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January 30, 2015

Posts in "Health Care"

January 12, 2015

Ted Cruz: Preserve Filibuster, Even For Obamacare Repeal

Cruz wants to keep the filibuster, even though it makes it harder to repeal Obamacare. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Cruz wants to keep the filibuster, even though it makes it harder to repeal Obamacare. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There’s a limit to what Sen. Ted Cruz would do to repeal Obamacare.

The Texas Republican said Monday that Republicans should do “everything humanly possible to repeal Obamacare” during a speech at Heritage Action’s annual policy summit. It’s a line he’s used before. But he later added a caveat.

When asked if Republicans should use the “nuclear option” to ditch the filibuster on legislation and get more bills to President Obama’s desk, including a bill repealing Obamacare, Cruz told reporters, “no, we should not.”

“We should preserve the procedural protections in the Senate for the rights of the minority,” he said. Full story

January 8, 2015

Cornyn: Obamacare Repeal Vote Should Wait

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he hopes his GOP colleagues hold off on a vote to fully repeal Obamacare until after Republicans have shown they can govern.

“I think it’s important that we demonstrate that we can be productive before we have the inevitable fight over repealing Obamacare,” the Texas Republican said in an interview with CQ Roll Call Wednesday. “We are going to have that vote. But my own preference would be we have it after we’ve been able to demonstrate that we can actually get some things done.”

Asked if he would be opposed to an Obamacare repeal amendment being offered to the bill due on the floor next week to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, Cornyn said, “I think that would muddle the message.”

Supporters of the Keystone bill have also said that they would prefer that only relevant amendments be offered.

Adding a repeal to any bill would effectively act as a poison pill for Democrats and the White House — and a pure repeal is certain to fall short of the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster. But Republicans have pledged to try and repeal it anyway.

To that end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier told CQ Roll Call there will at least be a vote on proceeding to a bill repealing the law.

Cornyn predicted the King v. Burwell case that will be argued before the Supreme Court in March will end up going a long way towards undoing the law.

The court will decide whether the law allows people participating in the federally run health care exchange to get subsidies. A decision denying the subsidies would significantly undermine the law.

“What I expect is that the Supreme Court is going to render a body blow to Obamacare from which I don’t think it will ever recover,” Cornyn said.

He also said there may be bipartisanship on some of the much smaller Affordable Care Act rollbacks, such as a bill that passed the House 412 to 0 on opening day that would encourage the hiring of veterans by exempting them from counting toward the employer mandate under Obamacare.

“So I think there are going to be some parts of repealing Obamacare that are going to be consensus, bipartisan items,” Cornyn said.

Some of those bills with bipartisan backers face opposition from the White House. That’s true in the case of a measure that would define full time employment as 40 hours per week for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act.

“Our goal is simple. We want to protect part-time workers from having their hours reduced and their paychecks cut because of the definition in this law,” said lead Senate sponsor Susan Collins, R-Maine.

That bill faces a White House veto threat and received a fairly ugly CBO score saying it would boost the deficit, result in more people uninsured and on Medicaid and potentially reduce, not increase, the number of hours worked by full-time workers.

Ahead of a House vote, the Office of Management and Budget said “it would significantly increase the deficit, reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage, and create incentives for employers to shift their employees to part-time work — causing the problem it intends to solve.”

And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would seek to block efforts to roll back the health care law, financial services reform or tampering with access to the Internet.

“Any attempt to erode protections for working American families — the dismantling of Dodd-Frank, the weakening of net neutrality rules, or the Republicans’ never-ending quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act — will be met with swift and unified Democratic opposition,” Reid said in a statement read on the floor by Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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January 6, 2015

Senators Cheer ‘President Hatch’

Orrin Hatch

Hatch is a Utah Republican. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The start of the 114th Congress brings a pair of new roles for the senior-most Senate Republican: president pro tem and chairman of the Finance Committee.

Shortly after the Senate convened Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, was elected president pro tem, the Constitutional post that puts in line for the presidency behind the vice president and the speaker. The position comes with a security detail and an ornate office on the first floor of the Capitol, vacated by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.

“You get a beautiful office. I left it in perfect condition with one exception: I cleaned out the liquor cabinet. … I knew you wouldn’t need that,” Leahy joked at a Tuesday afternoon reception for Hatch, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Full story

October 28, 2014

McConnell: Obamacare Repeal Will Take 60 Votes (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 9:35 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans won’t be able to repeal Obamacare anytime soon.

Tempering the expectations of conservatives a week before the elections that could install him as the first Republican majority leader in eight years, the Kentucky Republican said in a Fox News interview Tuesday a repeal of the health care law simply wasn’t in the cards for now.

He wasn’t telling Fox News anything that close observers of the Senate and the budget process didn’t already know, but it serves as a reminder of the limitations Republicans should expect even if they net six or seven seats, given the obvious reality that President Barack Obama is still in the White House.

McConnell said repealing Obamacare remains at the top of his priority list.

“But remember who’s in the White House for two more years. Obviously he’s not going to sign a full repeal, but there are pieces of it that are extremely unpopular with the American public and that the Senate ought to have a chance to vote on,” he said.

McConnell also noted Democrats could filibuster a repeal effort.

“It would take 60 votes in the Senate. No one thinks we’re going to have 60 Republicans, and it would take a presidential signature,” McConnell said. “I’d like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the president’s desk.”

That suggests McConnell isn’t about to pull a nuclear option of his own and do away with the filibuster just for the sake of repealing the law.

Republicans including McConnell have talked about rolling back much of the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process — which would allow them to bypass a filibuster. That route is difficult to traverse and forbids the inclusion of items that are not budget-related. Such a bill could also still be vetoed, making the whole process a symbolic exercise without a Republican president.

Other smaller pieces might get super-majorities, such as repealing the 2 percent excise tax on medical devices. McConnell also mentioned nixing the individual mandate as another target.

McConnell again suggested Republicans would try to use the appropriations bills to rein in the Obama administration.

Asked about what a GOP-led Senate might do to blunt executive action on immigration policy that President Barack Obama is planning, McConnell used the example of environmental regulations.

“I think it’s a bad mistake for the president to try and assume powers for himself that many people feel he should not be assuming. You know, we’ve seen that on full display with the EPA and the war on coal,” McConnell said. “That’s not a result of any legislation that Congress passed. It’s just something the president wants to do on his own and uses the people who work for him to achieve. I think that’s a big mistake.”

Those spending restrictions could get to Obama’s desk, leaving the president to decide whether to use his veto authority.

Speaking to Fox from the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., during a campaign stop, McConnell counted the potential move on immigration as one such mistake. McConnell himself must overcome a challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, with a variety of public and internal polls showing the race competitive in the closing week. The Kentucky Senate race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

“If the American people do change the Senate, and give the Republicans control of Congress, we certainly are, through the spending process, going to try to restrain the overactive bureaucracy that’s been attacking virtually every business in America,” McConnell said. “And we intend to push back against executive orders that we think aren’t warranted by … trying to control the amount of money that is allocated.”

But there’s only so much the GOP is going to be able to accomplish.

“He is the president of the United States, and he’ll be there until January 2017,” McConnell said of Obama.

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October 21, 2014

10 Questions for Eric Holder’s Replacement as Attorney General

immigration reform ted cruz jeff sessions border attorney general

Cruz, left, and Sessions both sit on the Judiciary Committee and will have a change to grill the nominee for attorney general. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Eric H. Holder Jr.’s replacement as attorney general will face a grilling from the Senate Judiciary Committee after the elections, with the position key to enabling President Barack Obama’s pen-and-phone executive agenda and with numerous hot-button issues under the purview of the Justice Department.

The nominee to replace Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who is also leaving, will also face much the same treatment.

Here are 10 questions the nominees will likely hear:

1. What is the limit of the president’s executive authority on immigration? Full story

October 15, 2014

McConnell Says CDC Should Get Money Needed to Battle Ebola

If federal health agencies under President Barack Obama want more money to fight Ebola, they should get it, according to the Senate’s top Republican.

“I think they should have anything they want. The president asked for $88 million a few weeks ago, we gave it to him,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told MSNBC. “Whatever the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] thinks they need, we’ll give it to them.”

Full story

October 14, 2014

Cornyn, Cruz Back Obamacare Lawsuit Over Origination Clause

Obamacare lawsuit John Cornyn Ted Cruz

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are backing another Obamacare lawsuit, hoping to upend the law.

The Texas Republicans — both lawyers — filed a court brief backing the lawsuit, which claims the Senate failed to comply with the Constitutional requirement that revenue bills start in the House.

While the House drafted and passed a health care overhaul, the Senate did not use that bill as the base for its own effort. The legislative history for the bill that became law as the Affordable Care Act shows that it started as an innocuous measure in the House waiving the repayment requirement of the first-time home-buyer tax credit for some military personnel. Full story

October 8, 2014

Republicans Eye Obamacare Showdown in Lame Duck

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:22 p.m. | A group of Senate Republicans have their eye on another Obamacare showdown in the lame-duck session.

The 14 Republicans, led by Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote a letter urging Speaker John A. Boehner to “prohibit the Obama administration” from spending money on an “Obamacare taxpayer bailout.”

They point to a legal opinion from the Government Accountability Office that said additional funding authority would be needed to make payments to insurance companies under the risk-corridor component of the Obamacare health care exchanges. The Republicans say taxpayers could be on the hook for bailing out insurance companies that suffer losses.

“Without that appropriation, any money spent to cover insurance company losses under the risk corridor program would be unlawful,” the senators wrote to Boehner, later noting Congress needs to act to keep the government operating past Dec. 11, when the existing continuing resolution expires.

Full story

September 22, 2014

McConnell Asks Medicare to Help Detect Lung Cancer in Smokers

Mitch McConnell

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants Medicare to do more for early detection of lung cancer, a particularly pronounced issue in Kentucky.

Citing a U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation, the Kentucky Republican has sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner seeking review for possible coverage of low-dose CT scans to detect lung cancer among high-risk populations, such as pack-a-day smokers.

Full story

August 5, 2014

Ron Johnson Appealing Obamacare Ruling, Will ‘Exhaust Every Legal Recourse’

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ron Johnson isn’t giving up his legal fight to toss health benefits for members of Congress and their staff participating in Obamacare.

The Wisconsin Republican formally notified a federal court Monday of his intent to appeal a ruling that he doesn’t have standing to sue the Obama administration over health benefits for members and staff.

In court documents filed Monday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Johnson made official what he had announced in an Aug. 2 opinion piece for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. In that piece, he refers to District Judge William C. Greisbach’s opinion against him on the standing question as part of his motivation for continuing the legal challenge to the Office of Personnel Management’s decision that members and staff accessing health insurance through the District of Columbia exchange can continue to get an employer contribution.
Full story

July 22, 2014

Reid: ‘Absurd’ Obamacare Decision Vindicates ‘Nuclear Option’ (Video)

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Senate Democrats are hoping their use of the “nuclear option” to end a Republican blockade of circuit court nominees last year will help overturn a 2-1 appeals court ruling with the potential to gut Obamacare tax subsidies for millions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blasted the court’s ruling that Congress only wanted to provide tax subsidies in states with their own exchanges an “absurd” move by “two activist Republican judges.”

The administration plans to appeal the ruling to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which now has more Democrat-appointed judges after the nuclear option blew up GOP attempts to filibuster Obama’s nominees. Full story

July 21, 2014

Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnson’s Obamacare Lawsuit

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.

The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.

Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.

Full story

July 8, 2014

Democrats’ Hobby Lobby Response Would Curtail Religious Freedom Law (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If Sen. Patty Murray and fellow Democrats get their way, employers wouldn’t be able to use a 1990s-era law to avoid Obamacare health coverage mandates for contraception.

That’s the crux of the proposal expected to be introduced by the Washington Democrat that would upend the recent split Supreme Court opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

It’s a bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is eager to bring to the floor for an almost certainly ill-fated test vote.

Full story

June 30, 2014

Senate Democrats Eye End Run Around Hobby Lobby Case (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 2:19 p.m. | Senate Democrats plan to “fight” to ensure women retain access through their insurance to contraceptives, after the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said in a statement that while he certainly opposed the Supreme Court’s 5-4 opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that said closely held corporations did not have to provide contraceptive services as part of health insurance plans if they have religious exemptions, he noted the scope was somewhat narrow.

“I disagree strongly with today’s Supreme Court’s decision, which will limit access to critical preventive care for everyday working people in Iowa and around the country. I am heartened, however, that the Court’s narrow decision would not extend to other guaranteed health benefits from the Affordable Care Act such as blood transfusions and vaccinations,” the Iowa Democrat said in his statement.

“While the Supreme Court has ruled, this fight is far from over. Along with my colleagues in Congress, I am deeply committed to ensuring that all Americans — men and women alike — can get the health coverage they need, and we will be exploring legislative remedies to ensure that affordable contraceptive coverage remains available and accessible,” Harkin said.

Harkin is chairman of both the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that provides funds to the Department of Health and Human Services.

An early concrete legislative proposal came from the desk of Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin. The Illinois Democrat plans a bill that would require corporations denying insurance coverage to employees pursuant to the Hobby Lobby case to be disclosed.

“I will introduce legislation that requires all corporations using this Supreme Court decision to deny or limit contraception services to disclose this policy to all employed and applicants for employment,” Durbin said in a statement. “Workers have a right to know if their employers are restricting the availability of a full range of family planning coverage.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled likewise in his own statement, without providing details.

“Today’s decision jeopardizes women’s access to essential health care. Employers have no business intruding in the private health care decisions women make with their doctors. This ruling ignores the scientific evidence showing that the health security of millions of American women is strengthened by access to these crucial services,” Reid said. “If the Supreme Court will not protect women’s access to health care, then Democrats will. We will continue to fight to preserve women’s access to contraceptive coverage and keep bosses out of the examination room.”

President Barack Obama wants Congress to pass a new contraception law to ensure women keep their coverage, although Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration may be able to act even without Congress.

Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Democratic leadership, signaled in a statement she was open to both options.

“Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business – period. Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will,” the Washington Democrat said in a statement. “In the coming days I will work with my colleagues and the Administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.”

Any legislative fix would face a huge hurdle — namely the seemingly universal praise for the decision from Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

But in the majority opinion at the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito seemed to open the door to HHS providing for the contraceptives to be covered through other means.

“HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by the objecting parties in these cases,” wrote Alito. “The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections. This would certainly be less restrictive of the plaintiffs’ religious liberty… that this is not a viable alternative.”

Likewise, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurrence pointing to existing protocols for religious organizations.

“[I]n other instances the Government has allowed the same contraception coverage in issue here to be pro- vided to employees of nonprofit religious organizations, as an accommodation to the religious objections of those entities,” Kennedy said. “The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it. That accommodation equally furthers the Government’s interest but does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

 

Related stories:

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Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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May 7, 2014

Senator on Veterans Affairs Allegations: ‘Just Because CNN Says Something, Doesn’t Always Make It The Case’ (Video)

During Senate floor debate Wednesday over authorizing funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 18 states, the Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders criticized members for jumping to conclusions over alleged misconduct at VA facilities, including in Phoenix, Ariz., which has received extensive media attention following a CNN report last week.

“I am not a lawyer, but I did learn enough in school to know that you don’t find somebody guilty without assessing the evidence,” the Vermont Independent said. “And frankly, just because CNN says something, doesn’t always make it the case.”

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Some Senate Republicans, including Minority Whip John Cornyn, called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on Tuesday, while others, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have refused to call for Shinseki’s ouster until hearings are held and the Inspector General’s report is complete. Full story

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