Legislative Update for Week Ending June 29, 2012

Legislative Update for Week Ending June 29, 2012

This week, all eyes were on the Supreme Court as it announced its rulings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, Members of Congress focused on the passage of a reauthorization package, and TSCL saw support grow for two key pieces of legislation.

Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act

On Thursday, the Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the “individual mandate” – one of the most contentious provisions of the Affordable Care Act. By a 5-4 majority, the Court found the mandate constitutional under Congress’ power to levy taxes. The Court also ruled, however, to limit the law’s Medicaid expansion provision which a number of states challenged as unduly coercive. States now have the right to opt out of the Medicaid expansion plan without losing all of their federal Medicaid funds.

Reactions to the announcement were mixed on Capitol Hill, as expected. At a press conference, a relieved House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-8) said, “We happily embraced the decision that came down. Now we can move forward to the full implementation of the law.” Meanwhile, a determined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) stated, “We pass a lot of terrible laws around here that the courts find constitutional … Republicans won’t let up whatsoever in our determination to repeal this terrible law.”

Despite the Court’s final ruling, the Affordable Care Act will remain a potent political issue. According to Congressional Quarterly, the decision has “spurred plans for a renewed House GOP effort to repeal the law,” and many in the Senate have already begun “plotting the use of the budget reconciliation process next year to speedily move a repeal measure.” The debate is not expected to end with Thursday’s ruling, and TSCL will be sure to monitor any developments closely.

Two Key Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO-8) – signed on to Rep. Buck McKeon’s (CA-25) Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1332). The cosponsor total is now up to 170.

If signed into law, the Social Security Fairness Act would repeal two provisions of the Social Security Act: the government pension offset (GPO) and the windfall elimination provision (WEP). These two provisions unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, firefighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year.  TSCL believes that Congress must pass the Social Security Fairness Act in order to give dedicated state and local government employees the retirement security they deserve.

TSCL also saw four new cosponsors sign on to Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (PA-13) Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 5707) this week. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2), Laura Richardson (CA-37), and Steve Cohen (TN-9) signed on to the bill, bringing the cosponsor total up to 22.

Rep. Schwartz’s bill, if signed into law, would repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for physician reimbursements and set up a five-year trial period during which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would test new payment and delivery models. TSCL strongly believes that the SGR breeds uncertainty in the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries. Many doctors have stopped accepting Medicare patients, and many more are threatening to do so if a solution is not established soon. We believe that the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act would bring increased stability to the Medicare program, and we were pleased to see support grow for it this week.