Capitol Hill Legislative Update

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Upon returning to Washington, D.C. following a week of constituent work at home, congressional lawmakers face a long list of legislative priorities.  Here is an update:

Budget Challenges

Due to the failure in the 111th Congress to pass a budget for fiscal year 2011, the most time-sensitive issue that must be addressed is the work on yet another Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government.  The previous three-week CR was passed on March 17 and expires on April 8.  The current CR under negotiation would once again extend the funding for another three weeks to April 29.  As with most legislation, there are substantive disagreements between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate on the content of the bill.  The two previous CRs were passed with compromises on both sides, but passage of the most recent CR was by a narrow margin, with defections by both Republicans and Democrats taking place.  The task of creating a viable compromise for this CR will be more difficult.  Negotiations continue.

Congressional Legislative Agendas

Senate Agenda

The Democrats controlling the U.S. Senate continue to press an agenda not fully addressed in the 111th Congress, when they held a majority in both Houses.  Senate Majority Harry Reid has set forth a list of 10 key priorities this congressional session. The Democratic leadership wants to address economic recovery, affordable access to health care, environment issues, fiscal responsibility, and border control along with other key public policy initiatives.[1] The Senate continues to propel legislation that addresses these priority areas. Since January, almost 700 such bills have been introduced in the Senate. [2]

House Agenda
On the other side of the Capitol, the Republicans who control the U.S. House of Representatives are working on an agenda that appears similar on the surface, but profoundly differs in the proffered solutions.  The new Republican committee chairs and congressional leadership are focused on key issues involving deficit reduction, health care reform, job creation, and economic recovery.[3] The House has introduced over 1,200 pieces of legislation since the 112th session commenced in January.[4]

Committee Hearings Take Center Stage

Committee chairs also have been busy hosting an aggressive hearing schedule.  For example, over 30 hearings were scheduled the week of March 28. One such committee was the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which met to discuss state health insurance exchanges. The committee heard testimony from Steve Larsen, Deputy Administrator and Director, Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at CMS, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, and Utah State Rep. David Clark.[5] Each witness testified on progress of public health insurance exchange implementation in their respective states.  

Health Insurance Reform Legislative Initiatives

In recent months, lawmakers have introduced several bills to repeal the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  A bill to repeal PPACA passed the House by a substantial margin, but failed to pass the Senate on a party line vote.  Members of Congress are currently working to address certain perceived flaws in PPACA.  Some examples highlighted by legislation include:

H.R. 1184:   H ealth Care Waiver Transparency Act[6]
Introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to mandate transparency in the waiver process, this bill would “require greater transparency concerning the criteria used to grant waivers to the job-killing health care law and ensure that applications for such waivers are treated in a fair and consistent manner, irrespective of the applicant's political contributions or association with a labor union, a health plan provided for under a collective bargaining agreement, or another organized labor group.”

S. 17:   Medical Device Access and Innovation Protection Act [7]
Introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to remove the additional tax imposed on medical devices, S. 17 would “…repeal the job-killing tax on medical devices to ensure continued access to life-saving medical devices for patients and maintain the standing of United States as the world leader in medical device innovation.”

H.R. 1206:   Access to Professional Health Insurance Advisors Act of 2011[8]
Introduced by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and John Barrow (D-GA), this bill would remove insurance broker fees from the calculation of the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) formula.   The current MLR formula penalizes insurance companies that pay commissions to brokers.

Several Versions of a Bill to Repeal the 1099 Filing Requirement
Just about everyone on the Hill agrees that the provision requiring a 1099 filing by businesses on any transaction over $600 needs to be repealed, but there remains substantial disagreement on how to do so.  Bills have passed both Houses, but a mutually satisfactory compromise remains to be achieved.

This is only a snapshot of the approximately 3,000 bills introduced in the 112th Congress.  Both chambers and political parties believe the law needs to be re-examined but profoundly disagree on nearly all the issues that require remedy.  Ultimately, there may be some level of agreement on issues such as the 1099 repeal and H.R. 1206, but substantive amendments will have to await the 2012 election results.

Stay tuned as legislation is introduced and major initiatives are moved through Congressional committees and to the floor of Congress. 

[1] See Senate Democrats legislative agenda. http://democrats.senate.gov/agenda/ 

[2] See Thomas legislative history Senate http://thomas.loc.gov/home/Browse.php?n=bills&c=112

[3] See Majority Leader solutions http://majorityleader.house.gov/Solutions/

[4] See Thomas legislative  history House http://thomas.loc.gov/home/Browse.php?n=bills&c=112

[5] See list of witness of March 17th hearing - Senate HELP committee site www.help.senate.gov

[6] See Congressional record of Health care repeal legislation at www.thomas.loc.gov 

[7] See Congressional record of Health care repeal legislation at www.thomas.loc.gov 

[8]  See Congressional record of Health care repeal legislation at www.thomas.loc.gov 

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