House Dems say time’s ticking before millions face a health-care cliff
Plus: Senate Democrats fail to advance legislation to protect pregnant people who cross state lines for abortion care and Nancy Pelosi empathizes with her grassroots critics.
We’re a little over 100 days until the midterm elections, but two House Democrats are warning their colleagues in public and private that the time is now to extend a popular provision that enabled 14.5 million people to receive health care coverage.
Reps. Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania on Thursday told reporters that extending a series of tax credits passed under the American Rescue Plan was already a top priority before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month.
But now, the issue is even more pressing as pregnant people across the country risk losing guaranteed access to contraceptives, wellness visits and maternal health care. At the same time, their monthly premiums would increase hundreds of dollars.
“There are many individuals getting their rate notices and that feeling of dread when the contemplate rising health care costs and having to make some tough decisions in their budgets and their family’s budgets,” Underwood said to Supercreator.
The holdup on an extension is in the Senate as members negotiate an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to be included in a budget reconciliation bill that can pass without Republican support. And after yesterday’s brutal inflation numbers though, Manchin has expressed reservations with the size and scope of any party-line package. (A spokesperson for Sen. Manchin did not respond to a request for comment.)
Rep. Underwood told me that reconciliation is just one legislative tool available to Congress to make the advanced premium tax credits permanent and that she and her colleagues were working behind the scenes to influence the Senate to act with urgency.
“All of our communities are impacted. Every single one of us has constituent stories about significant cost savings as a result of this provision that was enacted for two years under the American Rescue Plan,” Underwood said. “That premium dollar is often the first health care dollar that a family spends per month — it’s before they fill a prescription, see a provider, get a procedure. So I think that we’re going to continue to be creative and pursuing every legislative vehicle ahead of us.”
Rep. Wild told me that health insurance contracts generally come up for renewal sometime in October for the following year.
“My biggest concern, quite honestly, is that the GOP wants nothing more than to see people’s insurance premiums rise in October right before a very important election — and that is why what we are fighting against here,” she said. “We are going to take whatever vehicle is necessary, including a standalone bill, and we’re going to make sure it is pout to a vote and that every single member of Congress in both the House and Senate has to take a position on it because this is just too important to let it go.”
Spokespeople for Kevin McCarthy of California and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the two top Republicans in the Senate and House, did not respond to separate requests for comment.
Leslie Dach, founder of the advocacy group Protect Our Care and an alum of the Obama administration, is optimistic that Manchin will ultimately come around.
“Sen. Manchin has been a champion of the [Affordable Care Act], a champion of its initial passage and a champion of it ever since,” Dach said. “The state of West Virginia is one of the most insurance markets in the country. Folks who live there desperately need this help and I know Sen. Manchin is aware of that.
As I mentioned, elevated inflation has Manchin wary that spending a fraction of what was in the original reconciliation bill would overheat the economy even more than he believes it already is.
“This measure will actually reduce inflation,” Dach said. “It reduces health care costs and by keeping people health, it keeps people out of the health care system, which further reduces health care costs.”
And most importantly, if Democrats secure two critical provisions to lower the costs of prescription drugs and raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, then lawmakers would have the revenue they need to fully pay for an extension of the expanded tax credits.
“Every part of this meets Sen. Manchin’s criteria for action. And we know Sen. Schumer and others in the Senate are very much on the side of addressing these issues,” Dach said. “We think that the facts, and the merits and the politics are in our favor on this and that we are dealing with a sympathetic audience in Sen. Manchin.”
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The status of a major piece of competitiveness legislation is in flux
A couple of weeks ago, Republican Leader McConnell threatened to wipe out a year’s worth of work on a bill that would make major investments in the semiconductor industry, put money into American research and development, and strengthen US supply chains if Democrats moved ahead with negotiations on the previously mentioned reconciliation bill.
It’s been chaotic ever since, as the Biden administration and members of Congress work to find consensus on the bill, which has at least three names — the America COMPETES Act in the House, the US Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA, in the Senate and the Bipartisan Innovation Act at the White House. Here’s what’s happened just today:
The US Conference of Mayors sent a letter to McConnell, McCarthy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer basically urging them to get their shit together and pass a bill because of the return of semiconductor manufacturing to the US would be fantastic for their cities.
Leader Schumer told senators to expect a floor vote as early as next week to advance a standalone bill that would include money for computer chips and other provisions, per Punchbowl News’s Jake Sherman.
Fat chance of that working out since Sen. John Cornyn said he and other Senate Republicans will stall until next month on the standalone bill to get a clearer sense of what will be included in the Democratic reconciliation package. (McConnell, for what it’s worth, is reportedly open to this idea.)
Speaker Pelosi told reporters she was more interested in a broader bill that included coins for chips but also funded research and STEM education, which she views as critical components to America reclaiming its preeminence.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who is urging Congress to act before US companies take their businesses overseas, gave House members a classified briefing on the national security risks of inaction. (Senators received a similar presentation yesterday.)
Sens. Todd Young of Indiana and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are also against a standalone but for different reasons.
Young, a Republican, is one of the authors of USICA, so of course, he wants as little of his work to be left on the cutting room floor as possible. And Sanders, the independent progressive, isn’t on board with giving corporations what he describes as a $52-blank check minus any strings attached to hold them accountable to taxpayer dollars.
The White House has also been sending out a stream of pro-CHIPS media coverage this week to promote its support for a deal — even a compromise. Administration officials have long argued that the legislation would untangle many of the supply-chain bottlenecks that they believe are contributing to high inflation.
Republicans block Freedom to Travel bill
Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Catherine-Cortez Masto of Nevada earlier today attempted to fast-track the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act, a bill that would protect pregnant people and medical providers who cross state lines for abortion care from prosecution.
But Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma blocked the request and criticized pro-choice lawmakers for encouraging pregnant people to travel for abortion care.
“Hey, come to our state stay in our hotels and have an abortion here, we'll have a package for you set up to be able to do that,” he said on Thursday on the Senate floor.
Sen. Murray accused the anti-choice movement of holding women captive and forcing them to give birth as it now works toward passing a nationwide ban on abortion.
“It’s disgraceful that anyone would object to making sure people can travel to other states for reproductive health care. It’s morally repugnant,” she said in a statement. “By objecting to this bill, Republicans are rejecting any appearance of fighting for people’s rights, and embracing all-out oppression of women like never before.”
Sen. Cortez Masto called the proposals in states like Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas to fine or prosecute women who travel for health care, providers who offer abortion services, and the many employers who have said they will support their employees unconstitutional.
“By objecting to my legislation, they’re allowing state legislators to reach across state lines to control not just what happens in their states, but what happens in every state across this country and to punish women for exercising their fundamental rights,” she said. “It’s absolutely outrageous. I won't stop fighting for women's freedom.”
House Democrats are expected Friday to once again pass the Women’s Health Protection tomorrow, which would codify the constitutional right to abortion care. It’s the third time the bill has passed the lower chamber and is expected to be dead on arrival in the Senate.
Related: Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine expressed opposition to lowering the 60-vote threshold to pass abortion rights legislation, an exception President Biden said he supported last month.
In defense of her position, Collins noted that the filibuster — the mechanism Senate Republicans have used to block progress on voting rights and reproductive health — has been applied by Democrats to prevent the GOP from restricting abortion access.
“People have very short memories around here,” she said.
Collins’s resistance is moot though: Even with her vote, Senate Democrats would still lack a simple majority to pass any pro-choice bills because Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Manchin are both against the maneuver as well.
Harris hosts a reproductive rights roundtable
Vice President Kamala Harris this afternoon met with members of the Florida state legislature to discuss reproductive rights.
The move puzzled reporters who traveled with the VP to the Sunshine State, considering Florida has some of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the country.
Harris said that she and President Joe Biden feel a strong duty and obligation to protect the American people, including those in Florida, from what they view as a coordinated assault not just on reproductive freedom but also on the fundamental right to privacy.
“We say and it is our position and it’s the position of the majority of Americans: Let women, including the women of Florida, make those personal decisions for themselves, in consultation with their priest or their pastor or their rabbi,” she said, pointing to a new Florida law restricts access to abortion care even in cases of rape or incest. “But it should not be the government making those decisions.”
Prior to the vice president’s roundtable, she spoke at the 70th international convention for her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
During her remarks, Harris reflected on how AKA had been a part of her life since childhood when one of the sorority’s founders signed a copy of her book.
“And I will tell you, I proudly display the signed copy of that book in my West Wing office in the White House,” she said. “Yes, I do. The legacy lives on.”
Pelosi identifies with the frustration of pro-choice organizers
National Democrats received the ire of pro-choice activists and organizers on the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade due to the perceived tepid response to a decision that had been expected for weeks.
Speaker Pelosi was one of those Dems who had the extremely online in a tizzy after she led her members in a jovial rendition of “God Bless America” on the steps of the US Capitol.
Pelosi was asked during her weekly press conference about the frustration from Democratic and pro-choice voters who thought her caucus and the Biden administration were too slow to respond to what some members in her own party view as a public health emergency.
“Welcome to our world. There’s never been a time when outside groups have not been impatient for more,” Pelosi said. “I can say that with some authority being the recipient of it but also being the contributor to it.”
She reflected on her time as chair of the California Democratic Party before she came to Congress to demonstrate her empathy for the grassroots movements pushing for more aggressive messaging and tactics to counter the extremist factions of the Republican Party.
“We were never satisfied with elected officials did — timing wise, intensity and the rest,” Pelosi said. “That’s the beautiful part of a democratic system.”