Posts Tagged ‘House of Representatives’

Republicans Vow to Take on Healthcare Entitlement Programs

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

With the power shift in the House of Representatives, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are being targeted in proposed budget cuts designed to bring down the deficit. “It will likely be the first time you see a House have a prescription for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said at the Federation of American Hospitals’ annual public policy conference and business exposition in Washington.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, said that members of Mississippi’s Medicaid program saw its enrollment drop approximately 23 percent to 580,000 beneficiaries from 750,000 after the state started requiring beneficiaries to establish their eligibility in person.  Barbour began this practice in his first year as governor in 2004.  Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, slammed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), noting that its expansion of Medicaid will “bankrupt” the states, which already have strained budgets.  Hatch also cited Congressional Budget Office figures that say the ACA’s Medicaid expansion will cost taxpayers $435 billion over the next decade.

President Barack Obama said his proposed 2012 budget was a “down payment,” on cutting the federal budget deficit, and said that more work is needed to address “long term challenges”. Cantor said that on “individual items” there were “probably some areas of agreement” between the President and Republicans.  “But we can’t keep taking the savings and going to spend it,” he said.  “The object here is to cut.”  According to Cantor, the President’s plan “just misses the mark of living up to the expectations” Obama laid out in his State of the Union speech in January.  Asked if Cantor expected adjustments to Social Security and Medicare, Cantor said he was “hopeful that we can get some cooperation from [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] and the President, because these are programs that touch the lives of every American and we don’t want, nor can we, make these changes by ourselves.”

Writing on the Huffington Post, Richard Eskow took an alarmist tone, saying that “entitlement reform” is a euphemism for allowing the elderly to die if they become ill. “’The President’s budget punts on entitlement reform,’ reads a statement by House Republicans.  ‘Our budget will lead where the President has failed, and it will include real entitlement reforms.’  ‘You have to do entitlement reforms if you are serious about this budget,’ according to Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI).”  Eskow counters “Reality check: Nobody’s proposing ‘entitlement reform.’ That term is a cloaking device for some very ugly intentions.  It’s a meaningless manufactured phrase cooked up by some highly-paid consultant, and it diminishes the sum total of human understanding every time it’s used.  The phrase is a euphemism for deep cuts to programs that are vital and even life-saving for millions of elderly and poor people, but it’s politically unpalatable to say that.  So it became necessary to come up with yet another cognition-killing term designed to numb us from the human toll of our political actions.  ‘Entitlement reform’ is the new ‘collateral damage.’”

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein is more diplomatic in his assessment of the possibility of entitlement reform. “We’ll see.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama has his name on a broader deficit-reduction bill at this time next year.  If he takes the deficit away from Republicans before 2012, his reelection campaign becomes considerably easier.  And on a less cynical level, his administration is stocked with deficit hawks — the same folks who actually balanced the budget under Bill Clinton.  And similarly, Republicans want to deliver on the deficit-reduction promises they’ve made to their base.  In theory, everyone’s incentives and ideologies are pointing in the same direction.  That’s a good sign for progress.”

HHS Giving Waivers to Small Health Plans

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has okayed 94 percent of requests – primarily from sponsors of “mini-med” and other limited healthcare plans – for waivers that excuse them from meeting a key requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the waivers are needed because most mini-med plans do not meet federal rules mandated by the healthcare reform law, which establishes a minimum yearly dollar limit on essential benefits that plans must provide in 2011, 2012 and 2013. For 2011, the minimum is $750,000, rising to $1.25 million in 2012 and $2 million in 2013.  To date, 919 of 975 waiver applications have been approved by HHS, according to Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are committed to making the waiver process transparent to the public and to make sure workers with mini-med plans are informed about the limited nature of their coverage,” said Steve Larsen, director of oversight in HHS’s Office of Consumer Information and Insurance. “For example, we have required plans that receive waivers to inform their enrollees that their coverage is limited.  HHS also helps to ensure transparency by posting a list of the plans that have been granted waivers, so stakeholders understand how they are affected.”  To date, waivers have been granted in Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee.  Members of Congress said that in several other states, insurers and employers will need similar exemptions from some of the law’s requirements.

Not surprisingly, House Republicans slammed HHS for granting the waivers, claiming that they are proof that the Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed. “I think it is an understatement to say that these waivers have been controversial,” said Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL).  “Obamacare was sold as all benefit — no downside.”  Plans that were granted waivers represent about 2.4 million people, or about one percent of the employer-based coverage market overall, according to HHS.

Additionally, House Republicans expressed concern that power over public and private health insurance programs was concentrated in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, led by an official, Dr. Donald M. Berwick, who has not been confirmed by the Senate. “He is in charge of almost all insurance coverage in the United States,” said Representative Michael Burgess, (R-TX).

Nearly 50 Percent of Americans Think the Healthcare Law Has Been Repealed – They’re Wrong!

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Defying the odds – and facing President Barack Obama’s veto pen – the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA); a move that was DOA in the Senate.

Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, approximately 50 percent of Americans are convinced that the healthcare law has been successfully repealed.  A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found widespread public confusion about the law, with 22 percent of Americans incorrectly believing it has been repealed and another 26 percent unsure or unwilling to say. Even after extensive media coverage of the repeal effort, only 52 percent of Americans accurately responded that the healthcare law remained intact.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “There remains no consensus about whether to keep, expand, replace or repeal the law.  Forty-eight percent are opposed to the law, while 43 percent favor it.  Sixty-one percent of those polled oppose Congress cutting off funding of the law in order to block it, as many Republican lawmakers are considering.”

The Republican-sponsored repeal bill, curiously named the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” passed 245 – 189 with assistance from three Democrats.  Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has refused to bring repeal to the Senate floor for a vote.  President Obama has vowed to veto any repeal effort.  Republicans have not introduced an alternative bill, although Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said Republicans will ask congressional committees to make “common-sense reforms” to expand coverage and cut costs, but told reporters no “artificial deadlines” were needed.

“As has been true since early in the debate, individual provisions of the new law are more popular than the law itself, complicating the debate over repeal,” the study notes. “So while the public in general is divided over whether to keep or repeal the legislation, if they could pick and choose, the large majority (roughly eight in 10 Americans) would keep the provisions providing tax credits to small businesses, and upward of seven in 10 would keep the provisions that close the Medicare doughnut hole, provide coverage subsidies to those of low and moderate income, institute the new voluntary long-term care insurance program known as the CLASS Act, and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.”

According to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 32 percent of Americans would like to see the law repealed; 13 percent want to see the bill left as it stands. The poll found that 29 percent of Americans want to see minor changes and that 24 percent want major changes.  Representative Ben Chandler, (D-KY), who voted against the law last year, said he voted against repeal because he thinks the law’s “bad” parts should be repealed piece by piece.  “I will not vote to repeal parts of the law that protect central Kentuckians by preventing insurance companies from dropping people if they get sick, ending lifetime caps on coverage and eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions,” Chandler said.

Implementation of the law is continuing as planned, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “I want the people who are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act — including families, seniors and small business owners — to know that this vote does not change the law and that this department will continue to work every day to implement this vital law.”

Obama Calls the States’ Bluff on Healthcare Law Implementation

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

President Barack Obama is calling the states’ bluff on implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) by allowing them to opt out of its most onerous requirements three years earlier than currently permitted. Speaking at a meeting of the National Governors Association, Obama specifically pointed to a proposal from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Scott Brown (R-MA) which he endorsed as a flexible approach.  “If you can come up with a better system for your state to provide coverage of the same quality and affordability as the Affordable Care Act, you can take that route instead,” Obama said, noting that, “If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does, without increasing the deficit, you can implement that plan and we’ll work with you to do it.”

The president endorsed the proposal to allow states to apply for “innovation waivers” beginning in 2014, three years earlier than originally scheduled. Under the terms of these waivers, states would be exempt from several of the law’s requirements if they set up their own method of adequately expanding coverage.  The “individual mandate” is the focus of multiple state lawsuits by states that contend it is unconstitutional.

The Obama administration has posted a detailed fact sheet on the proposal on the White House website. Additionally, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has blogged about it.

Despite lingering opposition to the healthcare reform law, the Obama administration is moving ahead with its implementation.  Over the last 10 months, HHS has made $2.8 billion available to states to help them start reforming their healthcare systems.  These funds let the states invest in improvements.  These investments are showing signs of progress thanks to more comprehensive oversight of insurance premium increases, new rights and protections for consumers, additional choices for people living with medical conditions, and the elimination of some of the worst insurance industry practices.

The bipartisan proposal’s future is uncertain, with both Democrats and Republicans casting wary eyes at it. Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House majority leader, said the healthcare law is “an impediment to job growth” and that he is still committed to repealing the ACA.  “I was disappointed,” said Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and chairman of the Republican Governors Association.  “Pretty much all he did was to reset the clock on what many of us consider a ticking time bomb that is absolutely going to crash our state budgets.  The states need more than that.”  Even some Democrats are cautious because they believe that it is impossible to expand healthcare coverage and reduce the deficit without the federal mandate.  Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) said “We want to give states as much flexibility as possible, but that flexibility shouldn’t fail to ensure that Americans in every state have access to quality, affordable healthcare.”

Writing in the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen asks “So, how big a deal is this?  It marks a fairly significant departure from the administration’s status quo, but at its root, what we’re seeing is the White House call Republicans’ bluff.  The GOP is convinced it can offer comparable coverage at comparable prices using Republican-friendly policies.  Today, in effect, the president said, ‘Be my guest.’  Why?  Because Obama knows it’ll take more than tort reform and HSAs to make the system work, and he sees a political upside to watching GOP officials scramble to actually craft their own plans, rather than bash his.”

President Obama also made it clear that the federal government is moving forward with healthcare reform. “I am not open to refighting the battles of the past two years or undoing the progress that we have made, but I am willing to work with anyone, governors or members of Congress, to make this law better…and fix what needs fixing,” Obama said.

2012 Budget Has Funds to Reform Medical Liability Laws

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

In a move that builds on the healthcare reforms contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – and one that will make physicians very happy — President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget includes $250 million in grants over the next three years to subsidize efforts to help the states overhaul their medical liability laws. If the budget passes, the grants will be administered by the Justice Department in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  As much as $100 million will be disbursed in fiscal 2012, with $50 million in each of the succeeding three years.  According to the Justice Department’s budget outline, the grants will fuel reforms that “fairly compensate patients who are harmed by negligence, reduce providers’ insurance premiums, weed out frivolous lawsuits, improve the quality of healthcare, and reduce medical costs associated with defensive medicine.”  The grants build upon $25 million in grants HHS awarded last June through the Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality safety and medical liability demonstration projects by states and health systems.

“I think the president is very serious about following up on this,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius,  whose agency would advise the Justice Department on awarding the grants, told the Senate Finance Committee.  Specific reforms might exclude caps on jury awards that the American Medical Association and Republican lawmakers have wanted for years.  At the same time, they include measures unacceptable to trial lawyers, a group that contributes heavily to Democratic candidates.

Philip K. Howard, chairman of Common Good, described the budget item as “A very significant moment for controlling healthcare costs.” Based in New York, Common Good has taken the lead in supporting special courts in which judges with healthcare backgrounds would resolve medical liability cases.  “With this budget item, President Obama is moving beyond bipartisanship and, in effect, saying that the country can no longer afford the rising healthcare costs that defensive medicine unnecessarily fuels,” Howard said.  President Obama also called for tort reform legislation in his 2011 State of the Union address.

The cost of defensive medicine to American healthcare consumers is not easy to estimate. Conservative estimates place the cost at approximately $50 billion a year.  The Obama debt commission estimated that its recommendations could save government programs $17 billion through 2020, calling for an aggressive effort to rewrite malpractice laws.

Gibson Vance, president of the American Association for Justice, described the proposal as “bad policy and bad for patients.”  The president’s proposal also got a chilly reception from congressional Republicans, who contend that he has promised more on malpractice than he has been able to deliver.  Obama initially voiced an interest in the issue during the lengthy healthcare reform debate.  He has opposed another malpractice alternative: capping the amount a patient can receive in a medical liability case.  This alternative is favored by many physicians and Republicans, but opposed by the majority of Democrats.

“These grants will help states reform their laws to pursue innovative approaches that will improve the quality of healthcare, fairly compensate patients who are harmed by negligence, reduce medical costs and liability, and protect patient safety,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.

Healthcare Law Repeal DOA in Senate; Likely Headed to the Supreme Court

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The Republican House of Representatives’ attempt to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was DOA — as expected — in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Voting along strict party lines, all 50 Democratic Senators who were present and one Independent gave the repeal a thumbs down.  All 47 Republican Senators voted in favor of repeal.  Two Senators – one a Democrat and the other an Independent – were not present to vote.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) delivered a scornful speech during the heated debate, saying the Republicans are offering “one more hollow, symbolic pander-to-the-masses amendment.  If you want to rewrite the bill, keep your promise, Republican Party, that if you want to repeal, then let’s go replace.  I want to hear their ideas for replacement.  I challenge them right here, right now, today on this amendment.”  Not surprisingly, Republican Senate leaders disagree with Senator Mikulski’s stance. “We think it is just the beginning,” Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KR-KY) said Wednesday after the Senate voted to reject an amendment he offered to repeal the law.  “This issue is still ahead of us and we will be going back at it in a variety of ways,” McConnell noted.  “We’ll be looking at it in every different way to revisit it.”

The Republicans can claim a small victory as the Senate voted to repeal the 1099 requirement that was a highly unpopular inclusion in the healthcare reform law. Many perceived this as a tax on healthcare consumers and small businesses because it required anyone performing a transaction equaling $600 or more to file a 1099 form with the IRS.  The cost of the requirement had the potential to add up to 40 percent for some small businesses, which could have resulted in closures or layoffs.  The amendment passed the Senate by an 81 – 19 vote and has President Barack Obama’s support. Opponents of the amendment, such as Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), said that Congress, not the White House, should wield the budget-cutting ax.

The Senate’s actions come on the heels of a decision by Florida Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson that it is unconstitutional for Congress to pass a healthcare law that requires Americans to obtain insurance coverage.  Judge Vinson’s decision created a 2 – 2 tie in lower courts. According to Judge Vinson’s decision, “The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.”

Judge Vinson’s decision increases the likelihood that the Affordable Care Act will end up in front of a Republican-dominated Supreme Court. “A year ago, it was a long shot,” said Randy Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown University.  “Now, it’s seen as a 5 to 4 case.  And nobody’s sure which way the 5 – 4 will come down.”  The stakes are enormous for the defining achievement of the Obama presidency.  The decision also has the potential to define the limits of federal power for generations.  “This case could define federalism for the next 100 years,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University constitutional law professor.  “This is a very difficult case for the Supreme Court as an institution.  You have a slight majority of the states opposing it.  You have a national law that’s affecting hundreds of billions of dollars and services.  This is the type of case the justices do not relish.”

Additionally, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has asked the Supreme Court to fast track his state’s challenge to the healthcare law, saying he thinks the legal dispute has become so important that the nation’s highest court should take it up immediately. “We want to eliminate the uncertainty in both our governmental budgets and in the private sector,” he said.  “We want to eliminate at least the uncertainty associated with health care.” The Obama administration opposed the move, saying the case should follow the regular process.  This would put off until 2012 a Supreme Court ruling on the law that aims to provide more than 30 million uninsured Americans with medical coverage and cracks down on unpopular insurance industry practices.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions Impact As Many As Half of All Americans

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study reveals that as many as half of all Americans under the age of 65 have pre-existing medical conditions, which could mean rejection by insurance companies or having to pay more for coverage.  According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that totals approximately 169 million people.  The report says that, of those Americans who are uninsured, 17 to 46 percent have pre-existing medical conditions, depending on the definition used. Such health problems are particularly common among adults aged 55 to 64 – a group long recognized as a problem spot in the healthcare system, because people of that age tend to have higher medical expenses but are too young to qualify for Medicare.

A Democratic analysis, released last fall by Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), then the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that between 2007 and 2009, the nation’s four largest private health insurers denied coverage to about 650,000 people based on their medical history.

“Not surprisingly, as people age, their likelihood of having – or having had – a health condition increases,” according to Sebelius.  “Looking only at pre-existing conditions used in determining eligibility for high-risk pools, the percentage of Americans with these health conditions ranges from five percent of children to 48 percent of people ages 55 to 64.  Adding in common conditions that major insurers generally use in medical underwriting raises the risk to 24 percent for children, increasing to 86 percent for people ages 55 to 64.”

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s lobbying group, offers a different opinion, noting that “We’ve long supported reforming the individual insurance market so that everybody can have access to health-care coverage, regardless of their preexisting medical conditions.  But this report exaggerates the number of people who are impacted.”

Rick Ungar, who writes for Forbes, offers another perspective and asks if pre-existing conditions are an indication that the American Dream is dead.  According to Ungar — who is an attorney in Southern California, and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on healthcare policy and politics – his initial reaction to the government report was “Yeah…it made me suspicious too.  Go figure that this extraordinary government revelation would surface on the very day the House is taking up debate on the repeal of healthcare reform.”

Ungar’s suspicion eased when he read this additional quote from Zirkelbach.  “Most of the Americans included in the figures currently have insurance. They would be at risk,” he said, “only if they needed to change coverage and buy it on their own.  People who get insurance through their jobs are guaranteed coverage.” Alter+Care Inspire notes that an additional reason might be people losing their jobs – something to consider at a time when the private sector has been so sluggish.

“And there it was,” according to Ungar.  “This spokesman for the nation’s pre-eminent health insurance lobby was not only acknowledging that there are millions upon millions of people with pre-existing conditions who could be denied healthcare coverage, he was actually telling us that we need not worry about them because – so long as they continue to get their insurance through their job – it’s all good.  But what if they want to leave their job to engage in some good, old-fashioned American entrepreneurialism?  Did Mr. Zirkelbach inadvertently direct our attention to the depressing reality that up to one-half of all Americans may not be free to pursue their futures and fortunes as they see fit because they are trapped in their jobs by their healthcare benefits?  You bet he did.”

One Year Later, the Healthcare Battle Continues on Capitol Hill

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

With Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, a battle royal is shaping up on Capitol Hill over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – aka the healthcare reform law.   The house has already passed a bill that symbolically repeals the law, and each chamber is holding hearings – the Senate Democrats to sing the praises of healthcare reform and the House Republicans to point out what is wrong with it.   Named “Repealing The Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”, the legislation passed the House and is expected to be dead on arrival in the Senate.  “The ‘job killing’ charge is ‘demonstrably ridiculous’:  The GOP’s ‘farcical’ claim that healthcare reform will cause job losses is ‘transparently false,’” according to Steve Benen, writing in a Washington Monthly article.

Although polls show little change in Americans’ understanding of the law, Democrats see the GOP-driven debate as giving them another opportunity to tout the bill’s benefits.  Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research, says that strategy could be particularly effective with women, a critical voting group.  “They’re the healthcare voters and the healthcare decision makers,” she said.  Lake warns that Democrats need to shift the dialogue from how the law impacts the federal budget to stories about real people and how the new law has helped them.  “You win women back by telling them that if their kids have asthma and it’s a pre-existing condition, they won’t be covered anymore,” she said.  The law’s symbolic repeal, according to Lake, is “the first sign of tension that Republicans face of how do you keep the tea party base and still appeal to independent women who were the key swing voters in 2010 and will be again in 2012.”

President Barack Obama suggested in his State of the Union speech that he is open to fixing some parts of the Affordable Care Act.  “President Obama outlined a vision for our nation’s future that includes key American Medical Association priorities, such as lowering healthcare costs through medical liability reform, improvements to the new health reform law and investments in biomedical research,” said AMA president Dr. Cecil Wilson.  Additionally, Wilson is pleased that the president acknowledged that certain improvements should be made, such as eliminating the 1099 filing requirement that requires businesses to file a form with the Internal Revenue Service for every vendor with which they have had at least $600 in transactions.  The president stressed that he will not turn back the clock completely. “What I’m not willing to do…is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition,” he said.

One group that is applauding the symbolic repeal of the healthcare law is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and has pledged to fight government regulations that it believes will challenge American competitiveness.

In the recent “State of American Business”, Chamber president Thomas Donahue said “Workers who have been banking on employer-based coverage when they retire are being told not to count on it. And as premiums rise, thanks in part to the law’s new mandates, many companies are thinking about ending their employer-based plans, and moving workers into government-run exchanges.  By mid-December, HHS had already granted 222 waivers to the law—a revealing acknowledgement that the law is unworkable. And, with key provisions under challenge in the courts by states and others, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.”

Republican Healthcare Repeal Would Cost Taxpayers $230 Billion

Monday, January 17th, 2011

If the Republicans who now control the House of Representatives succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act – and it’s likely that the Senate will quickly squelch that effort — their action has the potential to increase the federal deficit by $230 billion, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  The CBO’s analysis says that repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative victory also will leave 32 million Americans without healthcare coverage.  While some health insurance premiums would be less costly, the CBO analysts estimates that if the law is repealed, consumers will have less coverage and will end up paying more if they lose the subsidies that the new law mandates.

Republicans — who are trying to characterize themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility – quickly dismissed the CBO’s analysis as unrealistic.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), said “CBO is entitled to their opinion.  I do not believe that repealing the job-killing healthcare law will increase the deficit.”

Although the repeal may survive a vote in the Republican-controlled House, It is unlikely to make any headway in the Senate.  Even conservative Democratic Senators like Ben Nelson (D-NE) oppose repeal.  Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) said “The majority of the Senate still believes in healthcare reform.  We also believe that the only perfect bill ever enacted was carried down the mountain by Senator Moses.  Every other effort has needed some visitation, reconsideration, and this will too.”

Republican members of the House Rules Committee said a resounding “no” to attempts by Democrats to amend the repeal resolution to protect parts of the law, such as expanding access to mammograms for women and putting new restrictions on insurance companies.  Democrats reacted derisively, noting “You’re saying, ‘Let’s repeal this bill.  We don’t have a replacement.  Trust us,’” said Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA).  “So much for the open process.  There is none.”

Lame-Duck Senate Approves Food-Safety Legislation

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

The Senate recently passed landmark legislation to make food safer and prevent deadly outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella.   The law – if the House of Representatives also gives its blessing – gives the federal government broad powers to step up inspections of food processing facilities and compel firms to recall bad food.  The $1.4 billion legislation – which will impose stricter standards on imported foods – sailed through the Senate on a bipartisan 73 – 25 vote.  Outbreaks of food-related diseases have strained the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) resources in its efforts to trace the contaminated products and take them off the market.

The legislation emphasizes prevention so the FDA can halt outbreaks before they start.  Farmers and food processors will be required to tell the FDA how they are working to keep food safe throughout every stage of production.  President Barack Obama hailed the bill’s passage, noting that “We are one step closer to having critically important new tools to protect our nation’s food supply and keep consumers safe.”  Despite broad support, the bill had stalled in the Senate because some feared it would harm small-scale farmers.  Senator Jon Tester (R-MT) added an amendment that will exempt some of those operations from expensive food safety plans required by bigger producers.

Although the House of Representatives approved the legislation in July of 2009, that bill does not include the same exemption.  With little time left in the current lame-duck session of Congress, the question is whether the Senate and House can reconcile the two versions of the bill.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a sponsor of the legislation, said there is support in the House to pass the Senate version of the bill.  If Senator Harkin is correct, the bill could be on its way to the White House for President Obama’s signature before the 111th Congress goes into recess.