businesses Health Fairness Act,” is legislation designed to help more small businesses access better health care coverage at lower prices. Right now, large employers and labor unions have an advantage over small businesses when it comes to purchasing health insurance, as they have larger groups of employees and thus increased bargaining power in the marketplace. H.R. 1101 seeks to remedy this competitive disadvantage by allowing small businesses to band together through association health plans (AHPs) and negotiate as a group for lower insurance prices for their employees. I was pleased to join my colleagues in supporting this bill, and I urge you to join me in encouraging the Senate to take up these bills as well.
- The Hill. Job creators need relief: Reform small-business healthcare
- SHRM. House Passes Association Health Plans for Small Businesses
One of the highlights of this week was the long awaited confirmation hearing of Georgia’s own Sonny Perdue. I was so pleased when President Donald Trump announced his selection of our former governor as his nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and I am delighted he is finally one step closer to confirmation by the Senate. Although some hearings have been more divisive recently, Governor Perdue received praise from Senators on both sides of the aisle for his experience growing up on a dairy farm and for his unique understanding of the agriculture industry. His qualified perspective was abundantly clear during his hearing as he fielded questions regarding the ailing agricultural economy, commodity exports, and H-2A agricultural worker visas. I am proud Georgia will soon have two Cabinet Secretaries in the administration with Secretary Tom Price already confirmed as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, and I am hopeful the Senate will take up a vote on Governor Perdue’s confirmation soon.
- Politico. Perdue had a long wait for a short confirmation hearing — and nailed it
- USA Today. Sonny Perdue gets friendly reception during Agriculture secretary hearing
On the other side of the Hill, my colleagues in the Senate finished up the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Over the past days, Judge Gorsuch was questioned on his judicial philosophy, his past experiences in both the Department of Justice and as a federal judge, and what kind of justice he plans to be. Judge Gorsuch, currently a judge on the 10th Appellate Court, brings with him a distinguished legal career of ruling based on the Constitution, which makes him a perfect replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. We have already felt the effect of Justice Scalia’s vacancy on the Supreme Court with a number of narrowly split and tied decisions by the court in the past term. While I do not have vote in his confirmation, I am excited to fill a staunch defender of our Constitution that will bring back balance to the Supreme Court.
- Los Angeles Times. What we learned about Neil Gorsuch during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing
- New York Times. Highlights from Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing
Given that they’re based right here in our own back yard, it might be easy to take for granted the amazing care and service Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) offers to those in Georgia and throughout the region on a daily basis, but I’m grateful our community sees them as the partner they are. Just last week, CHOA celebrated the ribbon cutting of a new urgent care facility in Gwinnett County, and we couldn’t be happier to have them. If the work they do day-in and day-out hasn’t touched your family directly, most of us don’t have to look far to find a friend, neighbor, or co-worker who has turned to them during a difficult time. I often say that our part of the world has the best any industry has to offer, and CHOA is a wonderful example.
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Patients, Dacula community gathers to cut ribbon at new Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta urgent clinic
There are certain things that bring us together – not as neighbors, Georgians, Americans, or otherwise – but rather, as human beings. Last week in Forsyth at an event for young children honoring their real-life heroes, one local businessman got a surprise visit from a stranger who saved his life. Scott Edwards received a bone marrow transplant over three years ago from a German man named Christian Kewitsch, and the two finally met. These are the kinds of stories that put in perspective much of the others things we discuss, and show definitely that no matter our differences, there is always more that unites us than divides us.
- Forsyth County News. Forsyth business owner surprised by life-saving bone marrow donor
This week the House is will be working hard to move important bipartisan pieces of legislation. The first bill, H.R. 1430, the “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017 (HONEST Act),” is a bipartisan bill that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publically disclose the scientific information it uses to draft new regulations so that everyone – the American people and the industries that the EPA wants to regulate – can replicate the science and make sure that the regulations make sense. This is the type of common-sense regulation that we can get done in Washington, D.C., if we take the time to work together.
The second bill this week is S.J.Res. 34. This resolution disapproves of a recent Federal Communications Commission regulation that would have created an unequal playing field on the Internet, threatening the basic premise of a free Internet and complicating existing regulations from the Federal Trade Commission. The FCC rule would have imposed strict new regulations on certain broadband companies regarding advertising and use of consumer data, while allowing other Internet companies – like websites and social media networks – to act as they saw fit outside the FCC’s new rules. In addition, current FTC rules would have been complicated by the FCC’s usurping of FTC jurisdiction. As such, this bill ensures that the FCC cannot put its thumb on the scale in favor of certain web companies over others, and I look forward to supporting it.
Member of Congress