Washington Update for the Week Ending September 30, 2016

Government funding. This week began with a Democratic filibuster in the Senate against a temporary funding bill to keep the federal government open beyond the end of the fiscal year on September 30. However, by mid-week an agreement was negotiated that not only funds the government until December 9, but also includes $500 million for cleanup in Louisiana and surrounding states suffering from flood damage; $1.1 billion to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus; and a deal to provide $170 million to Flint, Michigan, to pay for water infrastructure improvement. The House and Senate quickly approved the temporary spending deal and left Washington to campaign for re-election, leaving several major legislative items undone until the December lame duck session.

Lame duck Congress. The new December 9 funding deadline guarantees that Congress will return after the election for a lame duck session.  Of course, the primary objective of the lame duck Congress will be to pass another funding bill that keeps the government operating beyond December 9, but will almost certainly include several other items of legislative business.  The possible list includes criminal justice reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, the energy bill, and 21st Century Cures. Another developing dynamic involves the House leadership elections scheduled for November, after the election but before the lame duck session.  The House Freedom Caucus may ask Speaker Ryan to delay the House leadership elections until after the lame duck session in order to hold leadership more accountable for actions they take during the lame duck session.

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Lame duck President. As President Obama’s second term winds down, his power and influence is also waning.  His legacy plans to implement climate changes policies are threatened by legal challenges and Constitutional restraints, and even his veto power was challenged this week when Congress overwhelmingly supported an override of the President’s veto of a bill that allows 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. As if that weren’t enough, it appears that Congress will ignore President Obama’s nomination for America’s first ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years.

NCPA testimony. The House Government and Oversight Committee recently held a hearing about the rising price of EpiPens and the high cost of prescription drugs in general. NCPA Senior Fellow Devon Herrick submitted comments for the record that explain how regulations and bureaucracy contribute to high drug prices. Free markets, more than Congressional oversight, contribute to healthy competition and lower drug prices.

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez. The U.S. Supreme Court returns to work next week with a long list of cases to hear. When will the Senate confirm a ninth justice to replace Antonin Scalia?  That’s one of the primary questions that will be answered after the November 8 presidential election.  Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate leaders are playing their cards close to the vest, but if Secretary/Senator Clinton wins the White House and if the Republicans lose their Senate majority, there is a strong possibility that Sen. McConnell may try to move quickly on Merrick Garland, perhaps during the lame duck session.

Brian Williams is the NCPA’s legislative director.

 

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