Weekly Legislative Update
 Week of August 22, 2016
  
Congressional Outlook

Week of August 22nd

The House and Senate are in summer recess for two more weeks until Tuesday, September 6. President Obama is back in Washington this week after his two-week vacation at Martha's Vineyard. Obama will visit Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Tuesday to get a first-hand look at the impact of severe floods that hit the state last week, killing at least 13 people and forcing thousands into shelters.
 
Expect the standoff over Zika funding to resume when Congress reconvenes in September. Lawmakers will also have to pass a stopgap appropriations measure by September 30, in order to stave off a shutdown of the federal government. On September 6, the Senate will resume consideration of the spending bill that includes $1.1 billion funding to combat Zika, in addition to the $575 billion FY 2017 Defense Appropriations bill ( S. 3000 ). This fall, Congress will also likely consider a FY 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, the House-Senate conference report for the "Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016" ( S. 2012 ), the House-Senate conference report for the $602 billion FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act ( S. 2943 ), the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848/H.R. 5303),  the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, and numerous other legislative items before the 114th Congress concludes on Friday, December 16.
 
There are 77 days until Election Day and 34 days until the first presidential debate.
Week in Review

Senate Majority Leader McConnell Calls on Obama Administration to Use Funds for ACA Advertising for Zika
 
On August 19, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Sylvia Burwell urging the Obama Administration to use any funding it is planning to use to increase enrollment in the Affordable Care Act exchanges to respond to the Zika virus. McConnell is seeking details on reports of an advertising campaign for the federal health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. Any funding HHS has for such a campaign should instead go toward the Zika virus, McConnell said. "As the program continues to falter, now we see reports that the administration is working on yet another Obamacare advertising campaign, despite warnings that it will do little to change the fundamental weaknesses in the marketplace," he wrote. "I am particularly concerned that taxpayer resources could be used for these campaigns at a time when there are higher priority public health needs." Among his questions, McConnell asked whether such an advertising campaign is planned, how much it would cost and whether those funds were requested in either the department's fiscal year 2016 or fiscal year 2017 budget request. He also asked what funds had been appropriated for such a campaign, if the administration had identified alternative sources of funding and if so, would that be better used to address the Zika virus?
 
While Congress remains at a standstill over appropriating funding for the Zika virus, Republicans have urged the administration to use already-available funds to respond to the virus. On August 11, the Administration re-allocated an additional $81 million to Zika to ensure that work on a vaccine isn't delayed.Using additional money that the agency has would be better spent on the virus, rather than the exchanges, McConnell argues."Advertising is helpful when you have a good product to sell that people don't fully understand," McConnell said. "Obamacare's problem isn't that it is poorly understood, but rather that people understand all too well that the law costs too much and it isn't working like the Administration promised." Read more...
Obama Administration Finalizes Fuel Economy Standards for Trucks, Vans, and Busses
 
On August 16, the Obama Administration announced its final fuel economy standards rule for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. The regulations, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will cut more than 1 billion tons of carbon emissions and save almost $170 billion in fuel costs, Administration officials said.EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said there will be cost escalation, but getting out of the efficiency rules could be as simple as paying a fine if companies cannot comply. The rule for big trucks, vans and school buses includes changes to a fining mechanism used to continue progress when companies are not able to abide by the regulations due to economic reasons. Read more...
Aetna Plans to Leave All But Four State Exchanges
 
On August 15, Aetna, one of the nation's largest health insurers, announced that it would not offer plans  on the federal exchanges in 11 of the 15 states where it has offered insurance coverage this year, blaming financial losses.  The news also comes amid reports of double-digit premium hikes next year, another sign of financial trouble for insurers. Most of the nonprofit co-op plans created under the health care law have also shuttered. "Following a thorough business review and in light of a second-quarter pretax loss of $200 million and total pretax losses of more than $430 million since January 2014 in our individual products, we have decided to reduce our individual public exchange presence in 2017, which will limit our financial exposure moving forward," said Aetna chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini in a  statement . The Obama Administration emphasized Aetna's withdrawal does not fundamentally threaten the success of the exchanges, which it has consistently characterized as successful. It also pointed out that other insurers have recently spoke positively about their exchange experiences. "Aetna's decision to alter its Marketplace participation does not change the fundamental fact that the Health Insurance Marketplace will continue to bring quality coverage to millions of Americans next year and every year after that," said Kevin Counihan, Director and Marketplace CEO for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Read more...
FBI Sends Lawmakers Hillary Clinton Interview Notes
 
Responding to requests from House Republicans, on August 16, the FBI sent documents to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding its probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she served as Secretary of State. Clinton was interviewed by FBI agents and federal prosecutors for 3.5 hours on July 2 at the bureau's headquarters in Washington. "Consistent with our commitment to transparency with respect to the FBI's investigation of former Secretary of State Clinton's use of a personal e-mail server, the FBI is providing certain relevant materials to appropriate congressional committees to assist them in their oversight responsibilities in this matter," the agency said in a statement. "The material contains classified and other sensitive information and is being provided with the expectation it will not be disseminated or disclosed without FBI concurrence."  Some Democrats have expressed concerns that House Republicans will leak the contents of these classified documents ahead of a hearing next month   where FBI Director James Comey will testify on whether Hillary Clinton perjured herself to testimony to Congress last year about her use of the private email server. These developments all but ensure that this controversy will persist through the 12 weeks remaining before the election. Read more...     
Congressional Schedule

There are no scheduled hearings this week as the House and Senate are in recess.