Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 26, 2015

Posts in "Congressional Affairs"

January 26, 2015

Health Committees Get to Work

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee begins legislative action this week. The committee is set for votes on organizational rules on Wednesday along with a measure re-authorizing programs for the elderly (S 192). On Thursday, the committee examines the promise and pitfalls of employer wellness programs.

Separately on Tuesday, a House Energy and Commerce panel holds a hearing on a batch of public health bills (view Democratic committee staff memo) including measures overhauling enforcement and state monitoring of prescription drug diversion and the federal process of scheduling restricted drugs. The subcommittee will also examine bills seeking to streamline the licensing of emergency medical technicians and bills re-authorizing trauma care programs.

Also this week, both House and Senate Budget committees prepare for upcoming action on fiscal 2016 budget plans and spending bills with an economic forecast presentation offered by the Congressional Budget Office. Next week, the White House is slated to release its annual budget proposal, which officially begins the process of developing a separate congressional budget blueprint.

January 16, 2015

Veterans’ Suicide and Volunteer Exemption Bills Advance

Weekly Review

It’s only two-weeks into the new congressional session and the House has already passed a batch of health care related measures. Last week, lawmakers passed a measure (HR 30) that would raise the threshold for full-time employment requiring health-care coverage by an employer —  from the current 30 hours a week to 40 hours.  This week, the House unanimously approved a bill (HR 33) exempting volunteer emergency service workers from employer coverage requirement calculations.

Additionally, the House forwarded to the Senate — for the second time in two months — a bill (HR 203) bolstering military and veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention programs. The measure includes a requirement for an annual third-party review of mental health and suicide-prevention programs and amends the rules for reviewing discharges of military service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorders.

Following House votes on the bills, Republican lawmakers – and many senators – traveled to Pennsylvania for an annual party policy summit. Senate Democrats met with President Obama at a planning session in Baltimore.

 

January 12, 2015

This Week: Veterans’ Suicide Prevention Bill Vote and 2015 Planning Meetings

The House today is slated to vote on a military and veterans’ suicide-prevention bill (HR 203). The measure includes a requirement for an annual third-party review of VA and Defense Department mental health and suicide-prevention programs and amends the rules for reviewing discharges of military service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorders. The bill came close to final passage in December and the repackaged version will likely sail through House and Senate votes. Lawmakers will also vote on a bill (HR 33) exempting emergency services volunteers from employer health coverage mandate requirements.

Three key House committees that address health issues will hold organizational meetings on Tuesday morning. The Energy and Commerce Committee addresses most health care program bills, the Ways and Means Committee assembles measures that adjust financing for the Medicare and Medicaid programs and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee manages veterans’ health care system bills. The committees, along with the Budget and Appropriations committees, address almost all health care policy measures in the House.

Later this week, House and Senate Republicans leave Washington, DC to attend a planning summit. Democrats will follow suit later this month. The off-site retreats are a regular event in January and assist the party caucuses in planning upcoming legislative strategies.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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January 7, 2015

House Renews Effort on Low-Dose Radiation Research

The House today restarts an effort to increase research on the health impact of low-dose radiation. The danger of high doses of radiation are widely known, but low-doses found in the environment and used in medical procedures, such as X-rays and CT scans are less understood and assumed to hold a lower level of risk. The largely non-controversial bill (view text) set for a House vote today, calls for long-term research on the health effects of low doses of radiation. The research push is designed will assist physicians to assess the potential risk of radiation procedures.

The House passed a similar measure in a voice vote last year but the Senate did not consider the bill. Also, Roll Call’s Matt Fuller reported that jockeying for a vote on the bill was influenced by a revolt of a group of Republican lawmakers against the re-election of House Speaker John A. Boehner.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

January 5, 2015

Incoming Congress: Keep an Eye on Budget Panels and House Ways and Means Committee

The 114th Congress convenes this week and congressional Republicans will assemble majorities in both the House and Senate. A top early priority is action on extending relief from a planned Medicare physician payment cut, which is set to begin on April 1. Action on a payment adjustment could be tied to an increase in the federal debt limit, which will begin to press upon lawmakers starting on March 15.

Also, several new committee chiefs will get the first crack at determining the fate of major health care legislation and changes to the 2010 Affordable Care Act.  Rep. Tom Price. a Georgia physician and health law foe, is likely to become the next chairman of the House Budget Committee, which holds the keys to initial planning on any changes in the health care overhaul law. Wyoming Sen. Michael B. Enzi, another health law opponent, is poised to take the helm of the Senate budget panel. Separately, the House Ways and Means Committee will be led by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul D. Ryan, who take the lead in any possible health care entitlement program changes.

Ryan, the previous chief of the House Budget Committee, has led a long-running campaign to overhaul the Medicare program. His annual budget proposals (view the 2015 budget plan) have suggested ideas on overhauling the Medicare program allowing Medicare beneficiaries to choose between competing private coverage programs with the federal government offering premium support payments. In 2011, a liberal advocacy group attacked an earlier Ryan Medicare proposal with a video featuring a Ryan look-alike actor pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

December 19, 2014

President Signs Year-End Health Bills

A few health program bills managed to squeeze past House and Senate roadblocks during the final days of the 113th Congress. President Obama on Thursday signed measures reauthorizing newborn screening (HR 1281), sudden infant death reporting (HR 669, traumatic brain injury (HR 4276) programs and a breast health education bill (HR 5185). On Tuesday, the President signed a separate measure (S 2917) that adds research for Ebola drugs to an FDA program that expedites research on tropical drugs. However, the Senate this week was unable reach an agreement on final action on a bill enhancing veterans’ suicide prevention programs (HR 5059).

Supporters of the health measures were able to cobble together enough last-minute bipartisan support amid final deliberations on an omnibus spending bill funding the federal government through the current fiscal year. The spending package cleared the Senate in a rare Saturday evening session. Additionally, the Senate this week confirmed of the nomination of Vivek Murthy as the new Surgeon General.

Lawmakers Issue Warnings on Lost Subsidies Ahead of Supreme Court Decision

December 16, 2014

Senate Clears Brain Injury and Breast Health Measures

The Senate has extended its 2014 term for a few more days while it wraps up several unfinished matters. On Monday, amid maneuvering over a confirmation vote approving the nomination of Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, the Senate also approved several health measures. Senators quickly completed action on a bill seeking to extend a pilot program offering assistance to veterans with traumatic brain injuries (HR 4276) and a measure reauthorizing an education campaign and research on prevention of breast cancer in young women (HR 5185). The Murthy nomination was confirmed in a 51-43 vote.

However, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn is fighting against further action other remaining measures, including a bill (HR 5059) calling for a review and adjustment of veteran suicide prevention programs. Sen. Coburn objects to the cost of bill and suggests that the measure duplicates existing programs.

Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports that Coburn, a physician who is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year, is fighting a lonely battle against the veterans’ bill, plus other measures on energy efficiency and an extension of a terrorism risk insurance program.

November 21, 2014

Bill Action Update: Sudden Infant Death and Rural Hospital Supervision Bills

The Senate can pass bills very fast — if senators want to. Following committee action on Wednesday on a bill (HR 669) seeking to improve data collection on sudden infant deaths, the Senate on Thursday quietly approved the measure by voice vote. However, an added substitute amendment to the bill offered by Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin forces another House vote on the revised measure.

Separately, the Senate on Thursday also completed action on a measure (HR 4067) that allows continued easing of enforcement instructions on the supervision of outpatient therapeutic services in critical access and small rural hospitals. The measure now heads to the White House for likely presidential approval.

 

November 20, 2014

Pallone Chosen to Battle GOP Health Law Repeal Efforts

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is the primary House venue for most health policy matters. The leadership of the committee and its health panel vies with House Ways and Means Committee as chief shepherds of health measures and entitlement program financing changes. Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have long been led by retiring Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California and John D. Dingell of Michigan. On Wednesday, Democrats rejected an earlier party planning group decision and selected New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. over California Rep. Anna G. Eshoo.

While the Democrats will be a minority in the House next year and have less influence on legislative matters than their counterparts in the Senate, the committee leadership post is a prominent position to offer viewpoints on health topics. CQ HealthBeat’s (@CQHealthTweet) Kerry Young reported (subscription) that Pallone will play a major role in critiquing GOP efforts to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act, since Pallone played a key role in crafting the House version of the health law. Separately on Wednesday, Republicans on the committee also named subcommittee leaders.

 

November 5, 2014

After the Elections: Time to Think About Committees

While the election is over in most parts of the country, the House and Senate now take up the task of reorganizing congressional committees to accommodate retiring and newly elected lawmakers. Jockeying for positions will begin next week during the lame duck session and will conclude during the first few months of next year.

Democrats will name a new chief for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations panel in charge of most health agency spending. Washington Democrat Patty Murray is poised to take retiring Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s place in leading both the HELP Committee and the Labor-HHS Appropriations subcommittee. House Republicans also will also select a new chairman of the House Labor-HHS spending bill panel. Separately, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will have new Democratic leader in the wake of the retirement of California Democrat Henry A. Waxman. Additionally, House Budget Committee chairman, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul D. Ryan is eying the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee being vacated by retiring Michigan GOP Rep. Dave Camp.

September 17, 2014

Auditor Critiques Healthcare.gov Security Efforts

The federal health insurance exchange website, healthcare.gov, begins a new open enrollment period on Nov. 15. However, the turmoil over failures in the initial launch of the website last year continues with ongoing concerns about the website’s security features. The Government Accountability Office on Tuesday reported that the initial website design included incomplete security controls, which have not been fully corrected and the site is still vulnerable to attacks. Federal auditors commented on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decisions on the website’s security features:

While CMS has taken steps to protect the security and privacy of data processed and maintained by the complex set of systems and interconnections that support Healthcare.gov, weaknesses remain in both the processes used for managing security and privacy as well as the technical implementation of IT security controls. CMS took steps to protect security and privacy, including developing required security program policies and procedures, establishing interconnection security agreements with its federal and commercial partners, and instituting required privacy protections. However, CMS has not fully addressed security and privacy management weaknesses, including having incomplete security plans and privacy documentation, conducting incomplete security tests, and not establishing an alternate processing site to avoid major service disruptions.

The report was released ahead of previously scheduled House committee meeting today and a vote to subpoena testimony from the former U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park, who was privy to initial website security decisions.

 

 

September 16, 2014

CRS Explains Options on Delayed Federal Rules

On Monday, Healthopolis noted a federal auditor’s report critiquing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for never finalizing regulations on rural health clinic location rules. The issue of delayed, ignored (or forgotten) rule making is also the central point of a House lawsuit against the Obama administration, challenging the delay of the health care overhaul’s employer insurance coverage mandate.

Federal rule making is technically governed by the Administrative Procedures Act, which dictates how agencies should promulgate regulations based upon instructions passed by Congress. The Congressional Research Service this month offers a helpful – though likely confusing – guide to the various options available to Congress and individual citizens when rule making or rule enforcement is delayed. CRS notes that courts can intervene on delayed rules but there is some leeway for agencies to defer enforcement of rules.

 

September 11, 2014

New Hampshire Vote Brings Back Health Law Memories of January 2010

The results of the New Hampshire Republican primary this week offers a reminder about how the 2010 health care overhaul became law. Republicans in the New Hampshire on Tuesday selected former Sen. Scott P. Brown to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

In January 2010, Brown won a surprising victory in a special election in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. The election victory immediately stalled congressional action on the health care overhaul, which had just passed the Senate a few weeks earlier but was awaiting a vote in the House.  Any House changes to the bill would require further Senate action and Brown’s opposition to the health law assured that Republicans, who assumed an extra Senate vote, could halt action on a revised measure. Regular Senate bills require 60-votes to proceed toward a vote and due to Browns’ victory, Democrats no longer held a 60-votes in support of the health law. Eventually, Democratic leaders coalesced on a strategy utilizing a cumbersome procedural process used for budgetary matters – bypassing the 60-vote requirement – and the health care overhaul passed in March 2010.

The budgetary reconciliation procedures used to adjust federal spending programs, which was enlisted to pass the health law, could return as a factor in Senate deliberations next year if Republicans retain control of the House and garner a majority of seats in the Senate. Part of the equation for Republican Senate control rests on the results of the Senate race in New Hampshire.

 

July 25, 2014

House Plans Vote on Suing Obama Over Health Care Law

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Obama, speaking at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on Wednesday. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Republicans are preparing to vote on a resolution that would pave the way for the House to sue President Barack Obama over his executive actions to delay parts of the Affordable Care Act.

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Bipartisan Health Bills: Medical Leave, Congressional Plans and Chronic Care Coverage

Despite bitter congressional wrangling over the health care overhaul law and health spending priorities, several bills introduced this week suggest there is some bipartisan consensus on health care issues.

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