Government funding, health care top agenda as Congress returns

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Members of Congress will return to Washington next week to confront a government shutdown deadline and a White House eager to notch some legislative victories, especially on health care.

The most pressing business is government funding: The House and Senate have until midnight Friday to cut a trillion-dollar spending deal to prevent a partial government shutdown on President Trump‘s 100th day in office.

While bipartisan negotiations continue on Capitol Hill, Trump is driving a hard bargain, insisting on money to begin construction on a border wall and boost defense spending.

Democrats insist they won’t support a downpayment on the Southwest border wall, and are pushing back against Trump’s threat of stopping key federal subsidy payments to health insurers under Obamacare.

Sources close to negotiations expect Congress to pass a short-term funding measure -– anywhere between one and three weeks — to give appropriators more time to finalize a larger spending deal to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September.

Beyond keeping the government’s lights on, Republicans, encouraged by the White House, are still hoping to revive the GOP health care bill that was pulled from the House floor roughly a month ago.

Moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-New Jersey, has floated a proposed amendment that would give states the ability to request to opt out of certain Obamacare regulations while making essential health benefits –- the requirement that all plans cover things like prescription drugs and mental health services -– the federal standard.

Members are waiting to review legislative text for the proposal, and a vote could come midweek after members return to Washington on Tuesday.

Despite pressure from the White House to put points on the board ahead of Trump’s 100th day in office, it’s not clear that the underlying political dynamics that sank the health care bill initially have changed, and that the amended version could garner 216 votes on the House floor.

In a conference call with members Saturday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said legislative language for the MacArthur amendment is being finalized, according to a GOP source on the call.

He made clear that there will be a vote only when it’s clear the bill has enough support, and that votes will drive the timing, according to the source.

Additionally, Trump has said that starting “next week” he will be unveiling his tax reform package with “massive” tax cuts for all Americans.

“It really formally begins on Wednesday,” he told reporters on Friday.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said in a statement that his committee is “ready to work” with the White House, although it’s not clear what exactly will materialize next week.

The White House and Republicans also have their sights on the Dodd-Frank Act signed by President Obama following the 2008 financial crisis. The House Financial Services Committee is holding a hearing this week on a GOP replacement to the law.



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