Congress Returns for Lame-Duck Session, Though Florida Confusion May Confound Lawmakers
Congress returns Nov. 13 for a lame-duck session to finalize a federal budget for next year, but the "muddled election outcome" may make many lawmakers "uncertain" as to what legislation to craft, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "When you're negotiating next year's budget, you want to know who next year's president is going to be," John Feehery, spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said. If Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) is declared the winner of the election, for example, Republicans "may be inclined to shelve" a $240 billion tax-relief bill, which includes $30 million in Medicare "givebacks" of funds cut by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, in order to create another one with "much more generous tax breaks next year." President Clinton has vowed to veto the package as it stands, saying too much of the giveback money is targeted toward Medicare HMOs, rather than providers. If Vice President Al Gore wins the presidency, GOP lawmakers "may prefer to compromise with Clinton" (Koszczuk, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/11). Congressional decisions may also be influenced by recent estimates by the Congressional Budget Office that the federal surplus will be between $500 billion and $1 trillion over the next decade, hitting $4.6 trillion by 2010. Half of this amount will be "tied up" in Social Security, but the other half "is considered fair game" for lawmakers, who could choose to spend the money on tax cuts or a "generous prescription drug benefit," such as the one pushed by Gore. The exact size of the surplus, however, will not be available until January, after Congress passes its final appropriation bills (Gosselin, Los Angeles Times, 11/13). Five of the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal year 2001 remain unresolved, including the Labor-HHS appropriations bill and a bankruptcy reform bill (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 11/3). "There's an array of issues that have to be addressed. I don't think we can leave without having addressed them," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Nov. 12 on CBS' "Face the Nation." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), however, said on "Fox News Sunday" that Congress might "set aside those issues where we're not going to come to agreement and pass what we can." House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) took an optimistic attitude on ABC's "This Week," saying "I think we can get a lot of work done" (Fram, Newark Star-Ledger, 11/13). Lawmakers are contemplating passing a stopgap financing bill, which would enable them to keep government offices running until after Thanksgiving, by which time a winner of the presidential election may be declared (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/11). White House spokesperson Elliot Diringer said the Clinton administration "would be willing to agree" to the temporary spending bill (Los Angeles Times/Contra Costa Times, 11/12). Despite the 106th Congress' unfinished business, several newly elected Congress members are already arranging their schedules and looking toward January for next year's agenda. Lott cited Medicare prescription drug benefits as one area of "possible compromise" for the next session of Congress. "There probably could be a prescription drug benefit written into Medicare. If it's targeted on the elderly poor we probably could come to agreement on something like that," he stated (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 11/12). Meanwhile, New York Sen.-elect Hillary Clinton (D) is eyeing a seat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, according to U.S. News and World Report. While competition for a seat on the health panel is "tough," "insiders" report that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) may help Clinton garner a position ( U.S. News and World Report, 11/9). Other changes on board for the coming session include new leadership for several House and Senate committees. The Senate Finance Committee will lose Chair William Roth (R-Del.), who was defeated in his bid for re-election and will likely be replaced by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Bill Archer (R-Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has retired, and Reps. Philip Crane (R-Ill.) and Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) are vying for his position. Commerce Committee Chair Thomas Bliley (R-Va.) did not run for re-election; Rep. W.J. Tauzin (R-La.) and Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) are competing for his seat (Washington Times, 11/10).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.