What GOP Plan For Health Care Reform May Mean For You?

The House GOP Health Care Reform Plan provides a blueprint for eliminating important elements of the ACA and replacing them with a more market-oriented approach.

On Wednesday key Capitol Hill committees started debate on the controversial new Health Care legislation

Both President Trump and the House GOP plan contemplate using tax credits to subsidize the purchase of health insurance.

Hearings on the “American Health Care Act” (AHCA) stretched overnight at the House Ways and Means Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee. Ways and Means approved its portion of the AHCA at around 4 a.m. on Thursday, while discussion continued at Energy and Commerce

While partial details on the AHCA’s costs are available, the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet estimated how the AHCA would affect the uninsured rate or how much it would cost overall. CBO would not have a “score” — a report on the effects of the bill — before next week, when the measure could go to the Budget Committee.

The Plan has not yet been analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office, so it is unknown how much the plan will cost and what its impact will be on the number of people who are insured. Additionally, despite the Republican majority in the Senate, it is unclear whether all the Republican senators will support the bill.

It is far from clear, however, whether the Medicaid provisions of the House GOP plan have sufficient support to pass the Senate. Four GOP senators recently warned that they would not support any plan that does not protect the Medicaid expansion population. Moreover, in his speech last week, President Trump argued that Congress should give governors the “resources and flexibility with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.” It is not clear what Trump meant by this statement and whether he supports the House GOP plan’s Medicaid changes could very well cause some people to lose coverage.

One way of shedding light on what a final law may look like is to look at its putative winners and losers. Although it is hard to assess the ultimate impact of health care reform until more details emerge, what’s now known suggests that particular subsectors of the industry could be winners or losers:

1. Hospitals:

To the extent health care reform results in significantly more uninsured patients, hospitals will likely bear increased costs. Because hospitals often treat patients regardless of ability to pay, more uninsured patients means increased charity care and bad debt write-offs. This burden would fall heavily on disproportionate share hospitals (DSH) — hospitals that treat a large percentage of the indigent population. The ACA had reduced government funding to DSH hospitals under the theory that they would offer less uncompensated care as the number of uninsured people drops. The House GOP plan would benefit DSH hospitals by repealing the ACA’s funding cuts.

2. Pharmaceutical Industry:

The plans contemplated by the Trump administration and House GOP will have a mixed impact on the pharmaceutical industry.

The ACA reflected a complex bargain between the Obama administration and the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry benefited from more insured people who could afford to purchase more drugs. It also benefited from the closing of the “doughnut hole,” the coverage gap between an initial threshold of drug costs that would be covered by Medicare Part D and a much higher catastrophic maximum after which Part D coverage would resume. In return, the branded pharmaceutical industry agreed to an annual tax of about $3 billion (allocated among branded pharmaceutical companies based on their share of the branded pharmaceutical market) and cutbacks on Medicaid reimbursements for prescription drugs.

The House GOP plan partially unwinds this bargain. The plan benefits the pharmaceutical industry by repealing the $3 billion annual tax and maintaining the closure of the doughnut hole. Additionally, repealing the “medicine cabinet tax” may boost the sale of over the counter drugs. But the pharmaceutical industry will lose to the extent that people reduce purchases of prescription drugs because they lose their health insurance or are covered by plans that provide only limited coverage for expensive drugs, even while the ACA’s cutbacks on Medicaid rebates are left intact.

3. Medical Device Manufacturers:

Health care reform will likely be a major boon to device manufacturers because there is strong GOP support for lifting the excise tax on devices. Device manufacturers may also benefit from greater flexibility in patients’ ability to use HSA money on devices that would not typically be covered by insurance. That being said, device manufacturers may suffer lost sales to the extent people lose insurance coverage or purchase only thin coverage that leads them unable to afford certain devices.

While the House GOP plan reflects the bill that the House GOP leadership would like to pass, it is likely to be just the start of a heated health care reform debate. Different health care industry subsectors may yet have a significant role in shaping whatever bill, if any, ultimately passes in Congress and is signed by the President.

Republican leaders have emphasized that the objective of the law is to lower the cost of coverage and reduce government mandates, not necessarily to increase or even maintain the number of people covered.

One thing remains clear: the changes contemplated by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans are likely to have significant implications for just about every sector of the health care industry.

Republicans hope to send the AHCA to the full House within the next month.

Final Week for the 114th Congress.

This is the final week of legislative activity for the 114th Congress, with the House and Senate expected to work through the outstanding items that remain for 2016.

Lawmakers are scheduled to be in session until Dec. 16, but resolution and passage of a spending measure to keep the government funded into 2017, the annual national defense authorization act, and the biomedical innovation bill, among a handful of other final legislative items should be finished this week, enabling members to depart Washington, D.C., at the end of this week.

Negotiations over a continuing resolution have been ongoing and press reports indicate congressional leaders are close to a deal that should be ready for a vote this week. Current government funding expires on Dec. 9. Although initial discussions on the CR were focused on a three-month extension of current spending authority into March 2017, leadership now seems to be agreed on extending that authority into April after acknowledging the reality of the congressional calendar. Both chambers are anticipating an active legislative agenda in the first few months of the 115th Congress, and the Senate will be particularly busy with the confirmation process for appointees to the new administration. Republican leadership recognizes that it would be challenging to add an appropriations deadline to the agenda in the first 100 days of the new session. Legislative text has not yet been released, but House leadership indicated on Friday that the text of the spending bill would be ready to permit a vote this week. Although the funding portion is easily crafted, many funding anomalies and various legislative provisions that can be agreed upon must be crafted, making the final drafting of the CR a laborious and time-consuming task.

In addition to the expected consideration of a CR this week, the Senate is set to take up two additional lame duck priorities. Following the successful passage of both the biomedical innovation bill (H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act) and a $619 billion conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943) through the House of Representatives last week, the Senate is now poised to take action on these measures. Senators are scheduled to return on Monday for a procedural vote on the 21st Century Cures Act, legislation that will invest greater resources in medical innovation and speed up the process by which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves new drugs and devices. The legislation also includes additional provisions to address the opioid epidemic and to bolster the country’s mental health systems. There is widespread, bipartisan support for the measure, and even though several Senate Democrats have criticized the final version of the bill and announced their opposition, the legislation is expected to see Senate approval this week and be signed into law by the president.

Once the 21st Century Cures Act has been dispensed with, the Senate will begin consideration of the conference report to the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House last Friday by a vote of 375-34. This legislation provides an additional $8 billion in funding for overseas contingency operations and readiness shortfalls and covers the $5.8 billion supplemental request sent by the president to Congress in November. It also includes a 2.1 percent pay raise for U.S. troops. The funding in the bill is simply an authorization, and defense hawks have been critical of the CR strategy that congressional leaders have been pursuing because a CR will not provide the military with all of the funds authorized by this bill

The House is scheduled to convene again on Monday when it will take up six bills under suspension of the rules, including S. 1635, legislation authorizing the activities of the Department of State for FY 2017.

On Tuesday, members will consider a suspension package consisting of 21 bills, reported out of the Energy and Commerce, the Natural Resources, or the Veterans Affairs Committees.

On Wednesday and during the remainder of the week it is possible for the House to take up additional measures under suspension of the rules. Also expected for floor consideration is H.R. 5143, the Transparent Insurance Standards Act of 2016. The legislation would require the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to provide additional reports to Congress on international negotiations regarding regulatory standards in the insurance industry. Chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., chairman of the House Financial Service Committee’s Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, stated the bill is intended to “increase transparency and strengthen Congress’ role in supervising foreign standards setting organizations.” Consideration of H.R. 5143 will be subject to a rule. Finally, the House will tackle the CR when it becomes available.

In Congress: Post Independence Day Recess

After adjourning abruptly on June 23 due to the Democratic protest on the House floor over gun control, the House returns to legislative business on Tuesday, with votes expected on 16 bills under suspension of the rules. Included in this suspension package is H.R. 5210, the Patient Access to Durable Medical Equipment Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., bipartisan legislation to preserve patient access to durable medical equipment (DME) after severe cuts to Medicare DME payment rates were scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. If allowed to take effect, these cuts are expected to have a negative effect on patients’ access to DME, particularly in rural areas. Other measures to be considered under suspension of the rules include seven bills reported by the Natural Resources Committee, three bills reported out of the Financial Services Committee, and three reported out of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The House:

On Wednesday, the House is expected to turn to consideration of H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. This legislation, proposed by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and reported by the Energy and Commerce Committee, would reform the nation’s mental health system by focusing programs and resources on psychiatric care for patients and families most in need of services. The bill when introduced sparked partisan disagreement, but the sponsor and committee leaders worked to bridge those disagreements, and the bill as revised was reported unanimously by the committee last month, demonstrating its broad and bipartisan support. The potential that the bill could provoke further debate over gun rights and gun control during floor consideration (Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats attempted unsuccessfully to attach gun control amendments to the legislation during the committee markup, but H.R. 2646) is likely what led House leaders to bring the bill up under suspension of the rules, which precludes amendments during floor debate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has been working on its own version of mental health legislation. Press reports indicate that key senators involved in the issue are seeking to attach the Senate version of the bill to the conference report on the opioid-abuse legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed in differing versions by both chambers and scheduled for consideration by a conference committee on Wednesday of this week. Either way, the broad recognition that the nation’s mental health system is in deep crisis could produce a legislative success before Congress adjourns this year, although funding issues may prompt Democrats to oppose a final bill if it does not include increased resources.

Also on Wednesday, the House is expected to take up H.R. 5611, the Homeland Security and Safety Act, sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The so-called “anti-terrorism” package would establish within the Department of Homeland Security a new “Office for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism” to assist with the prevention of violent extremism and radicalization associated with terrorists and terror networks. The new legislation also contains a provision related to gun control. In the wake of the Democrats’ demands and the apparent shift in public opinion on the issue following the San Bernardino and Orlando shootings, the bill includes a provision that would allow the attorney general to delay for three days the sale of a gun to either an individual on the terrorist watch list or an individual who has been investigated for terrorism during the past five years, and prohibit the sale of a firearm if there is sufficient evidence that the purchaser poses a credible threat to homeland security. The language is reportedly based on a proposal authored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Senate, which would also give the Justice Department 72 hours to delay the sale of a gun to any suspected terrorist on the watch list. The proposal failed to achieve the necessary support for passage in the Senate due to Democratic opposition, and House Democrats have already denounced its inclusion in the House anti-terrorism package as not doing enough to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Despite the likely Democratic opposition to the bill, the inclusion of the provision, which is not likely to become law, is a marked step forward for gun control advocates and may portend limited success for them in the next Congress. Consideration of H.R. 5611 will be subject to a rule.

It remains to be seen whether House Democrats will again employ protest tactics on the House floor over gun control as they did during the week of June 23, or how they will attempt to amend the Homeland Security and Safety Act during floor consideration this week. House leadership will be working to maintain order on the House floor in order to continue functioning effectively and proceed on legislative business prior to the summer recess.

Additional items that may be considered in the House this week include H.R. 1270, the Restoring Access to Medication Act, reported out of the Ways and Means Committee. This legislation would allow for disbursements from health savings accounts, medical savings accounts, and health flexible spending arrangements for over-the-counter drugs. Current rules under the Affordable Care Act only allow these disbursements for the purchase of prescription drugs and insulin. Also pending a floor vote this week is H.R. 4361, the Federal Information Systems Safeguards Act of 2016, legislation to restrict federal employee access to personal accounts on platforms such as Facebook and Gmail at work in order to provide greater security for government information technology and systems. The legislation clarifies that federal agencies have the sole and exclusive authority to take appropriate and timely actions to secure their information technology and information systems. Among its provisions is one clearly barring access to pornographic or explicit materials from a government IT system. Consideration of both measures will be subject to a rule.

Finally, the House may also consider H.R. 5845, the FY 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, after postponing its consideration following the Democratic sit-in on the House floor in June. The $21.7 billion funding bill provides appropriations for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies. As discussed in a previous column, the Financial Services and General Government spending measure is considered one of the more controversial of the 12 annual appropriations bills because of policy riders that are opposed by most Democrats and the administration. Consideration of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for FY 2017 will be subject to the same structured rule process that governed consideration of the defense spending bill last month in order to avoid votes on controversial amendments.

The Senate:

The Senate resumes legislative business on Wednesday, when a vote is expected on a district court nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture on proceeding to four bills at the end of last week. Votes are expected on these cloture motions this week. Among these four measures are two pieces of legislation related to so-called “sanctuary cities,” which are those communities that have policies in place declining to assist or actively defying federal immigration laws and orders. These communities have been a focus of Republicans for many years and a hot-button issue on the presidential campaign trail, particularly since the fatal shooting of a San Francisco woman over the Fourth of July holiday in 2015 by a person in the country illegally after having been deported from the U.S. five times. The first cloture vote will be on a motion to proceed to S. 3100, the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act, sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. This bill would limit federal funding to cities that do not comply with federal immigration law. The second vote scheduled in the Senate is cloture on the motion to proceed to S. 2193, a measure sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. This bill would increase mandatory minimum prison sentences for undocumented immigrants who repeatedly enter the United States illegally. The Senate voted on similar proposals last October when they were coupled together as a single piece of legislation, but the bill failed to pass. Both measures are subject to a 60-vote threshold for consideration on Wednesday, and neither is expected to garner the necessary support due to Democratic opposition.

If these first two motions on sanctuary cities are defeated, Leader McConnell has also lined up a cloture vote on a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., that would establish a national guideline for the labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms. While the proposal under consideration has bipartisan support and is the product of careful and lengthy negotiations, some strong opposition to the bill remains, including that of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose home state passed its own strict GMO labeling mandate in 2014 that went into effect on July 1, 2016. Several industry groups, which argue there is no scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful and prefer a single federal labeling standard over a patchwork of state laws, have sued to block the Vermont law and the litigation is currently pending. Should the Roberts-Stabenow measure pass, it would preempt and nullify the Vermont law and create a federal standard for the packaging of GMO foods. The cloture motion must achieve the 60-vote threshold in order to limit debate on the bill. The House has already passed a bill on GMO-labeling, but whether it would accept the Senate bill or insist on its stronger bill is not yet clear. Ultimately, the issue is of such importance to the food industry that if the Senate bill passes, as is likely, the House can be expected to accept it as well, perhaps even before the start of the summer recess.

The final item in the queue is a vote on cloture on the motion to proceed to the FY 2017 Department of Defense appropriations bill, also subject to a 60-vote threshold, which is expected to pass. The funding measure, advanced unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee, provides over $515 billion for the Pentagon base budget and $58.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for the upcoming fiscal year. The legislation does not shift OCO funding for base budget increases, a procedure the House Appropriations Committee pursued in its bill for FY 2017, which makes the bill more satisfactory for Senate Democrats to provide their support. The Senate is likely to continue its consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill into next week.

Leader McConnell has indicated there will also be another opportunity for Senators to take up the House-passed FY 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations conference report, which also serves as the vehicle to provide funding to combat the Zika virus. The Senate attempted a vote prior to the Fourth of July recess, but Senate Democrats blocked its consideration over the Zika funding restrictions and offsets, and called for a new negotiation on the legislation. Senate leadership has rejected the demands for a renegotiated proposal, indicating that the current House-passed proposal is the only means of moving forward before the upcoming recess. Leader McConnell has not yet scheduled the vote on the conference report.

Even with the shortened week due to the Independence Day holiday, there is an active hearing schedule on both sides of Capitol complex.

As mentioned above, the conference committee charged with negotiating opioid abuse legislation is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. One of the major remaining hang-ups to the bill involves funding for programs that are authorized in the legislation. Democrats argue that the authorization bill is ineffective without providing the necessary appropriations and that emergency funding should be allocated; Republicans oppose emergency funding that would likely not be offset and argue that funds should be provided through the annual appropriations process.

The House Appropriations Committee is getting closer to completing its work on the 12 annual appropriations bills for FY 2017. The State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its bill on Wednesday morning while the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee meets on Thursday morning to mark up its bill. The full committee is likely to consider both bills next week.

Two House hearings scheduled this week will be focused on the Affordable Care Act cost-sharing reduction program. The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight meets on Thursday morning to discuss the program, while the full Energy and Commerce Committee will meet on Friday morning.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will be meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the threat posed by online recruitment by ISIS and other terror networks. Representatives from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of State are among the witnesses that will provide testimony before the subcommittee.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform will hold a hearing on President Obama’s regulatory impact on the U.S. economy.

The Joint Committee on Taxation will hear from Treasury Department representatives on Wednesday regarding the administration’s proposed regulations under Internal Revenue Code section 385 to combat inversion transactions, those in which U.S. businesses merge with foreign firms and move their headquarters overseas to lower their tax rate. The Treasury Department issued the proposal in April. The proposal has drawn criticism from many domestic and multinational businesses, and members of both parties have joined in the criticism that the proposal sweeps too broadly and will capture many innocent transactions, thereby depressing domestic economic activity and job creation. Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur and Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Tax Affairs Robert Stack are scheduled to appear before the joint committee.

A joint subcommittee hearing by the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and the Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon regarding maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Representatives from the Departments of Defense and State will provide testimony on the escalating territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

 

 

House Panel Advances $579B Defense Funding Bill For 2016

A House panel on Tuesday advanced its nearly $579 billion Pentagon spending bill for 2016, leaving the legislation effectively unchanged from a draft version, including a contentious clause allowing the use of billions of dollars in wartime funding to circumvent sequestration-level spending caps.

The House Appropriations Committee agreed by voice vote to send the fiscal year 2016 Defense Appropriations Act on to the full House, after a two-hour markup hearing that ultimately saw it adopt only two amendments.

The adopted amendments included one with minor technical changes put forward by Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and another put forward by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to offer a “sense of Congress” that it has the constitutional duty to debate and then determine whether to authorize any use of U.S. military force against the Islamic State group. That amendment passed in a 29-22 vote.

Overall, the bill provides $578.6 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Defense, $24.4 billion up on FY2015 and about $800 million up on the presidential budget request. About $88.4 billion of this would come from Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, funding — referred to by the committee as Global War on Terrorism funding — which is supposed to be used to fund war spending.

Of that overall funding, $116.7 billion would go to procurement, $12.5 billion more than in 2015, with planned acquisitions including two DDG-51 guided missile destroyers and three Littoral Combat Ships for the U.S. Navy, 65 F-35 Lightning II jet fighters across the services — among other jet acquisitions — and a number of large aircraft, including 16 P-8A Poseidons and 12 KC-46 tankers.

Pentagon research and development efforts would receive $67.9 billion, a $4 billion increase, much of which is intended to support aircraft development, including the continued development of the F-35 and the RQ-4 Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a new U.S. Air Force bomber and the next-generation Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System command and control plane.

The bill would also provide a 2.3 percent pay raise for troops, higher than the 1.3 percent increase suggested in the administration’s proposal, and would maintain funding for the A-10 close air support aircraft, which has been put on the chopping block by the Air Force several times in recent years, drawing strong pushback from lawmakers in both chambers, who argue that there is no adequate replacement available for the “Warthog.”

Although the bill, unlike other House appropriations bills put forward for 2016 so far, meets and even exceeds the presidential budget request, it has drawn criticism from both Democratic lawmakers and the administration, particularly for its extensive use of OCO funding — about $38 billion more than requested in the presidential budget — to get around the strict sequester budget cap.

The White House had yet to issue an official policy statement on the legislation as of Tuesday, but has previously threatened to veto the similar 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which is used to authorize budget authority for the DOD, citing its heavy use of OCO funds, among other factors.

Bipartisanship Breaks Out

For a Congress best known for years of rancor, the extent of cooperation surrounding the he 21st Century Cures Act — coming on the heels of the bipartisan “doc fix” — suggests that Capitol Hill may really be focusing on legislating. Last Thursday’s  51-0 vote to advance the Cures Act to the full U.S. House of Representatives was an important milestone for a fast-evolving bill.

“This really kind of blows your mind considering all the angst and animosity and other kinds of … engagements that we have,” said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who labeled Thursday’s hearing a “lovefest.” (Creddit AP).

Moreover, a 49-page amendment approved as part of Thursday’s vote at the Energy & Commerce Committee addressed a key concern by earmarking $550 million over five years to help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fulfill new duties created by the bill. Those include development of new “biomarkers” to gauge drug effectiveness, enhanced incorporation of patient perspective into approval decisions, and grants to study so-called continuous drug manufacturing that could reduce production costs.

In addition, the amendment would exempt from budget sequestration the user fees paid by drug and device makers to support FDA reviews and inspections. Sequestration only kicks in if spending caps are exceeded, but the Cures bill now provides peace of mind for companies that complained about private money being locked away in 2013 because of political spending fights.

“FDA user fees were never intended, I think, to be part of the sequester,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said on Thursday. (Credit AP).

Other substantive provisions were notable for their omission, including possible changes to dial back use of the 340B drug discount program by hospitals and clinics. Any such change could have alienated Democrats and jeopardized bipartisan support, and the provision’s absence won praise.

One provision would delay so-called reinsurance subsidies that go to health insurance plans in Medicare Part D in order to partly offset the costs of unusually expensive policyholders. The proposal stems from a 2013 inspector general’s report that found delays of certain advance payments would allow Medicare to generate more interest income — roughly $110 million in 2009 alone.

The current financial impact of that step is not yet public, but trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans reacted angrily on Thursday, saying that it “strongly opposes” the idea. Elsewhere, a new section starting in 2020 would cap Medicaid reimbursement for durable medical equipment at the amount paid under Medicare’s new competitive bidding program. The section is based on a provision in next year’s budget blueprint for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which predicted $4.3 billion in savings over 10 years.

Nevertheless, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, suggested that the vote was historic against any backdrop, and perhaps unprecedented in his nearly three decades on the Energy & Commerce Committee.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a major bill — major bill — that didn’t have somebody … that voted no,” Barton said. “This is a real achievement.” (Credit AP).

$579 billion draft Defense budget draft.

A House panel issued its $579 billion draft Defense budget earlier this week, that includes pay raises for troops, saving the A-10 Warthog and billions of dollars in wartime funding to circumvent sequestration caps.

Those measures, along with increased funding for research and acquisitions such as the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, go against President Barack Obama’s request, particularly the subcommittee’s use of $88.4 billion in wartime funding. In using those funds to get around the sequestration cap, the $579 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2016 is a $24.2 billion increase over this year and $800 million above the administration’s request.

House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said in a statement that the panel’s bill would meet the needs of the American military in the next year. The bill heads for a closed-doors markup on Wednesday.

“This legislation recognizes that it is an increasingly dangerous world and we must guarantee that our military and intelligence community have the strength and capability to meet the rise of Islamic terror groups and other emerging threats and deter would-be aggressors like Iran, China and Russia and North Korea,” Frelinghuysen said. “I am proud that we have kept faith with the brave men and women, and their families, who selflessly serve our country.” (Credit AP).

The bill tees up fights over the specifics passed in the broader National Defense Authorization Act passed last week. Representatives voted 269-151 for the bill, H.R. 1735, which sets out broad funding limits and priorities for the DOD and certain programs at the U.S. Departments of Energy and State for fiscal year 2016.

The House’s passage of the broader NDAA came in the face of a veto threat from the Obama  and the subcommittee’s draft contains many of the same provisions for the DOD.

Among other clauses, the bill would revive funding for the A-10 Warthog close air support aircraft, the intended retirement of which has been a perennial source of fighting between the administration and Congress in recent years.

The bill would also give troops a 2.3 percent pay raise, higher than the 1.3 percent requested by the administration.

In addition to the increases, the draft language would cut outlays for foreign currency fluctuations, as well as health programs. The statement accompanying the bill’s release said that the funding for those programs, $31.7 billion, would be sufficient.

“While below the current year, this level is sufficient to meet the entire scope of all estimated needs and requirements in the next fiscal year,” the statement said, explaining the cut to health programs. (Credit AP).

House Passes Iran Nuclear Deal Review Bill

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation allowing Congress to review any nuclear agreement reached between the executive branch and Iran, as well as a bill to impose sanctions on any financial institution that does business with terrorist group Hezbollah.

Lawmakers easily agreed to both bills, voting 400-25 in favor of H.R. 1191, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, and passing H.R. 2297, the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, in a 423-0 vote, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., describing the Review Act as a way to keep pressure on Iran as nuclear negotiations continue.

“This legislation [will] ensure that Congress is positioned to effectively and decisively judge and constrain President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, should a bad deal be struck,” Royce said on the House floor Thursday. (Credit AP).

Under the terms of the review bill, first passed by the Senate on May 7 — with senators using an unrelated bill previously passed by the House as a legislative vehicle — Congress would have 30 days to review any deal reached between Iran and the administration regarding Iran’s nuclear program and then pass a resolution either approving or rejecting the deal.

The bill would also require the White House to keep Congress in the loop regarding Iran’s ongoing activities, including regular reports on the country’s support of terrorist groups, among other issues. President Barack Obama would retain veto power over any resolution that Congress reaches.

The legislation had stalled in the Senate amid opposition led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who had previously stated his opposition to any nuclear deal being reached with Iran. Cotton was the only ‘no’ vote in the 98-1 tally in the Senate.

Cotton had held the legislation up with various proposed amendments that he had been a sponsor of, including a clause requiring Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist — an amendment that some House lawmakers had also urged their leaders to consider before the bill was brought to the House floor.

Another proposed Cotton amendment would have required that any nuclear deal be considered a treaty, subject to the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, a stance he reiterated following the bill’s passage in the Senate.

The current proposed framework for a nuclear deal with Iran, which involves several other world powers in addition to the U.S., would see Iran heavily reduce the number of centrifuges in use at its nuclear facilities and make other changes to some of those centrifuges, limiting its ability to make weapons-grade nuclear material.

In exchange, some current U.S. and European Union sanctions on the country would be lifted, subject to continued compliance with the deal.

Under the Hezbollah Financing Prevention Act that also passed the House on Thursday, banks and other financial companies that knowingly do business with the Islamist militant and political group — officially considered by the U.S. and several other countries to be a terrorist group — its television station al-Manar TV, or any agent acting on its behalf would be subject to U.S. sanctions, among other provisions.

Although Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, Iran has been a major funding source for the group since its inception in the 1980s, with Royce describing the country as a “radical state sponsor of terrorism” on Thursday.