Washington Update for the Week Ending May 5, 2017

An update from NCPA’s Legislative Director Brian Williams: 

This was a busy week in Washington with the President and Congress working together to fund the government and reform Obamacare.

Breaking news. The economy created 211,000 new jobs in April and unemployment dropped to 4.4%. The 62.9% labor participation rate is still stubbornly low, but the dismantling of 8 years’ worth of stifling regulations, the adoption of competitive taxation policy, and the repeal of an impossibly unrealistic health care law will liberate the economy with each passing month.

Obamacare update. The House of Representatives voted 217-213 this week to pass legislation that would partially repeal and replace Obamacare.  Despite the campaign rhetoric to completely repeal and replace Obamacare, this bill takes a first step by allowing states to opt out of Obamacare regulations and create a competitive system that will lower premiums and costs.  Just a few days ago, this bill didn’t have enough votes to pass.  But after sustained efforts by House leadership and President Trump, they managed to secure enough votes for final passage.  After the vote, House Republicans gathered at the White House to celebrate with the President, whilst Democrats taunted and sneered. Challenges remain, however, in the United States Senate where Senators have their own ideas on health reform. Stay tuned.

Government funding. In a procedural move reminiscent of the days when Republicans didn’t control both chambers of Congress and the White House, the Republican leadership rolled out a 1,700-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill at 2:00 AM on Monday. By 6:00 PM, the House leadership was asking for vote commitments.  Sloppy procedure often leads to sloppy policy, and this was no different.  House Democrats immediately announced victory, while Republicans tried to explain their funding decisions for Planned Parenthood, the border wall, and a bailout for Puerto Rico. In the end, the House overwhelmingly approved the bill by a vote of 309-118, with the vast majority of those “yes” votes (178) cast by Democrats. Only 131 Republicans supported the bill.  Later, the United States Senate approved the bill by a vote of 79-18. For his part, the President tweeted that the government “needs a good shutdown” to fix this mess. Whether or not that will solve the problem remains to be seen.

Here’s a rundown of several other actions that happened in Washington this week:

  • The President signed an executive order to promote religious liberty. The ACLU threatened to sue, but the details of the executive order were so underwhelming, the ACLU decided to withdraw their lawsuit. The executive order is intended to allow churches and religious organizations to be more politically active.
  • President Trump announced that he will visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican later this month.
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in Washington this week. President Trump said he would act as a facilitator of peace between Israel and Palestine.
  • FBI Director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill this week about his investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. He said he was “mildly nauseous” to think that he might have affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
  • The President told Bloomberg News that he would meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un if the circumstances were right.
  • President Trump spoke with Russian President Vladamir Putin over the phone. The two leaders agreed that “all parties must do all they can” to end the violence in Syria.
  • Now that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has been confirmed and sworn in, he is wasting no time in rolling back Michelle Obama’s school lunch regulations.
  • Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy.

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