Weekly Policy Update

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law on Thursday in a decision affirming the government’s power to tax Americans who don’t show they have health insurance on their tax returns starting in 2014. The justices also ruled, however, that states may opt out of the law’s significant expansion of the Medicaid health care program without losing all of their federal Medicaid funds.

The health care law expands the Medicaid program to help low income families and adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Over 90% of the increased costs would be paid by the federal government. Because five percent of an applicant’s income is disregarded, the effective threshold is 138 percent of the poverty level, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  As a result of the ruling, some states may choose not to participate in the expanded program.  In the ruling, the court found that the law “transformed” Medicaid beyond what states could have reasonably expected. “It is no longer a program to care for the neediest among us, but rather an element of a comprehensive national plan to provide universal health insurance coverage,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.  “As a practical matter,” he wrote, “states may now choose to reject expansion; that is the whole point.”

Democratic senators on Tuesday urged lawmakers in both chambers to end their impasse over reauthorizing a major domestic violence law, two months after the Senate passed a bipartisan measure. There are few signs, however, that closed-door talks over the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act are making progress. Busy floor schedules, the July Fourth and August recesses and the election season could conspire to derail the reauthorization until the end of the fiscal year or later. Democratic Sens. Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Patty Murray of Washington appeared Tuesday with advocates for domestic violence victims to urge a resolution to the standoff over the 1994 law.

House lawmakers this week will reach the halfway point in moving fiscal 2013 appropriations bills through the chamber, even as Senate leaders try to identify which spending bills they will try to move alongside the House efforts. Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D, HA) said no decision has been made on which of his committee’s bills will move to the floor first. The Senate is facing a tight calendar, but a Democratic leadership aide said Monday that there still are plans to bring some fiscal 2013 spending bills to the floor next month. Most observers agree that just a few spending measures will reach the chamber’s floor this summer.  Most agencies and programs will run under a “continuing resolution” once the new fiscal year begins on October 1

The House Budget Committee unanimously backed legislation Wednesday that would require the Obama administration to provide details about the impact of across-the-board automatic spending cuts set to take effect in January. Adding to mounting pressure on the administration from Republicans and Democrats alike, the House panel approved the bill (HR 5872) on a 30-0 vote.  The measure would require the report within 30 days.

The House on Wednesday rejected efforts to  cut increases to funding for Department of Housing and Urban Development programs and offices during debate on the fiscal 2013 Transportation-HUD spending bill (HR 5972). By early Wednesday evening, the chamber had rejected two amendments targeting the Community Development Block Grant program, which the measure would boost by $396 million above current levels. The chamber rejected an amendment by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT) to maintain funding at the fiscal 2012 level and rejected by an overwhelming margin an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock to eliminate funding for the entire program and others funded by its account.  The House is expected to vote on final passage of the bill today.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, confirmed at a news conference Wednesday that conference negotiators working on a surface transportation reauthorization are moving toward a report “that would also include a one-year fix on student loans.” But Boehner did not commit to supporting the Senate-negotiated offsets.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on offsets to pay for a $5.9 billion, one-year extension of the current 3.4 percent interest rate for new federally subsidized undergraduate loans. Without congressional action, the interest rate is slated to double July 1.  A Boehner spokesman said Wednesday that the Speaker’s support for a one-year extension of the student loan interest rate does not necessarily mean that he embraces the details of the Reid-McConnell agreement—including its revenue-raising pay-fors.  “We are reviewing the details,” said spokesman Michael Steel..

The House Ways and Means Select Revenue Measures and Human Resources Subcommittees on Wednesday held a joint hearing on “How Welfare and Tax Benefits Can Discourage Work.”  To read the statements of Members and witnesses, go to http://waysandmeans.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=300261

THE WEEK AHEAD… Both the House and Senate will be in recess next week for the July Fourth holiday.


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