Lawmakers Elbow For Influence As They Return To Capitol Hill
Lawmakers are elbowing around Capitol Hill to cement their places in the coming fight over health reform, and industry groups are attempting the same.
Roll Call: The GOP will wait until its House majority is in place in January to try to repeal the health law. "GOP leaders - and some rank-and-file Members - had vowed to launch the repeal effort immediately after the Nov. 2 elections. But the party is standing down until the new Congress convenes, conceding that Democratic majorities in the lame-duck session present an insurmountable roadblock. Republicans also think their top priority in the coming weeks must be extending the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts that are due to expire at year's end" (Drucker and Palmer, 11/17).
ABC News: "Republican aides privately speculate that [Rep. John] Boehner could use the first bill of the next session of Congress to repeal health care." Boehner filed an amicus brief Tuesday in support of the lawsuit challenging the health law's individual mandate brought by 20 states and the National Federation of Independent Business. "Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, asked Senate Republicans to join him in signing onto a similar amicus brief that outlined his argument against the constitutionality of the health care law. McConnell is expected to file the brief later this week" (Parkinson, 11/16).
Politico: Meanwhile, a group "of Democratic House members all fierce defenders of President Obama's health care reforms - are asking Republicans who want to repeal the law to forgo their taxpayer-subsidized health insurance out of principle. The group, led by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and three other progressives ... complained about a lag in his federal coverage is circulating a letter among Democrats that would call upon Republicans to ditch their insurance, paid in part by taxpayer funds, if they are committed to rolling back Democratic reforms. ... 'If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk,' Crowley writes in a letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Boehner and McConnell spokesmen declined comment" (Thrush, 11/16).
Crowley's letter comes a day after Politico reported that Rep.-elect Andy Harris, R-Md., posed a question about why he had to wait a month after he takes office for his federal health benefits to kick in. The Baltimore Sun: "It was an unwelcome lesson for Harris in the ways of the polarized nation's capital, where a closed-door meeting is no guarantee of secrecy, especially when a couple of hundred people are present. What helped make the exchange irresistible for Washington reporters was Harris's background as a physician, his recent arrival on the scene and his strong opposition to the new health care law, which he'd like to see repealed. In fact, the new law really had little to do with the episode, which Harris presumably hopes will blow over before more people start paying attention" (West, 11/16).
CBS News: "According to Harris' spokesperson Anna Nix, Harris was pointing out the inefficiency of government-run health care. Nix said Harris said that 'This is the only employer I've ever worked for where you don't get coverage the first day you are employed.' In fact, 74 percent of workers with employer-sponsored health benefits are subject to a waiting period before getting coverage, including 31 percent of whom face a waiting period of 3 months or more, according to a 2010 survey of of employer-sponsored health benefits, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust" (Condon, 11/16). (Kaiser Health News is a program of the Foundation).
In the meantime, Bloomberg reports that health insurers gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million last year to oppose the health overhaul. "The insurance lobby, whose members include Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Philadelphia-based Cigna Corp., gave the money to the Chamber in 2009 as Democrats were increasing their criticism of the industry, according to one person who requested anonymity because laws don't require identifying funding sources. The Chamber of Commerce received the money from the Washington-based America's Health Insurance Plans when the industry was urging Congress to drop a plan to create a competing public insurance option. The spending exceeded the insurer group's entire budget from a year earlier and accounted for 40 percent of the Chamber's $214.6 million in 2009 spending. The expenditures reflect the insurers' attempts to influence the bill after Democrats in Congress and the White House put more focus on regulation of the insurance industry" (Armstrong, 11/17).
Kaiser Health News offered a "scorecard" of how health industry PAC's placed their election bets. "Health-sector PACs ranging from doctors to hospitals to drug companies generally favored Democrats. Of the $42 million that 122 health sector PACs gave to congressional candidates this cycle, 58 percent went to Democrats and 41 percent to Republicans, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Each of these groups has a lot at stake in the new Congress, not only because the GOP plans an assault on the new health law" (Vaida and Weaver, 11/16).
The Wall Street Journal: In other political news, Republicans are in the midst of an intraparty struggle for the gavel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "In one corner is Rep. Joe Barton, an unpredictable Texan who was scorned by leaders of both parties earlier this year for apologizing to BP PLC executives during a hearing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Mr. Barton is pitted against Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who conservatives regard as too soft because of his support for expanding a state-run health-care program for children and energy-conservation measures like phasing out the 100-watt incandescent light bulb." The committee chairperson oversees health care legislation in the House (O'Connor and Power, 11/17).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.