As a member of the CSBA (Council of State Bioscience Associations), AZBio receives a monthy run down of the latest news from our nation’s capitol.
Here is the latest Washington Update from BIO and the C2Group.
Washington is down to four legislative weeks prior to the August recess. The national party conventions are scheduled for the last week of August and the first week of September, and the House has only eight legislative working days scheduled in September. The time between now and the election is limited, yet the to-do list in Washington is long. July’s focus in the House will be on repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, as a result of the Supreme Court decision, while the Senate is likely to focus first on a new stimulus bill. July votes are expected to be more about highlighting political differences than about progress.
ISSUES – HEALTH CARE
On the last day of its term, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court ultimately upheld the individual mandate under the federal government’s power to tax in a 5-4 decision. The Court did determine, however, that the Medicaid Expansion was impermissively coercive and removed the provision compelling States to comply. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to issue a new score in July to show the budget implications of the Supreme Court ACA decision.
The House and Senate worked throughout June to meet a negotiator-set deadline of July 4th to reconcile the differences in their respective Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) bills. On Wednesday, June 20th, the House passed the conference measure by voice vote. The Senate considered the measure on June 26th passing the report by a vote of 92 to 4. The bill was presented to the President for his signature on June 28th and was signed into law on July 9th.
The final bill included language on the accelerated approval pathway and conflicts of interest that BIO has championed. The measure also addressed the issue of drug shortage reporting requirements for biologics and vaccine manufacturers, leaving it to the discretion of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Though negotiators were held up to the eleventh hour, no final language was included on a track and trace system for drug supply chain integrity.
ISSUES – TAX POLICY
Members of the House and Senate continue to face the “fiscal cliff” that includes the following key items:
- Expiration of the Bush tax cuts
- Expiration of the payroll tax cut
- Expiration of unemployment insurance benefits
- Expiration of the ‘doc fix’
- Expiration of expected Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 continuing resolution to fund the government beyond the end of 2012
- Sequestration of $1.2 trillion in government spending ($984 billion in reductions evenly split between defense and non-defense spending plus $216 billion in debt services savings)
- Likely need to increase the current debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion in late 2012 or early 2013
No significant action was taken in the month of June to address these issues, and House and Senate Leadership have all but resigned themselves to the fact that no action will take place before the November elections. This would mean that a lame duck Congress, and potentially a lame duck President, would have a full plate and seven short weeks to address the many issues that await action. President Obama recently called on Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less. Republican Leaders continue to call for the extension for all taxpayers.
ISSUES – FARM BILL
The Senate passed a five-year Farm Bill reauthorization on June 21st after debating the bill throughout the middle of the month. The bill passed by a 64 to 35 margin. The Senate Farm Bill would reauthorize and provide $800 million in mandatory funding for key rural energy programs such as the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Biopreferred Program.
The House Agriculture Committee began consideration of its version of the Farm Bill during the week that followed the July 4th Congressional recess, and passed the bill out of committee on July 12th, by a vote of 35 to 11. The House Farm Bill, as passed by the committee, includes critical language that would clarify the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies regarding agricultural biotechnology regulation and language to reauthorize, but not provide mandatory funding for, key energy programs. The Agriculture Committee’s bill has been referred to the full House, but Congressional leaders have not yet committed floor time to the measure.
ISSUES – BUDGET
The CBO issued its long-term budget outlook in early June predicting that the federal debt will reach 70% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of this year forecasts that by 2037 the debt will be double GDP.
The House Budget Committee has marked up and passed legislation that would require the Administration to submit a report to Congress on the budgetary impact of the impending budget sequestration contained in last year’s debt limit deal.
ISSUES – ECONOMY
In June, the economy added 80,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.2%.
ISSUES – APPROPRIATIONS
The House Appropriations Committee continued to work on spending measures for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 in June, passing three additional measures: Agriculture; Financial Services; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. The only remaining bill that the Committee has yet to approve is the always-contentious Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor/HHS) spending measure.
The Senate passed two additional Appropriations bill in June, the Financial Services spending measure and the Labor/HHS bill.
To this point, the full Senate Appropriations Committee has considered and reported out nine of thirteen FY2013 spending bills: Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, Science; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Homeland Security; Labor/HHS; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
The House Appropriations Committee has approved twelve of thirteen spending bills for FY2013: Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, Science; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Homeland Security; Interior and Environment; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; and, State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
To date, the full Senate has not considered any FY2013 measures on the floor while the House has passed five bills: Commerce, Justice, Science; Energy and Water; Homeland Security; Legislative Branch; and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
It remains unlikely that many, if any, FY 2013 spending measures are signed into law prior to the end of the Fiscal Year on September 30th. It is increasingly likely that the House and Senate will pass some version of a Continuing Resolution that will fund the federal government beyond the end of the fiscal year and potentially into the next Congress, leaving the budget for the new Congress to address.
A LOOK AHEAD – SENATE ACTIVITY
The Senate is set to be in session during the month of July, with its next scheduled recess beginning the week of August 6th and continuing until after the national party conventions. The Senate could consider any or all of the following legislation:
- Appropriations measures
- Cybersecurity legislation
- Majority Leader Reid’s hiring credit/bonus depreciation bill (S.2237)
- Department of Defense Authorization
A LOOK AHEAD – HOUSE ACTIVITY
The House is set to be in session during the month of July, with its next scheduled recess, like the Senate, beginning the week of August 6th and continuing until after the national party conventions. Any or all of the following legislative items could be considered by the House prior to their summer break:
- Appropriations measures
- Domestic Energy Production
- Repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
- Government regulations legislation
- US Postal Service Reform legislation
- Bush-era tax cuts extension legislation
Job Approval: President Obama
Gallup (July 8): Approve 45, Disapprove 46
Rasmussen Reports (July 8): Approve 47, Disapprove 52
CNN/Opinion Research (July 1): Approve 50, Disapprove 49
Job Approval: Congress
Associated Press/GfK (June 18): Approve 22, Disapprove 75
Gallup (June 10): Approve 17, Disapprove 79
General Election: Obama vs. Romney
Rasmussen Tracking (July 8): Obama 45, Romney 46
Gallup Tracking (July 8): Obama 47, Romney 45
CNN/Opinion Research (July 1): Obama 49, Romney 46