Lawmakers return from August recess to grapple with health care reform and appropriations
Following the month-long August recess, members of Congress return to Washington this week to resume work on legislative priorities including health care reform and fiscal year FY2010 appropriations.
Legislators spent the last month in their home districts holding events and meeting with constituents, often finding themselves in the middle of hostile protests against health care reform proposals. The angry demonstrations that erupted across the country may have elevated the partisanship and contentiousness of the health care reform effort. The President and democratic congressional leadership maintain, nonetheless, that they are still resolved to pass a comprehensive overhaul by the year's end.
With five committees in two chambers of Congress each contributing separate, complex proposals to the debate, legislators will have their work cut out for them. In the House of Representatives, three committees are weaving together a single bill that House leadership hopes will pass the full chamber by mid-September. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a bill in July but the Senate Finance Committee continues to struggle to reach consensus on its own proposal. The two committees will face the challenge of reconciling their proposals into one package on which the full Senate can vote.
Congress also faces the challenge of moving forward in the absence of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a consensus builder and foremost advocate of health care reform, who passed away on August 25. Democrats are also moving quickly to fill the vacant Massachusetts Senate seat to ensure they have the 60 votes necessary to overcome any efforts by health reform opponents to obstruct the chamber from passing legislation.
Another key item on the agenda will be to pass the spending bill that contains funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Before adjourning for the August recess, each chamber produced its own version of the FY2010 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-Education) Appropriations Bill, setting the stage for negotiations to occur between House and Senate members to reach common ground in a single spending bill that can be sent to the President.
One issue for negotiators will be a $500 million discrepancy in funding for the NIH. The Senate bill, which has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and still awaits approval by the full Senate, would increase the NIH budget by $442 million, 1.4 percent over the FY2009 level, bringing the total budget to $30.8 billion. This increase is equal to the President's budget request that was released in May, but $500 million below the level that the House of Representatives has approved.
Read more from the September 2009 Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: