SCHIP, Appropriations Bills Remain Top Issues On Congress' Agenda

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Congress returns this weekwith "many of the year's most contentious issues waiting to beresolved" by the end of 2007, most of which have been the "subject ofvetoes or warnings from the White House," USA Today reports (Kelley, USAToday, 12/3).

Senate Democrats are "crossing their fingers that the bipartisan desire toleave town for the holidays will help them unlock some of the remainingstalemates and allow them to get their work done in time," according to RollCall. However, the "risk of having to punt much of their agendainto next year remains very real for Democrats," Roll Callreports (Pierce, Roll Call, 12/3). According to the AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, "leverage is flowing to Bush,who's armed with both a veto pen and enough Republican allies in the Senate tosustain filibusters against bills they don't like" (Taylor, AP/MinneapolisStar Tribune, 12/3).

Omnibus Spending MeasureKey Priority

The "most importantpiece" of legislation that needs to "fall into place" is anomnibus spending bill that would combine 11 annual appropriations measures,according to Roll Call (Roll Call, 12/3). Congresslast month failed to override a presidential veto of a $606 billion fiscal year2008 Labor-HHS-Education (HR 3043) appropriations bill.President Bush then rejected a proposal from Democrats that would have reducedthe amount of spending sought for the FY 2008 budget. The Democratic proposalwould have combined the 11 unapproved FY 2008 appropriations bills into a$484.2 billion omnibus package that would have divided the $22 billion differencebetween the amount of spending sought by Democrats and the amount requested byBush (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 11/26).

However, Bush "does not appear to be budging from his vow to veto spendingbills, or an omnibus package, that would exceed his overall request,"while Republicans "do not seem to be leaning on the White House to strikea deal, casting doubt on how this year's spending work will be completed,"according to CQ Today. A conference meeting is expected to occuron Dec. 11, and lawmakers hope to send a spending package to Bush by Dec. 14,when the current continuing resolution expires. However, Democratic leaders"have changed their strategy for completing spending work several timesthis fall, meaning the timing and omnibus approach remain uncertain," CQToday reports (Clarke, CQ Today, 11/30).

Efforts, Outlook onOmnibus Bill

Democrats "in hope ofsweetening the pot to attract Republican support" for the omnibus spendingpackage are "likely" to add "billions of dollars in emergencyfunds for border security, low-income heating and nutrition aid, andagriculture disaster relief," according to CongressDaily. Theemergency funding designation means that the items can be included withoutbeing counted toward budget caps. According to CongressDaily,although Republicans "will likely object" to the strategy, theemergency funds that Democrats are considering "are so popular that, bycombining them with regular spending on veterans' health care, homelandsecurity and other bipartisan programs, it could prove difficult forRepublicans to oppose" (Cohn [1], CongressDaily, 11/30).

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) hasproposed to cut earmarks in the remaining appropriations bills by another 50%in order to "blunt the attacks" from Republicans over spending,according to CongressDaily. However, Senate Democrats "arebalking" about the proposed reduction and subcommittee chairs were"taken by surprise" by Obey's move, CongressDailyreports. The request "could threaten the timetable for completing work onthe bills," which subcommittees were told to complete by Wednesday,according to CongressDaily. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) hassaid that the Senate does not agree with the additional cuts to earmarks. Aspokesperson for Byrd said that senators are committed to "substantialreductions" in earmark levels from when Republicans controlled Congress(Cohn [2], CongressDaily, 11/30).

SCHIP

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Legislation that wouldreauthorize and expand SCHIP "appears to be on life support," CongressDailyreports. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Friday announced thatDemocratic leaders have decided to send Bush an already-passed version of thelegislation. Bush is expected to veto the bill, but Hoyer said that Democratswant to send the bill "because of concerns about a pocket veto if wewait" (CongressDaily, 11/30). Under a pocket veto, ifCongress were to send the legislation to Bush less than 10 days beforeadjourning for the year, the president could kill the measure by refusing tosign it (Dinan, Washington Times, 12/3).

Bill supporters hope to schedule a veto override vote as early as this week,according to Carol Guthrie, a spokesperson for Senate Finance CommitteeChair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) (USA Today, 12/3).Hoyer said that lawmakers would continue to work on a compromise. "Ourbipartisan discussions on extending health insurance to 10 million children areongoing," Hoyer said in a statement (Wayne, CQ Today, 11/30).

However, USA Today reports that a "compromise short of a vetooverride is unlikely." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will notagree to covering fewer than 10 million children under the program, accordingto spokesperson Nadeam Elshami (USA Today, 12/3). With the CR thatcurrently is funding SCHIP scheduled to expire Dec. 14, advocates have askedlawmakers to pass a new CR that would ensure that states have sufficient fundsto maintain current enrollment levels in the program next year.

Medicare

Discussions about aMedicare package are "pushing full steam ahead," according to CongressDaily.The package includes measures backed by Baucus that would reverse for two yearsa scheduled 10% cut in reimbursements for physicians and would extend rural andlow-income subsidies for beneficiaries.

Although committee members have not reached an agreement on all parts of thebill, aides said that the disagreements "narrowed considerably over thebreak" and "predict[ed] that a package would emerge" from the SenateFinance Committee with bipartisan support, CongressDaily reports.The committee might mark up the Medicare package this week.

Other Hearings

In addition, lawmakers thisweek will hold several hearings on health-related issues, CongressDailyreports. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on Tuesday will hold a hearing onmeasures to increase funding for community health centers, reauthorize healthscholarships and student loan repayments programs, and establish school-basedclinics. The House Energy and Commerce Committee this week is expected to mark uplegislation to enhance the safety of consumer products.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will examine a federalban on electronic prescriptions for controlled substances. In addition, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday in a hearing willexamine food safety that willfeature testimony from HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt (CongressDaily,11/30).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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