- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2019

Whether because impeachment or in spite of it, Congress is teed up for a series of bipartisan wins this month, proving that even the acrimony of trying to remove President Trump from office does not mean he can’t work with them.

A flurry of activity in the last few days has produced a deal on preventing consumers from facing surprise medical bills, raising the national age to buy tobacco to 21 and controlling prescription drug prices.

Congress is also looking to pass the crowd-pleasing annual defense policy bill, which guides the Pentagon for the next year, and there’s still a sense that lawmakers will clear Mr. Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement before lawmakers flee Washington for a Christmas vacation.

Sen. Lamar Alexander called the deal on the surprise medical bills and tobacco purchasing age “a very good Christmas present,” should both the House and Senate choose to unwrap it now.

The Tennessee Republican, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, negotiated the bill with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.



Meanwhile the two top lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee — Sens. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat — announced their own deal on a drug-pricing bill for those on Medicare.

The White House boosted the bill with a statement on Friday.

“No president has done more to lower the cost of prescription drugs than President Trump, and this bill would be another huge step forward for American families — for their health, their peace of mind, and their financial security,” said press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

She called on Congress to get a “bipartisan drug pricing reform” to the president’s desk this year.

That was a direct challenge to Mrs. Pelosi, who has scheduled a vote this week in the House on a more partisan bill.

Mrs. Pelosi, who was a reluctant impeachment warrior, is worried her new Democratic majority will be known for little other than the pursuit of Mr. Trump. She’s aiming to give her lawmakers more to talk about over the year-end vacation with the passage of the drug-pricing bill and legislation to increase federal oversight of local elections — another item on the liberal wish list.

That election bill was approved on a near party-line vote Friday, 228-187.

“There are forces in America trying to take us back to another time and another place. But with the passage of this bill, we’re not going back. We’re going forward,” said civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat.

The legislation would reimpose the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires some states and localities deemed to have a history of racism to get federal pre-approval of any elections-procedure changes. The Supreme Court earlier this decade said the formula used to determine those states and localities was too old.

Democrats say their update passes constitutional muster, but Republicans slammed the bill as an unnecessary power grab over local elections, and the White House said it still has major constitutional problems. It faces a Trump veto threat.

Still, the White House seems eager to show Mr. Trump can sign big bills amid the impeachment push, just as Mrs. Pelosi is eager to pass them.

Perhaps the biggest potential accomplishment would be the trade deal. Mr. Trump concluded the negotiations months ago, but Mrs. Pelosi has been working with labor unions to see what they can accept and what more enforcement provisions they need to have to give their assent.

“I will be very happy if we can get agreement and bring this bill to the floor as early as next week if it is ready to come,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told colleagues Friday.

Also due by the end of next week is another bill to keep the government funded and avoid a shutdown.

Though fiscal year 2020 began Oct. 1, the government is running on a stopgap “continuing resolution” that keeps agencies operating at 2019 levels. That money is due to expire Dec. 20.

Mr. Trump’s demand for border wall funding, and Democrats’ antipathy to the wall and other immigration enforcement is hindering the negotiations on a deal.

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