Legislative News InBrief

September 18, 2006

Kim E. Musheno
Director of Public Policy
[email protected]

Congressional Schedule
There are only two weeks left until Members of Congress adjourn and return to their home states/districts. Since Congress was not able to complete work on the annual appropriations bills, Congress plans to come back for a short "lame duck" session sometime in November following the elections. The House Energy and Commerce Committee may take up several bills important to the AUCD network this week. On schedule for Wednesday is the Committee consideration of a draft bill to reauthorize the National Institutes on Health (see also NIH below). On the same day, the Committee may consider the Combating Autism Act and the Lifespan Respite Care Act.

Moderate Republicans continue to pressure Republican leaders to agree to more funds in the FY07 Labor-HHS-ED bill for research, education, and health care. Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and ranking member Tom Harkin (D-IA) are circulating a letter seeking an additional $2 billion above what the current $142.8 billion Senate bill would provide, restoring program funds to FY05 levels. Specter and Harkin are trying to collect signatures from all 73 senators who voted for their amendment to the FY07 budget resolution supporting $7 billion additional funds. In the House, moderate Republicans are planning a similar effort, seeking to remind House leaders of their commitment during the budget resolution debate to find an extra $3 billion above the House's $141.9 billion version. Unfortunately, this request must compete with other Member requests for more spending on defense, agriculture, housing and the environment. The FY07 L-HHS-ED appropriations bill will not be finalized until after the election.

The House voted 245 to 171 Thursday on a proposal to force disclosure of earmark sponsors. Many appropriators opposed the bill, including House Appropriations Chairman Lewis (R-CA) and most senior Republican committee members. The Senate is putting together a companion bill but it is unclear whether there will be enough time to get a bill enacted before the end of this Congress.

Combating Autism Act
AUCD, along with several other CCD health care leaders, met with staff of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Barton (R-TX) to urge the Chairman to take up and quickly pass the Combating Autism Act (S. 843). The Senate passed the bill unanimously on Aug. 3. Staff indicated that Chairman Barton is interested in moving the bill. However, staff indicated that the Chairman would prefer to strike the sections of S. 843 that deal with NIH research and incorporate those provisions into the NIH reauthorization bill that is moving so that they do not conflict (see NIH below). AUCD urged Barton's staff to consider making necessary changes to the reauthorization bill to ensure there is no duplication or conflicts but to move both bills without changes to S. 843. See summary and full text of the legislation on AUCD's website at http://www.aucd.org/aucd_legisaffairs.htm and an action alert with a sample letter at http://capwiz.com/aucd/home/.

NIH Reauthorization
It appears that NIH reauthorization is finally moving again in the House of Representatives. AUCD met with staff of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Barton recently and learned that a hearing will be held on Sept. 19 followed by a markup of the Chairman's bill, the "NIH Reform Act," on September 20. The new daft bill responds to the advocacy community request to not make major changes to the institute/center structure. It does not eliminate any institutes or centers, and allows for direct appropriations to institutes and centers to continue the same way it works today. However, there will be a committee formed to look at the structure of institutes and centers which will make recommendations for structural changes to NIH. The legislation has come a long way from what Chairman Barton originally proposed, but still has a long way to go before it becomes law. Even if the bill is approved by the Committee this week, the Senate has not indicated any interest or willingness to take the same approach any time soon.

Lifespan Respite Care Act
The House Energy and Commerce Committee may markup the Lifespan Respite Care Act (H.R. 3248) this week. H.R. 3248 was introduced by Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-NJ) on July 12, 2005 and now has 78 co-sponsors. AUCD and other advocates are negotiating with staff regarding several changes to the draft bill before providing support. A Senate companion bill (S. 1283) was introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on June 21, 2005 and was referred to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate bill has 27 bipartisan co-sponsors.

Americans with Disabilities Act Hearing
The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution held an Oversight Hearing on "The Americans with Disabilities Act: Sixteen Years Later." Former Congressman Tony Coelho, lead House sponsor of the original ADAl, testified. Professor Robert Bergdorf of the National Council on Disability and California business owner Harry Horner also testified. Coelho and Burgdorf spoke of restoring the ADA to Congress's original intent as a law for people with a broad spectrum of disabilities. Earp provided statistics on employment discrimination claims while Horner addressed concerns over "drive-by" lawsuits.

DDRC Meeting
AUCD legislative affairs staff provides a legislative update today to the directors of the Developmental Disabilities Research Center Association at their annual meeting in Maryland. A written report will be posted on AUCD's website following the meeting.