Week Ending January 10, 2020
Congress convenes Second Session of 116th Congress
- USMCA Agreement Moves in the Senate Finance Committee
- Protectors of the ACA Appeal Trump-backed Lawsuit to the Supreme Court
- Drug Corporations Hike Prices on Nearly 500 Drugs in January
USMCA Agreement Moves in the Senate Finance Committee
On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a markup on H.R. 5430, the implementing bill of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement, also known as NAFTA 2.0. The bill passed the committee with bipartisan support, 25-3. Sens. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) voted against the bill. The House passed the bill last month.
- Updated Agreement: The USMCA has brought the NAFTA trade agreement into the 21st century by including standards regarding intellectual property and digital trade. It also includes a labor enforcement mechanism called the Brown-Wyden worker protection amendment insisted upon by organized labor and Democrats. This provision makes it easier for workers in Mexico to organize. Punitive damages can be applied if corporations stop workers from organizing and goods can be stopped from entering the country if it persists. It allows workers in Mexico to report company violations of their rights. Increasing wages and other workplace standards in Mexico will level the playing field with America. Fewer companies and jobs will relocate to Mexico for cheaper labor. This provision has established a precedence for future trade agreements. This is the first trade agreement that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has voted for, and it’s due to this provision.
What You Need to Know: The Senate Commerce, Budget and HELP committees will also vote on the bill. It is still unclear when the implementing bill will be brought to the Senate for a full vote. Congress has 90 legislative days to hold votes in both chambers.
Protectors of the ACA Appeal Trump-backed Lawsuit to the Supreme Court
In December, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Trump administration-backed position in Texas vs. United States, striking down the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate as unconstitutional and returning the case to the lower court to issue a final decision on what parts of the ACA should be eliminated. The Democratic attorneys general have requested that the Supreme Court consider the case under a fast track process.
- ACA Protections for Job-based Health Plans at Stake – The ACA created a new floor of benefits and consumer protections that improved health care coverage for working families that depend on coverage through work. For example, some 2.3 million young adults will no longer be able to stay on their parents’ insurance if the Trump administration is successful in repealing the ACA through this lawsuit.
What You Need to Know: The Supreme Court will consider the request for a fast-track review of the case in late January or early February. Should the Supreme Court go that route, oral arguments could be as early as April.
Drug Corporations Hike Prices on Nearly 500 Drugs
Even though the House passed landmark legislation (H.R. 3) to lower drug prices, with the Senate’s inaction and no law in place, prescription drug corporations have taken advantage of their unchecked power to price gouge.
- New Year Brings Increased Prices – In the first three days of January, drug corporations raised prices on hundreds of name brand medicines on average by 5%. This price increase is well above the rate of inflation and would have been limited under H.R. 3.
What You Need to Know: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is blocking a Senate vote on H.R. 3 and other bills aimed at limiting drug corporations’ power to ramp up prices. The out-of-pocket health costs for working families and retirees will continue to increase unless the Senate acts.