In the last month, two of Second District Rep. Angie Craig’s bills passed in the House.
The first, an extension for small-business loans during the coronavirus, passed the Senate on and was signed by President Donald Trump three days later.
But the second bill, which would expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act, is waiting for a vote it will likely never get in the Senate. It’s in good company: there are more than 400 bills that have been passed in the House this term only to languish on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, never to receive a committee hearing or floor debate — let alone a vote.
In the 116th Congress, the Senate, which is currently led by Republicans, has only been willing to set up votes on only a small number of bills from the House, which is currently led by Democrats.
Bills the Senate will not pass
At the end of June, the House passed The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act.
The bill, sponsored by Craig, makes some changes to programs established by the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, it pushes states to expand Medicaid by giving them additional federal funding and adopts some provisions that require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate the price of at least 25 drugs each year with their respective manufacturers. It would also expand eligibility for subsidies for health insurance purchased through exchanges for those with higher incomes than under current law.
The bill passed mostly on party lines. Two Republicans, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, voted yes (Van Drew was a Democrat until 2020 when he switched parties over the impeachment of Trump). Only one Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota’s Seventh District, voted no.
The votes on the bill are a continuation of a contentious battle over health care policy that’s been argued back and forth between Republicans and Democrats since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010. The drug-pricing negotiation provisions in Craig’s bill actually mirror H.R. 3, the The Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, another health care bill that passed the House in December 0f 2019.
“The ACA was passed a decade ago in this country,” Craig said. “Why can’t we put the politics of this aside and just say, let’s improve our health care system?”
Prior to voting against Craig’s bill, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas made basically the same argument: “To my Democratic colleagues and friends I say, stop playing political games with health care.” Currently, the Trump administration and Republicans actively support the repeal of the Affordable Care Act via a lawsuit currently being decided by the Supreme Court.
But Republican objections to the bill don’t matter so much with Democrats in the majority, and Craig’s bill passed 234-179. The Senate is another matter.
Sen. Tina Smith calls the Senate a “legislative graveyard.” McConnell, who as majority leader decides which bills can be considered by the body, has called himself the “grim reaper” of the Senate, joking about his desire to prevent House Democrats’ bills from receiving votes.
In February, McConnell told Fox News that he is amenable to passing bills as long as they’re not “left-wing” bills the Democratic nominee for president can support. Because of that, McConnell said he had no intention of scheduling a then-395 bills for a vote in the Senate. “It is true,” he said. “They’ve been on full left-wing parade over there, trotting out all of their left-wing solutions that are going to be issues in the fall campaign. They’re right. We’re not going to pass those.” (That’s not to say the Senate hasn’t been busy: Since the beginning of Trump’s term, the Senate has confirmed more than 200 judicial appointments. In eight years as president, Barack Obama had a total of 329 judges confirmed by the Senate.)
Despite McConnell’s stated attitude toward bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House, some bills have gotten votes — and even approval — in the Senate. Craig’s other bill, H.R.7437, is one of those.
As with her Affordable Care Act bill, Craig’s bill makes a change to an existing program, in this case, the Paycheck Protection Program — the law that provided loans to businesses to maintain their payrolls amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Craig’s bill simply re-opens the window for applications to the program, which originally closed on June 30, through August 8.
Congress had to replenish the fund in April, after it ran out too quickly. Craig’s bill does not increase the amount of money in the fund, but simply expands the window for applications by about five weeks. (As of July 1, the SBA said there was still $138 billion available for loans.)
“Some of those folks who maybe looked at the PPP program the first time around and said, ‘You know, I don’t think this is going to be as workable for me’— we’re encouraging them to take another look at the program, particularly since my colleague Dean Phillips had a bill passed that was more favorable for businesses,” Craig said.
The House passed the legislation by unanimous consent, as did the Senate. The bill is Craig’s second to be signed into law. In February, Craig’s bill, the Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019, was signed by Trump.
In total, 148 laws passed by Congress in the current Congressional session, which started in January of 2019, have been enacted. That’s down from around 800 per session in the 1970s and ’80s, and down from 300 to 500 bills per session more recently.
There are more than 400 bills that have passed the House currently waiting for a Senate vote. In contrast, there are 141 bills that have passed the Senate that are waiting for a vote in the House.
In the Minnesota House delegation, few members have been able to pass standalone bills. Some members, like Rep. Ilhan Omar, have had their bills included in larger packages of legislation.
But only Craig and Rep. Dean Phillips have been able to get standalone bills signed in to law.
“I’m really proud of the fact that 80 percent of the bills that I’ve written or co-sponsored have Republicans on them that speaks to the level actually of agreement that there is in this country,” Craig said. “The challenge is that the political system is not equipped to bring forward all of those bipartisan bills because, you know, the Senate doesn’t want to give the other side a win.”