Legislative Update for Week Ending January 17, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 17, 2014

This week, appropriators in the House and Senate unveiled a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending package, and lawmakers in the House approved its passage. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw two key bills gain critical support.

$1.2 Trillion Omnibus Unveiled

On Monday, lawmakers serving on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees unveiled a $1.2 trillion omnibus, which will fund the federal government through the remainder of the fiscal year if it is approved by both chambers. The spending package amounts to 1,600 pages and it includes all twelve of the annual appropriations bills. Many agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – the agency in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act and managing Social Security and Medicare – have been funded by simple continuing resolutions for years. This omnibus lays out fresh spending directives for HHS for the first time since 2011.

The spending package appropriates $156.8 billion to HHS and two other agencies – the Departments of Labor and Education. It reduces the funding for the latter two agencies from their 2013 levels, but it will increase the overall spending for HHS if it is approved. Within HHS, however, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will see a $195 million cut in operating expenses from 2013 levels. It will also rescind $10 million from the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which is a committee of experts that was created by the Affordable Care Act to recommend Medicare cost-cutting measures.

Leading appropriators feel satisfied with the work they completed in only a few short weeks. Barbara Mikulski (MD), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said early this week: “This agreement shows the American people that … we can govern.  It puts an end to shutdown, showdown, slamdown politics.” Similarly, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (KY-5) stated, “The bill reflects careful decisions to realign the nation’s funding priorities … [It] will continue the downward trend in federal spending to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path.”

After the Monday unveiling, Members of the House approved the omnibus on Wednesday afternoon, and at the time of writing this update, the Senate had not yet passed it. Leaders in that chamber must bring it to a vote by Saturday, which is when the federal government’s temporary funding is set to expire. TSCL will keep a close eye on the status of the omnibus, and we will post updates here it the Legislative News section of our website.

Two Bills Gain Support

This week, two new cosponsors – Reps. Scott Peters (CA-52) and David Joyce (OH-14) – signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305), bringing the total up to fifty-four. If signed into law, the PRIME Act would take a number of steps to comprehensively prevent fraud, waste, and abuse within the two programs – a problem that TSCL believes must be addressed in order to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly.

In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. Ted Deutch (FL-21) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795) this week, bringing the total up to one hundred and nine. If signed into law, the bill would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two federal provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of state and local government employees each year.

TSCL enthusiastically supports the PRIME Act and the Social Security Fairness Act, and we were pleased to see support grow for both of them this week.