Republicans Push to Change House GOP Conference Rules

In the wake of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) withdrawal from the race for Speaker of the House, a number of rank-and-file Republicans are pushing for a series of changes that would revise how leaders are elected and would give them a greater say in setting the legislative agenda. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has called for a rule change that would give more authority to House committee chairmen to aid in getting bills to the House floor. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) has proposed that if a lawmaker can get a certain number of cosponsors on a bill, that bill should be guaranteed a committee hearing. Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) has suggested a schedule change that would require the House to be in session for full 40-hour weeks, in order to create more time for legislative activity. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) has proposed that all leadership candidates must resign from their current post in order to run for a promotion. Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and GOP Policy Chairman Luke Messer (R-In.) have also announced the formation of a working group to examine the rules and procedures of the House.

Senate Renews Action on Fiscal 2016 Spending Bills

Congress must act by December 11 to pass individual spending bills, extend the current continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government, or negotiate a bipartisan budget agreement. While negotiations on a budget agreement continue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has taken action to begin grouping individual spending bills together into packages for votes on the Senate floor. Eleven of the twelve fiscal year 2016 spending bills have been put into four groups, known as “minibuses.” While all have been approved by Senate appropriators in committee, Democrats have already blocked floor votes on the individual spending bills in opposition to sequestration level spending caps. The Labor/Health and Human Services spending bill is grouped with the Interior-Environment and Financial Services spending measures, making it one of the more contentious packages.

Agreement In Principle Reached on Biologic Drug Patents

Last week, a compromise was reached on patent protections for makers of biologic drugs in the 12-country Pacific-rim trade agreement. While the final language of the deal has not yet been released, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators settled on five years of data protection for biologics before other companies could start producing biosimilars. The compromise was mainly brokered between the United States and Australia. The pharmaceutical industry had pushed for 12 years of protection for biologic medicines, as exists under current domestic law. This time period would help support medical innovation and the development of new cures and treatments. Australia and other countries, however, expressed concerns about the effect that a delay in biosimilar introduction could have on rising health care costs. Some lawmakers have indicated that it will be difficult for them to support a deal without the 12 years of protection for biologics. Congress is expected to receive the agreement next year.

Federal Deficit Shrinks to $435 Billion

According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, the federal government ran a $435 billion budget deficit in fiscal year (FY) 2015, which ended on September 30. This is $48 billion less than the deficit in 2014 and the smallest the deficit has been since 2007. The agency predicts that the deficit will continue to lessen through 2016, but begin growing again in 2017 through 2025. CBO estimates that the government brought in $3.25 trillion in revenue in FY 2015, up eight percent from the previous year. The actual deficit will be reported by the Treasury Department later this month.

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