With Congress back in session, legislating was the order of the day across several fronts. Both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats put forward pet health care bills — from Republicans, a last-ditch effort to reboot Affordable Care Act repeal, and from the left, a drive to raise Democrats’ health care ambitions.
Meanwhile, the White House and Democratic leaders struck a big deal on immigration and the border — or maybe they didn’t — while Republicans continued to be divided amongst themselves on tax reform.
Here’s what you need to know.
Senate Republicans threw an Obamacare repeal Hail Mary
Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) rolled out new Affordable Care Act repeal legislation on Tuesday, just weeks in advance of the expiration of the budget reconciliation orders that would let Republicans pass a health bill with 50 votes.
- What it does: Cassidy was, for a time, one of the most pro-coverage Republican Senators. But the Cassidy-Graham bill is one of the most radical repeal notions the GOP has floated, basically undoing the whole Affordable Care Act and then creating conditional block grants to state governments that can be used for a range of health programs.
- Time is running out: There are only 52 Republican senators, so to avoid a filibuster Republicans had been hoping to use the special budget reconciliation process — but the budget containing the reconciliation order they want to use expires on September 30, so there’s almost no time left.
- Does this have a chance? It seems unlikely. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who voted against repeal last time, aren’t supporting this bill. Neither is Rand Paul. And Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell don’t seem enthusiastic. House Republicans have already moved on to taxes.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi walked out of a Wednesday night dinner at the White House announcing that they’d struck a deal to protect DACA recipients and offer some new nonwall border funding. Then things got confusing.
- What’s the deal? That’s a key problem. Nobody knows exactly what’s been agreed to, there don’t appear to be any written documents spelling it out, and Trump is rarely clear when speaking about policy details. So no one knows what kind of border security we’re talking about, what the nature of the DREAMer protections is, and thus whether the deal is something they would support.
- Limited backlash on the right: Anti-immigration hardliners like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) are, naturally, upset. But DREAMers have always been the toughest political issue for restrictionists, and Fox & Friends’ initial coverage sided with Trump, so it seems more likely than not that Trump can make a deal stick if he wants to.
- What’s next? The White House and Democratic congressional leaders need an actual deal, with text and numbers and bullet points and everything. If they can reach one, they can probably get it through Congress. But until they do, it’s more like an agreement to agree than an actual agreement.
Bernie Sanders, long an isolated member of the Democratic Senate caucus, rolled out a new Medicare-for-all legislative framework on Tuesday — picking up more than a dozen co-sponsors, including most of the leading 2020 contenders in the Senate.
- Berniecare is very ambitious: Sanders’s plan would not just extend Medicare coverage to everyone in America, it would eliminate the copayments and deductibles that Medicare requires and expand the range of services covered to include long-term care, vision, and dental care.
- Financing is unknown: Sanders’s staff released a series of possible revenue-raising ideas that he could get behind to pay for the plan but did not settle on a particular proposal. More importantly, they don’t have even an in-house estimate of the amount of money involved to fund the system — just the observation that other countries manage to afford universal coverage systems while spending less on health care than the United States does.
- What’s next? This is obviously not going to become law in 2017 or necessarily at any time in the future. It does appear, however, to have a status somewhat akin to what cap-and-trade had in the 2008 Democratic primary, where all the leading contenders will at least voice support for the idea.
Tax reform is coming soon, maybe
Republicans are, supposedly, focused on putting together a major package of tax cuts or tax reforms or something that they are hoping to pass through a new set of budget reconciliation instructions once the health care instructions expire at the end of September. But it’s far from clear what progress, if any, they are actually making.
- House Republicans are tied in knots over the budget: The first step to a budget reconciliation bill is to pass a budget, and House Republicans are divided about what the budget should say, with far-right members pushing for draconian spending cuts that leadership doesn’t think is politically viable.
- Trump is making promises he’s unlikely to keep: Trump, meanwhile, is busy telling reporters that his tax reform plan won’t benefit rich people “at all” which is at odds with every draft plan his team has ever released and with everything that’s ever come out of the House Ways and Means Committee. Most likely he doesn’t mean it. But in theory he could pivot and get behind a plan that lives up to his commitments.
- Democrats are in limbo: This all puts Democrats in an odd position. In theory, Republicans say they want a revenue-neutral reform plan. Democrats like the idea of a revenue-neutral reform plan. And in theory, Trump is saying the plan won’t benefit the rich. Democrats like the idea of a reform that doesn’t benefit the rich. So in theory, there’s room here for a bipartisan deal. But in practice, Republicans are working behind closed doors on a partisan process and Democrats assume that’s because the actual plan — when it’s released — will actually be a big tax cut for high-income families.