Senate Punts Shutdown Threat into December

Senate Punts Shutdown Threat into December

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Plus, your Thursday news roundup
Thursday, November 21, 2019

Senate Passes Short-Term Spending Bill to Prevent Friday Shutdown

The Senate passed a stopgap bill Thursday to keep the government open through December 20, sending the measure to President Trump’s desk hours before current funding was set to expire.

The president is expected to sign the bill, which was passed by the House earlier this week, preventing a government shutdown at midnight.

In addition to funding the government, the bill also provides $7.3 billion in annual spending for the Census Bureau, provides a 3.1% military pay raise and extends a number of controversial surveillance programs.

The temporary spending bill is the second passed by Congress for the current fiscal year, which began on October 1. Lawmakers have yet to pass any of the 12 required annual spending bills, and the short-term funding will give appropriators four more weeks to try to work out their differences on long-delayed bills setting full-year spending levels for federal agencies.

“Hopes for such a deal look highly uncertain,” The Washington Post’s Erica Werner reported, “but the alternative is to extend funding at current levels through the remainder of 2020, which would cause the Pentagon and domestic agencies to miss out on billions of dollars in budget increases. That’s an outcome lawmakers in both parties would like to avoid.”

Lawmakers will reportedly try to make some progress through phone calls and staff talks during their one-week Thanksgiving recess.

The bottom line: Thursday’s 74-20 Senate vote averts a Friday shutdown but likely sets up a pre-Christmas fight over government funding and the contentious question of providing billions of dollars for Trump’s barriers along the border with Mexico.

“The wall I think is the major impediment. But that’s only one bill: the Department of Homeland Security,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said earlier this week, according to The Hill. “But it ought not to adversely affect the other 11 bills. They’re being held hostage, essentially.”

That fight is likely to take place at around the same time that the House is voting on articles of impeachment against Trump, potentially complicating any drive to avoid another government shutdown before the end of the year.

Congress Faces a Deadline-Driven Rush to Address Surprise Medical Bills

The new December 20 government funding deadline also creates a time crunch for lawmakers looking to pass legislation addressing surprise medical bills. The Hill’s Peter Sullivan writes:

“Staff in both chambers and both parties are having what Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) called ‘intense meetings’ to try to come to an agreement in time to be included in a government funding package ahead of a Dec. 20 deadline. …

“But the effort faces major obstacles. Doctors and hospitals are fiercely lobbying against the leading proposal in Congress, arguing it would cause damaging cuts to their payments. …

“The Senate Health Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee have both proposed essentially setting the payment rate based on the average price of that service. But doctors and hospitals oppose that idea and are pushing a rival approach that would let an outside arbitrator decide the amount of payment.

“Experts have warned that this approach could drive health care costs up, not down.”

Congressional leadership will have to decide if they want to include legislation on surprise billing as part of a December funding bill.

Read the full article at The Hill.

Booker vs. Warren on Wealth Tax

Sen. Elizabeth Warren defended her proposed wealth tax at the Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night: “I’m tired of freeloading billionaires,” Warren said. “I think it's time that we ask the very top to pay more.”

Other candidates pushed back, arguing that they too were tired of freeloading billionaires but raising questions about Warren’s tax proposal, which would apply a 2% levy on household wealth over $50 million, rising to 6% on household wealth over $1 billion.

Describing the wealth tax as “cumbersome,” Sen. Cory Booker said he opposed it, in part on practical grounds. “It’s been tried by other nations. It’s hard to evaluate. We can get the same amount of revenue through just taxation,” Booker said.

The New Jersey senator said he agreed with Warren that the U.S. needs more revenue in order to fund new social programs such as universal preschool, but his focus is more on making adjustments within the existing tax system. “We actually have a real problem with the tax rates, tax loopholes, tax cheats,” Booker said.

Later in the debate, billionaire Tom Steyer was asked about his use of his wealth to influence U.S. politics — one of the problems Warren’s wealth tax is meant to address. Fellow candidate Andrew Yang spoke up to defend Steyer and, by implication, the involvement of the extremely wealthy in U.S. politics. “I want to stick up for Tom,” Yang said. “Tom has been spending his own money fighting climate change. You can’t knock someone for having money and spending it in the right way.”

Keeping Track of the 2020 Tax Plans

Wondering about Joe Biden’s plan for the corporate tax rate, or Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for a wealth tax? Well, you’re in luck: The conservative Tax Foundation is keeping track of the many tax proposals from the dozens of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

“Tax policy has become one of the major issues of the 2020 presidential campaign,” the Tax Foundation said Wednesday. “We’ve created this tool to keep track of every tax plan proposed by the presidential candidates during their campaigns. We will continue to update the tracker as candidates issue more detailed tax plans over the coming months.”

Click the screenshot below to explore the Tax Foundation’s tax plan tracker.

Only about 6.6 million people watched the Democratic debate Wednesday night. Did you?

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