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Posts in "Health Care"
April 13, 2015
Lawmakers will already be facing a time crunch when the Senate returns Monday.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been withholding payments to doctors treating Medicare patients to give Congress a window to work through a long-term resolution to the Sustainable Growth Rate problem that sees physicians regularly facing draconian cuts in payment rates without a patch known as a “doc fix.”
March 31, 2015
With the vote-a-rama in the rearview mirror, it’s worth taking stock of what the 15-plus hours of nonbinding votes on dozens of amendments said about the 2016 presidential election, how vulnerable senators voted and what issues might now come to the fore. Full story
March 27, 2015
Fourteen hours into the vote-a-rama, 52 senators voted to approve the Louisiana Republican’s proposal. It came first in a series of seven votes wrapping up the marathon session. The nonbinding vote marked Vitter’s latest salvo in an ongoing crusade against congressional enrollment in Obamacare.
“This amendment would say no, we’re going to live by that statute. We’re going to go to the exchange for our health care. No special subsidy, no special deal, and it would also apply to the president, the vice president and their political appointees,” Vitter said, making clear it wouldn’t pertain to congressional aides.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., refuted the idea of there being anything special about getting a health care subsidy.
“Today every single senator is treated like every single person in the country who works for a large employer. Those large employers all make a contribution to their employees’ health care,” Boxer said. “Now colleagues, you do not have to take that employer contribution. If you don’t want it, give it back.”
Boxer added she assumes Vitter pays his subsidy back to the Treasury Department.
Coats announced this week he won’t seek reelection.
As part of his crusade, Vitter has tried to attach the amendment to all kinds of legislation, including a low profile energy efficiency measure. But the senator, who wants to become governor of Louisiana, has learned he has the best leverage with must-pass measures like the budget.
Vitter also tried taking on the House of Representatives, asking Speaker John A. Boehner to help him get information on Congress’ small-business exchange applications. So far, House officials have shrugged off his request, writing it off as an attempt to score political points.
Niels Lesniewski and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
March 26, 2015
Bill Cassidy, the freshman senator from Louisiana and a doctor, has been pushing fellow Republicans in his first few months in the Senate to embrace an alternative to Obamacare — one he predicts will insure more people without mandates.
And he even says he has a way to pay for it: Obamacare. Full story
March 4, 2015
The GOP hasn’t “signed off” on a plan to respond should the Supreme Court strike down most health insurance subsidies in King v. Burwell, Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso said on the eve of oral arguments in the case.
Pressed for details on how a plan the Wyoming Republican offered with two Senate colleagues might compare to the current structure of the Affordable Care Act or a two-part “off-ramp out of Obamacare” put forth by three House GOP committee chairman, Barrasso said discussions were ongoing. He said a transition would likely involve federal funds, and that Republican governors would likely have a say. Full story
February 9, 2015
Senate Republicans want to send a message to the Supreme Court that it’s OK to undermine Obamacare.
They keep asking the Obama administration what it plans to do if the Supreme Court upends health insurance subsidies in the King v. Burwell case. It’s a hypothetical question the administration has been reluctant to entertain, leading the GOP to undertake an effort to craft a resolution.
Part of the reason is that Republicans want to try to signal to potentially wavering justices that there would be a path to minimal disruption should the court invalidate tax credits for millions of people in states that didn’t create their own health insurance exchanges.
South Dakota Republican John Thune, who is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said there is a lot of discussion along those lines.
January 12, 2015
There’s a limit to what Sen. Ted Cruz would do to repeal Obamacare.
The Texas Republican said Monday that Republicans should do “everything humanly possible to repeal Obamacare” during a speech at Heritage Action’s annual policy summit. It’s a line he’s used before. But he later added a caveat.
When asked if Republicans should use the “nuclear option” to ditch the filibuster on legislation and get more bills to President Obama’s desk, including a bill repealing Obamacare, Cruz told reporters, “no, we should not.”
“We should preserve the procedural protections in the Senate for the rights of the minority,” he said. Full story
January 8, 2015
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he hopes his GOP colleagues hold off on a vote to fully repeal Obamacare until after Republicans have shown they can govern.
“I think it’s important that we demonstrate that we can be productive before we have the inevitable fight over repealing Obamacare,” the Texas Republican said in an interview with CQ Roll Call Wednesday. “We are going to have that vote. But my own preference would be we have it after we’ve been able to demonstrate that we can actually get some things done.”
Asked if he would be opposed to an Obamacare repeal amendment being offered to the bill due on the floor next week to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, Cornyn said, “I think that would muddle the message.”
Supporters of the Keystone bill have also said that they would prefer that only relevant amendments be offered.
Adding a repeal to any bill would effectively act as a poison pill for Democrats and the White House — and a pure repeal is certain to fall short of the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster. But Republicans have pledged to try and repeal it anyway.
Cornyn predicted the King v. Burwell case that will be argued before the Supreme Court in March will end up going a long way towards undoing the law.
The court will decide whether the law allows people participating in the federally run health care exchange to get subsidies. A decision denying the subsidies would significantly undermine the law.
“What I expect is that the Supreme Court is going to render a body blow to Obamacare from which I don’t think it will ever recover,” Cornyn said.
He also said there may be bipartisanship on some of the much smaller Affordable Care Act rollbacks, such as a bill that passed the House 412 to 0 on opening day that would encourage the hiring of veterans by exempting them from counting toward the employer mandate under Obamacare.
“So I think there are going to be some parts of repealing Obamacare that are going to be consensus, bipartisan items,” Cornyn said.
Some of those bills with bipartisan backers face opposition from the White House. That’s true in the case of a measure that would define full time employment as 40 hours per week for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act.
“Our goal is simple. We want to protect part-time workers from having their hours reduced and their paychecks cut because of the definition in this law,” said lead Senate sponsor Susan Collins, R-Maine.
That bill faces a White House veto threat and received a fairly ugly CBO score saying it would boost the deficit, result in more people uninsured and on Medicaid and potentially reduce, not increase, the number of hours worked by full-time workers.
Ahead of a House vote, the Office of Management and Budget said “it would significantly increase the deficit, reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage, and create incentives for employers to shift their employees to part-time work — causing the problem it intends to solve.”
And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would seek to block efforts to roll back the health care law, financial services reform or tampering with access to the Internet.
“Any attempt to erode protections for working American families — the dismantling of Dodd-Frank, the weakening of net neutrality rules, or the Republicans’ never-ending quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act — will be met with swift and unified Democratic opposition,” Reid said in a statement read on the floor by Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.
January 6, 2015
The start of the 114th Congress brings a pair of new roles for the senior-most Senate Republican: president pro tem and chairman of the Finance Committee.
Shortly after the Senate convened Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, was elected president pro tem, the Constitutional post that puts in line for the presidency behind the vice president and the speaker. The position comes with a security detail and an ornate office on the first floor of the Capitol, vacated by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.
“You get a beautiful office. I left it in perfect condition with one exception: I cleaned out the liquor cabinet. … I knew you wouldn’t need that,” Leahy joked at a Tuesday afternoon reception for Hatch, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
October 28, 2014
Updated 9:35 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans won’t be able to repeal Obamacare anytime soon.
Tempering the expectations of conservatives a week before the elections that could install him as the first Republican majority leader in eight years, the Kentucky Republican said in a Fox News interview Tuesday a repeal of the health care law simply wasn’t in the cards for now.
He wasn’t telling Fox News anything that close observers of the Senate and the budget process didn’t already know, but it serves as a reminder of the limitations Republicans should expect even if they net six or seven seats, given the obvious reality that President Barack Obama is still in the White House.
McConnell said repealing Obamacare remains at the top of his priority list.
“But remember who’s in the White House for two more years. Obviously he’s not going to sign a full repeal, but there are pieces of it that are extremely unpopular with the American public and that the Senate ought to have a chance to vote on,” he said.
McConnell also noted Democrats could filibuster a repeal effort.
“It would take 60 votes in the Senate. No one thinks we’re going to have 60 Republicans, and it would take a presidential signature,” McConnell said. “I’d like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the president’s desk.”
That suggests McConnell isn’t about to pull a nuclear option of his own and do away with the filibuster just for the sake of repealing the law.
Republicans including McConnell have talked about rolling back much of the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process — which would allow them to bypass a filibuster. That route is difficult to traverse and forbids the inclusion of items that are not budget-related. Such a bill could also still be vetoed, making the whole process a symbolic exercise without a Republican president.
Other smaller pieces might get super-majorities, such as repealing the 2 percent excise tax on medical devices. McConnell also mentioned nixing the individual mandate as another target.
McConnell again suggested Republicans would try to use the appropriations bills to rein in the Obama administration.
Asked about what a GOP-led Senate might do to blunt executive action on immigration policy that President Barack Obama is planning, McConnell used the example of environmental regulations.
“I think it’s a bad mistake for the president to try and assume powers for himself that many people feel he should not be assuming. You know, we’ve seen that on full display with the EPA and the war on coal,” McConnell said. “That’s not a result of any legislation that Congress passed. It’s just something the president wants to do on his own and uses the people who work for him to achieve. I think that’s a big mistake.”
Those spending restrictions could get to Obama’s desk, leaving the president to decide whether to use his veto authority.
Speaking to Fox from the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., during a campaign stop, McConnell counted the potential move on immigration as one such mistake. McConnell himself must overcome a challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, with a variety of public and internal polls showing the race competitive in the closing week. The Kentucky Senate race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
“If the American people do change the Senate, and give the Republicans control of Congress, we certainly are, through the spending process, going to try to restrain the overactive bureaucracy that’s been attacking virtually every business in America,” McConnell said. “And we intend to push back against executive orders that we think aren’t warranted by … trying to control the amount of money that is allocated.”
But there’s only so much the GOP is going to be able to accomplish.
“He is the president of the United States, and he’ll be there until January 2017,” McConnell said of Obama.
October 21, 2014
Eric H. Holder Jr.’s replacement as attorney general will face a grilling from the Senate Judiciary Committee after the elections, with the position key to enabling President Barack Obama’s pen-and-phone executive agenda and with numerous hot-button issues under the purview of the Justice Department.
The nominee to replace Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who is also leaving, will also face much the same treatment.
Here are 10 questions the nominees will likely hear:
1. What is the limit of the president’s executive authority on immigration? Full story
October 15, 2014
If federal health agencies under President Barack Obama want more money to fight Ebola, they should get it, according to the Senate’s top Republican.
“I think they should have anything they want. The president asked for $88 million a few weeks ago, we gave it to him,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told MSNBC. “Whatever the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] thinks they need, we’ll give it to them.”
October 14, 2014
The Texas Republicans — both lawyers — filed a court brief backing the lawsuit, which claims the Senate failed to comply with the Constitutional requirement that revenue bills start in the House.
While the House drafted and passed a health care overhaul, the Senate did not use that bill as the base for its own effort. The legislative history for the bill that became law as the Affordable Care Act shows that it started as an innocuous measure in the House waiving the repayment requirement of the first-time home-buyer tax credit for some military personnel. Full story
October 8, 2014
Updated 5:22 p.m. | A group of Senate Republicans have their eye on another Obamacare showdown in the lame-duck session.
They point to a legal opinion from the Government Accountability Office that said additional funding authority would be needed to make payments to insurance companies under the risk-corridor component of the Obamacare health care exchanges. The Republicans say taxpayers could be on the hook for bailing out insurance companies that suffer losses.
“Without that appropriation, any money spent to cover insurance company losses under the risk corridor program would be unlawful,” the senators wrote to Boehner, later noting Congress needs to act to keep the government operating past Dec. 11, when the existing continuing resolution expires.
September 22, 2014
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants Medicare to do more for early detection of lung cancer, a particularly pronounced issue in Kentucky.
Citing a U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation, the Kentucky Republican has sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner seeking review for possible coverage of low-dose CT scans to detect lung cancer among high-risk populations, such as pack-a-day smokers.