SENATE WILL LIKELY CHANGE HEALTHCARE OVERHAUL BILL SUBSTANTIALLY: The next step in repealing and replacing Obamacare promises to be a long, slow slog with enough political obstacles to tie it up for months, if not years. Republicans hold a more narrow majority of 52 to 48 in the Senate. And divisions within the GOP are just as stark as the differences between its factions in the House of Representatives that stymied the bill’s progress in that chamber. But the legislation could look very different – and there is a possibility that the House bill won’t even be considered. Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., congratulated the House on its bill but said the Senate would finish its own and would “take the time to get it right.”
GOP EFFORT TO HELP THOSE WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS MERELY WINDOW-DRESSING: The bill proposes setting aside an additional $8 billion over five years to help states cover those who may be subject to higher insurance rates because they've had a lapse in coverage. The problem, experts say, is that the money is unlikely to guarantee an affordable alternative for those who get coverage under a popular provision of the Affordable Care Act that prevents insurers from rejecting people or charging higher rates based on their health. "Many people with pre-existing conditions will have a hard time maintaining coverage because it just won't be affordable," said Larry Levitt, a health insurance expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care issues.
POLITICS FROM THE PULPIT: TRUMP EXECUTIVE ORDER GIVES CHURCHES OKAY TO ENGAGE IN ELECTIONEERING: Declaring he was giving churches their "voices back," President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday aimed at easing an IRS rule limiting political activity for religious organizations — a move that fell far short of a more sweeping order some supporters had expected. Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, which has advocated for a repeal of the IRS restrictions on political speech, said Trump has started "a multi-phase process" on religious liberty that will "keep the promises the administration has made to people of faith."
NC HOUSE COMMITTEE OKAYS CRACKDOWN ON SO-CALLED SANCTUARY CITIES: A House committee voted 6-5 Tuesday to approve a measure that would crack down on cities and counties that don't enforce immigration laws, undocumented immigrants accused of crimes and counterfeit ID makers. The measure would subject counties and cities found to be in violation of immigration law enforcement to a loss of a variety of state and federal funds, including Powell Bill funds that are used for street maintenance. It also would give private citizens an avenue to sue local governments or law enforcement agencies if they believe those bodies are violating immigration law. and would require the Attorney General's Office to follow up on every tip about suspected wrongdoing.
DROPPING OIL PRICES MAKE OFFSHORE DRILLING LESS OF A THREAT TO NC'S COAST: U.S. stocks are lower Thursday morning as oil prices drop to their lowest in nine months and energy companies take sharp losses. U.S. benchmark crude futures shed another $1.31, or 2.6 percent, to $46.51 a barrel in New York while Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell $1.27, or 2.5 percent, to $49.51 a barrel in London. Oil is at its lowest price since August and energy companies took sharp losses. Exxon Mobil skidded 96 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $81.74 and Marathon Oil lost 59 cents, or 4 percent, to $14.26.