WASHINGTON – Congress passed a one-week spending bill on Friday to avert a government shutdown and give lawmakers more time to negotiate a longer term bill that could include giving Puerto Rico funds for health care.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also announced that the Senate would be holding a 5:30 p.m. vote on Monday to limit debate in the Senate and allow it to move forward to confirm President Trump’s nominee Jay Clayton to become the new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The short-term spending bill will allow Republicans and Democrats to take more time negotiating on certain riders and other aspects of a 2017 spending bill. The lawmakers have been debating whether fiscally troubled Puerto Rico should receive federal health care funding, sources said.
Puerto Rico faces a “Medicaid cliff” at the end of 2017 as its federal funding under Obamacare is set to run out around that time. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló made pleas to the federal government this week for funding, arguing any money the commonwealth receives would allow it to continue improving its health care system. Sources said there is general agreement between the Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress that such funding is needed. But Trump may have complicated the negotiations with two tweets on Wednesday and Thursday that likened the Puerto Rico funding to a federal bailout.
A potential deal has also been circulating in Congress that would give Puerto Rico the health care funding it needs in exchange for a yet-to-be-determined delay in the commonwealth’s access to in-court debt restructuring procedures under Title III of the PROMESA law. The consideration of that deal, which sources said was pushed for by the House Freedom Caucus, drew criticism from some Puerto Rico groups as well as Eduardo Bhatia, the minority leader in Puerto Rico’s Senate.
The vote on Monday is a cloture vote, meaning if 60 or more senators vote in favor, the Senate will avoid a filibuster and have 30 hours before it is required to hold a final vote on whether to confirm Jay Clayton.
Clayton, a lawyer with Sullivan & Cromwell in New York who has represented large investment banking firms like Goldman Sachs, cleared the Senate Banking Committee in early April despite reservations from Democrats about his past involvement with many Wall Street firms. He has avoided direct statements about the deregulation agenda that Trump has been pushing and said during his hearing that he would be "100% committed to rooting out any fraud and shady practices" in the financial system. Clayton also said he intends to focus on individual accountability in enforcement actions, a continuation of a trend that former SEC chair Mary Jo White promoted.
Clayton’s job history does not show any ties to the municipal market, however he has disclosed that he has personal investments in munis.