Week Ending November 1, 2019

Senate fails to protect Affordable Care Act and preexisting conditions.

  • Senate Votes on First Appropriations Package
  • Senate Votes Against Protecting People with Preexisting Conditions
  • House Votes to Make College More Affordable
  • House Panel Advances Bipartisan Boost to Water Infrastructure

Senate Votes on First Appropriations Package

The Senate has passed its first fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations package, known as “minibus II,” a full month after the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year. This package of four spending bills includes funding for Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture, Interior, and Transportation-HUD programs. 

  • Slight Increase in Agriculture Spending: The agriculture appropriations bill provides overall discretionary funding of $23.1 billion for FY 2020. This amount is $58 million over the FY 2019 enacted level and $4.1 billion over the budget request.
  • Nutrition Benefits Reduced: The agriculture appropriations bill includes $69.2 billion in mandatory spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is less than the $73.5 billion FY 2019 funding level. The decrease is due to declining enrollment.

What You Need to Know: Shortly after the vote on the “minibus II” package, the Senate will consider another package that contains two controversial bills, Defense and Labor-HHS-Education. Although the Senate is moving forward with its appropriation bills, it is still unclear whether Congress will pass another short-term continuing resolution (CR) or a yearlong CR to continue to fund the government past the Nov. 21 expiration date of the existing funding bill. Action is still complicated by uncertainty over funding for a border wall, and whether there will be another government shutdown.

Senate Votes Against Protecting People with Preexisting Conditions

The Senate debated blocking a Trump administration health plan rule that upends basic protections under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Trump rule amounts to a sweetheart deal for health insurance corporations, allowing them to sell plans that discriminate against people with preexisting conditions. S.J. Res. 52 failed by a vote of 43 to 52. All Democratic senators present and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted to block the rule on short-term plans. Earlier this year, the House passed a resolution blocking the Trump rule.

  • Administration Rule on Short-term Plans is Harmful: The new rule is harmful to consumers because it allows substandard plans to be extended for longer periods of coverage; allows plans to deny or shortchange coverage for people with preexisting conditions; and allows taxpayer subsidies to go to these plans even though they can skirt requirements to cover essential benefits and comply with ACA-mandated consumer protections. It would also drive up premiums for individuals with preexisting conditions.

What You Need to Know:  The vote shows where senators are when it comes to protecting people with preexisting conditions from insurance abuses. See how your senators voted.

House Committee Votes to Make College More Affordable 

The House Education and Labor Committee approved the College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674), a comprehensive proposal to lower the cost of college, improve the quality of higher education through stronger accountability, and expand opportunity by providing students the support they need to succeed. The measure was adopted by a party-line vote of 28-22.

  • Tackles Rising Cost of Tuition: The bill restores state and federal investments in public colleges and universities, which will reduce the burden that has been shifted to students and their families.
  • Makes College Affordable: It also improves affordability for low- and middle-income students by implementing the largest increase in the value of Pell Grants in the 54-year history of the program; eases the burden of student loans by making existing student loans cheaper to pay off; and cracks down on predatory for-profit colleges that defraud students, veterans and taxpayers.

What You Need to Know: Three amendments to weaken the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program were all rejected, also by a party-line vote. One would have prohibited registered lobbyists from being eligible for PSLF, another would have eliminated PSLF and created a state grant program instead, and a third would have blocked loan forgiveness to anyone convicted of a crime against a child as arbitrarily defined by the Department of Education. The College Affordability Act now heads to the House floor with unanimous Democratic support. A fact sheet with more information about the bill can be found on the committee website.

House Panel Advances Bipartisan Boost to Water Infrastructure

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019 (H.R. 1497) by voice vote. The bill would, among other things, allow Congress to more than double the amount of money it provides to the federal government’s primary wastewater grant program.

  • Clean Water Revolving Fund Renewal:  The bill reauthorizes the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which gives states millions of dollars of grants every year for low-interest infrastructure loans.
  • Wastewater Recycling Grants:  The bill also includes provisions that would provide grants for wastewater recycling and for projects to make wastewater systems more resilient to flooding.

What You Need to Know: H.R. 1497 would authorize Congress to appropriate up to $3.2 billion for this program every year. In the past decade, Congress has never allocated more than $1.7 billion to the fund.

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