Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 22, 2014

Posts in "Congressional Affairs"

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 Security Efforts

The federal health insurance exchange website,, 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, 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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July 23, 2014

Labor-HHS-Education Appropriator Loses Senate Bid

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Kingston, center, at the 53rd Congressional Baseball Game in Nationals Park, on June 25. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The chairman of the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Jack Kingston, R-Ga., was defeated in a bid to seek a Senate seat. Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad has much more  on the results of Georgia primary runoff election, which has jolted the future plans of the House appropriations “cardinal.”

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July 22, 2014

White House Responds to Court Decision on 2010 Overhaul (Video)

The White House press spokesman Josh Earnest today responded to federal appeals court panel ruling that health care overhaul law subsidies only apply to insurance exchanges formally established by the states.  The White House insists its legal case will prevail and anticipates the Department of Justice will ask the full court to review the decision.

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Today’s Spotlight: VA Secretary Confirmation Hearing

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McDonald speaks with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on July 10 on Capitol Hill. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee this afternoon holds a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Robert A. McDonald to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is likely that many questions for McDonald will focus on the VA’s health care organizational culture and management.

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July 15, 2014

Pathologists Find Sympathetic Lawmakers on Electronic Records Plan

Most people think of Congress when they think of lobbyists, but there are many lobbyists that focus on federal agencies, seeking to adjust regulatory matters. Congress itself gets into the act, sending agencies a stream of letters, making tweaks via legislative activity and even filing lawsuits. The nation’s pathologists received that kind of help recently.

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IRS’s Role in Health Care Law Is Targeted in House Spending Bill

The House today continues amendment votes on the fiscal 2015 Financial Services spending bill. Health care proposals in the legislation focus on the more than 40 provisions in the 2010 health care law that task the IRS with verifying consumer health insurance exchange subsidies, administering premium tax credits and enforcing the individual and employer health coverage mandates.

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