Congress Out of Session – Sort Of
The House and the Senate remain officially out of session for their August break, but saying that is a bit deceptive. It means the House and Senate chambers in the Capitol are closed for voting.
The Senate will return for votes starting on September 15 while the House won’t be back to begin voting until September 20. However, a number of House committees will be working until then including the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees, which will be meeting this week.
* * * *
Big Agenda – but Little Time to get it Done
The wheels of government usually grind very slowly. That’s by design, but it also reflects the diversity of the country. Citizens living in rural areas have different needs and wants than those in urban or suburban areas.
As we have seen, residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida have different needs from those in California or Maine or Minnesota. That means different priorities in Congress for the Senators and Representatives who those voters send to Washington.
Once Congress does officially return they have a major amount of work to do with little time to do it.
Among the things on the agenda will be passage of a fiscal year 2022 budget to fund the federal government, which is supposed to be passed by September 30, the end of the fy2021 fiscal year. However, it has become routine that the deadline is not met and instead they pass stopgap funding bills until they can finally agree on legislation to fully fund the government – something that sometimes takes until well into the next calendar year to accomplish.
On top of that, they are facing a deadline to raise the debt ceiling, which limits the amount of money the federal government can borrow to pay its bills.
Then there is the President’s infrastructure bill, which right now includes a provision to lower prescription drug prices, and which Democrats believe is a must-pass item for them this fall. They believe it’s a bill that would keep their campaign pledges to the American people and which, if not passed this year, will not pass prior to the elections next year. Since many observers think the Democrats are in danger of losing their majorities next year this is likely the last chance they’ll have to accomplish this goal while they have their majorities.
But there are problems ahead.
* * * *
Problems on Lowering Drug Prices
As we’ve said, lowering drug prices is a top goal of Democrats, including President Biden. Republicans have indicated they will not support that effort so the Democrats have to pass it with just their own members. With only the slimmest of majorities in both the House and Senate, the Democratic leadership has to try and keep all of their members on board.
However, a rift has developed among Democrats in the House of Representatives. Those who want to empower the government to demand lower prices from drug makers are concerned that moderates in their party are now emboldened to blunt their ambitious drug-pricing agenda.
Last week a group of 10 moderate Democrats delayed a procedural vote for their party’s reconciliation bill, which is the expensive bill containing the President’s program to rebuild the U.S. infrastructure. The fear is that some of those same moderates may again band together to blunt the drug-pricing provisions going into the reconciliation package.
That fear comes from the fact that some of those same lawmakers who are demanding action on the bipartisan infrastructure bill ahead of the reconciliation package have also expressed misgivings with taking on drug-pricing changes without Republican support.
But that’s not all. Congressional Democrats also want to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare but that goal is running into resistance from powerful health industry lobbies.
Progressives see expanding the popular entitlement as essential to fulfilling their campaign pledges and keeping Democratic control of the House and Senate. But the reforms threaten the bottom line of insurers who administer private Medicare plans and sell supplemental coverage for dental, vision and hearing services. Groups like the American Dental Association, worried their members will be paid less in traditional Medicare than in private Medicare plans, are also pushing to limit the new benefits to the poorest Americans.
Health insurers are pushing back, and are warning that the cost of new coverage could limit other benefits they offer in private Medicare Advantage plans — such as free transportation to medical appointments or free over-the-counter drugs.
An insurance industry source said Congress' deliberations are “freaking out” companies who worry that seniors will drop their private plans en masse and migrate to traditional Medicare once the new benefits are in place. But the source said the industry is mindful of the optics of publicly opposing coverage of eyeglasses, dental care and hearing aids, and is largely lobbying behind the scenes.
TSCL continues to support efforts to lower prescription drug prices and we will be watching this very carefully as things develop in the next few weeks.
* * * *
As we continue recovering from the Covid 19 pandemic, TSCL remains constant in our fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We’ve had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.
For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.