This week, lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill and began preparing for the start of the 115th Congress. Members of the House and Senate held elections for party leadership positions, and many began discussing the future of the Affordable Care Act and of the Medicare program.
Lawmakers Prepare for 115th Congress
This week, lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill for the first time in over a month to begin the lame-duck session of Congress. Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in both chambers held closed-door elections this week for several party leadership positions. In the Senate, Democrats selected Sen. Charles Schumer (NY) to fill the open Minority Leader position, Sen. Richard Durbin (IL) to serve as the Minority Whip, and Sen. Patty Murray (WA) to become the new Assistant Democratic Leader. On the Republican side, Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) was re-elected to the Majority Leader position, and Sen. John Cornyn (TX) was re-elected to the Majority Whip position.
In the House, Democrats decided to delay their leadership elections, and they are expected to vote on Wednesday, November 30th. House Republicans selected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) to serve once again as Majority Leader, Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-1) to continue his work as Majority Whip, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-5) to remain the Republican Conference Chair. In addition, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1) was unanimously nominated for a second term as Speaker of the House and is expected to be officially elected to the position on the House floor in January. Following his nomination, he said: “Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government … This will be a government focused on turning President-elect Trump’s victory into real progress for the American people.”
In the days following Tuesday’s leadership elections, many lawmakers turned their attention to the future of the Affordable Care Act and of the Medicare program. When the new Congress begins in January, Republicans in the House and Senate are expected to quickly repeal the health care law and consider serious changes to the Medicare program. Speaker Ryan said in an interview with Fox News, “What people don’t realize is that Medicare is going broke … You have to deal with those issues if you’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
If lawmakers fully repeal the Affordable Care Act as expected next year, the Medicare program would be impacted in several ways. The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) that the law created would cease to exist, and progress that has been made to close the prescription drug “doughnut hole” would be reversed. In addition, the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund that finances Medicare Part A would lose an important stream of funding that the law created, and it could face immediate depletion.
In addition to a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, leaders in Congress have begun considering comprehensive Medicare reform in recent days. For several years, Speaker Ryan has advocated for reforms that would phase out the traditional Medicare program and replace it with a “premium support” model, where older Americans would be given subsidies from the federal government to purchase private insurance. Most recently, in his “A Better Way” proposal, Speaker Ryan outlined a plan that would increase the age of Medicare eligibility from sixty-five to sixty-seven while transitioning to a “premium support” model beginning in 2024. The plan states: “[This approach] would ensure security and affordability for seniors now and in the future.” However, TSCL has serious concerns about plans like this one that would privatize the Medicare program.
In the weeks and months ahead, as Congress continues to prepare for the start of the 115th Congress, TSCL will keep a close eye on negotiations that would impact older Americans. We will advocate tirelessly for legislation that would protect the benefits seniors have earned and deserve, and we will prioritize solutions that would strengthen and modernize the Social Security and Medicare programs responsibly, without enacting harsh cuts or increasing costs for beneficiaries. To stay updated on the latest news from Capitol Hill, be sure to follow TSCL on Facebook or Twitter.