DC Digest – July 28, 2017

In Today’s Issue:
  • Duke Professor Testifies
  • Skinny ACA Repeal Fails
  • Appropriations Update
  • Tax Reform
  • Campus Free Speech
  • Student Debt Relief 
  • Duke Health Government Relations


Nicholas Professor of Earth Sciences Drew Shindell testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy & Mineral Resources Thursday, July 27 on the importance of using the social costs of carbon output when making decisions about the expansion of extractive energy policies. Professor Shindell’s testimony commented on a proposed bill that would prohibit using the social costs of carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide in policy calculations.

Natural Resources


Early this morning Friday, July 28, Senate Republicans failed to muster enough votes to adopt their “skinny” Obamacare repeal bill, halting their effort to scrap the Affordable Care Act for now.

Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain voted against adopting the amendment, along with all of the chamber’s Democrats.

The repeal bill that the Senate failed to adopt would have eliminated the ACA’s requirement for most individuals to have health insurance and repealed the employer mandate for eight years. It also called for defunding Planned Parenthood for one year and temporarily scrapping a tax on medical devices while expanding Obamacare waivers allowing states to develop their own health care systems. It also would have increased contribution limits to health savings accounts for three years.

A Midsummer Night’s Scheme


Late Thursday, July 27, the House passed the minibus spending package, H.R. 3219, which would fund the departments of Defense, Energy, and Veterans Affairs, the legislative branch, and Army Corps of Engineers in FY18. According to news reports, the bill has seemingly little chance of passing the Senate in its current form. It remains unclear whether Congress can avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year begins October 1. A schedule has yet to be set for anticipated bipartisan budget talks.

Commerce and Justice

Yesterday, July 27, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY18 commerce-justice-science (CJS) spending measure, which provides $5.6 billion for NASA Science, a decrease of $193 million below FY17, $700 million for Space Technology, an increase of $14 million above FY17, and $100 million for NASA’s Office of Education. The bill provides $7.3 billion for NSF, reflecting a $161 million cut below FY17.


The bill would provide almost $9.2 billion for the Commerce Department, a $76.4 million reduction from current levels. Within that total, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $5.6 billion, which is more than $85 million below fiscal 2017 funding. 


The White House, Treasury and congressional leaders – the so-called ‘Big 6’ leaders – issued a six-paragraph statement Thursday, July 28, that tried to demonstrate their commitment to pursuing tax reform without delving into any policy specifics.

Missing from the ‘Big 6′ leaders’ statement were details such as what rates Republicans think major corporations, the wealthiest individuals and the middle class should pay. Also unresolved were the status of the estate tax and the fate of prized tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct business interest and state and local taxes. It was even briefer and less detailed than the one-page tax proposal that the Treasury Department and White House released in April, which drew widespread criticism at the time for being too short.

Mnuchin on an Ice Cream Cohn 


House Republicans have re-opened debates on campus free speech and free speech zones. Wednesday, July 26, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee and Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules tackled the issue in a joint hearing featuring conservative comedian Adam Carolla and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who have both claimed college administrators have trampled their right to free speech. 

“The First Amendment is under attack on campuses across the country,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules Subcommittee, said in a statement. Jordan called Carolla and Shapiro “two of the best defenders of free speech.”


Acting Undersecretary of Education James Manning said in a letter to senators earlier this month that the Education Department has not approved any borrower defense to repayment claims since President Trump took office – despite having received nearly 15,000 additional applications for such loan forgiveness over the past several months.

“No borrower defense applications have been approved between January 20, 2017, and today,” Manning wrote in a July 5 letter, which was released on Wednesday, July 26, by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). Durbin and other Democrats have been critical of the administration’s decision to halt approvals of the claims.

Manning the Helm


Our colleagues in the Government Relations Office at the Duke Health System assemble excellent literature on upcoming health issues at both the state and federal levels. You can subscribe to their once-weekly newlsetter hereand follow them on Twitter to keep track of breaking health policy news.