Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: December 14, 2018

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Still time to #getcovered

Saturday, December 15 marks the end of the open enrollment period for health care through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplace. While enrollment picked up in the last week, overall numbers are down by 12 percent compared to last year. A decreased number of enrollees was expected due to changes made by the Trump administration including discontinuing charging a penalty for not having insurance, cutting funding for enrollment assistance, and expanding access to cheaper non-ACA plans. Be sure your families, friends, and colleagues #getcovered today!


Federal Courts

Another ABA-rated “unqualified” judge confirmed to appeals court

On Tuesday, Jonathan Kobes of South Dakota was confirmed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals when Vice President Pence broke a 50-50 tie in the Senate (all Democratic senators and Senator Flake (R-AZ) voted against Kobes). Kobes is now the second judge rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association to be confirmed to the 8th Circuit alone under the Trump administration.

Democratic makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee will not change in 116th Congress

This week, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced that the Democratic makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee will remain the same come January, despite earlier suspicions that Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), the most junior member of the committee, could lose her seat. Committee ratios mirror that of the full Senate, and Republicans will have a larger majority next Congress; nonetheless, Senator Harris will remain on the committee. Likewise, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will continue on as ranking member of the committee. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has yet to announce the Republican makeup of the committees for next Congress.

#CourtsMatter to health care and reproductive rights

On December 10, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case concerning whether Medicaid recipients who receive services from providers such as Planned Parenthood have a right to challenge a state’s decision to cut off funding to the providers. The underlying question is whether states have the authority to decide what health care providers to fund — a decision that heavily influences Medicaid recipients’ access to health care, including reproductive health care. At present, the regional courts of appeal are split on this issue, which usually means that the US Supreme Court would settle this division, but only three justices agreed to hear the case, which is one less than the requisite four. Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not agree to hear the case, leading some to speculate that he is not, in fact, anti-choice; however, others have pointed out that this merely follows the trend of Justice Kavanaugh laying low following his dramatic confirmation battle.

Legal battle over asylum ban continues

In November, President Trump attempted to limit asylum seekers from entering the country by stating that individuals crossing the US-Mexico border between official ports of entry would not be eligible for asylum. Civil and immigrant rights groups filed suit, and on November 19, a federal judge from the Northern District of California temporarily blocked the ban. On December 7, the temporary block was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In yet another attempt to bypass the lower courts and typical judicial process, the Trump administration asked the US Supreme Court to reverse this decision on December 11. NCJW opposes any attempt to ban asylum seekers from finding safety in the US.

Judge sides with religious groups in ACA birth control fight

A federal judge sided with three religious colleges and three Christian organizations in their challenge to the ACA’s birth control benefit. Judge Philip Brimmer, a George W. Bush appointee on the US District Court for the District of Colorado, issued an order that permanently blocks the federal government from forcing the plaintiffs to cover sterilization drugs or contraception drugs devices, procedures, and related education and counseling in their health care plans. In his ruling, he stated the groups have sincerely held religious objections and the provisions in the ACA violate their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).


Human Needs

Farm bill passes w/ SNAP protected

On December 11, the Senate passed the Farm Bill (HR 2, 87-13), while the measure cleared the House (369-47) on December 12. The final $867 billion bill protects and strengthens the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and does not include strict work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries. It heads to the president’s desk for signature.

Take action! Call the Capitol Switchboard (#202-224-3121) to thank your lawmakers who voted in support of the Farm Bill.

House leaves town with no shutdown plan in sight

House lawmakers are taking a six-day recess with no concrete package to avert an impending partial government shutdown on December 21. Congress has already passed appropriations bills funding three-quarters of the government. Without a long-term deal in sight due to wrangling over funding Trump’s border wall, Republican lawmakers may push a short-term stopgap measure.


Immigration and Refugees

More than 200,000 comments submitted for public charge

On December 10, the comment period closed for proposed changes to the public charge, which would make it more difficult for individuals to attain or change visa status. More than 215,000 comments were submitted, the majority of which opposed the harmful changes. NCJW partnered with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights to collect more than 450 comments. NCJW also submitted its own organizational comment opposing the rule change. Thank you for all of your efforts submitting comments and encouraging your network to do the same!


Gender-Based and Sexual Violence

Capitol Hill gets real about #metoo

Lawmakers in both chambers reached a deal on December 12 to change their policies on sexual harassment. The agreement was brokered after nearly seven months of negotiations between the House and Senate. Once passed, reforms are expected to take effect when the new Congress convenes in January.


Sign On Letters

  • On December 10, NCJW joined 15 Jewish organizations on a letter organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to the Department of Health and Human Services opposing its purported efforts to adopt a narrow, legal definition of sex.
  • On December 11, 11 organizations including NCJW joined an interfaith disability coalition letter supporting a program that helps seniors and people with disabilities transfer from nursing facilities and other institutional facilities back to community-based settings.

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