Legislative News InBrief

November 20, 2006

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

Congressional Schedule
The House and Senate spent the first week of the lame duck session electing their leaders for the 110th Congress that will convene in January. A flurry of non-controversial legislation was passed by Congress last week, but none that would directly affect people with disabilities. Congress adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday but will return the week of Dec. 4. There is still a slight change for action on the Lifespan Respite Care Act and the Combating Autism Act before the 109th Congress adjourns "sine die."

House Leadership for the 110th Congress
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA) formally became Speaker of the House of Representatives during the leadership elections (she was unapposed). Democrats elected Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD) as majority leader after Pelosi had publicly supported Rep. John Murtha (PA). The other leadership posts were won by Rep. James Clyburn (SC) as Majority Whip, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (IL) as Caucus Chairman, and Rep. John Larson as Caucus Vice Chairman.

House Republicans elected Rep. John A. Boehner (R-OH), the current majority leader, over challenger Mike Pence (R-IN) to serve as minority leader. Boehner will succeed outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) who did not seek a leadership post. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) was chosen as minority whip over Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). Other leadership posts were won by Rep. Adam Putnam (FL) as Conference Chairman, Rep. Tom Cole Republican Congressional Committee Chair, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (MI) as Policy Committee Chair, Rep. John Carter (TX) as Conference Secretary, and Rep. Kay Granger (TX) as Conference Vice Chairman.

Senate Leadership
The Senate Democrats formalized the election of Sen. Harry Reid (NV) as Majority Leader. Charles Schumer (NY) was chose to be vice chairman of the Democratic Conference. The new Senate Democratic majority also confirmed the rest of its leadership slate for the 110th Congress. Minority Whip Dick Durbin (IL) will continue to run the party's vote counting operation as majority whip. The only change in leadership ranks was the selection of Sen. Patty Murray (WA) for Democratic Conference secretary. Reid tapped current Democratic Conference Secretary Debbie Stabenow (MI) to serve as chairwoman of the Democratic Steering Committee and Stabenow also received a coveted seat on the Senate Finance panel. Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA) will serve as chief deputy whip. Sens. Russell Feingold (WI), Bill Nelson (FL) and Thomas Carper (DE) were tapped as deputy whips.

Senate Republicans voted for Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) as Minority Leader in the 110th Congress. They also chose to bring back Trent Lott (MS) in a close race over Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) as Minority Whip. The other leadership positions were won by Sen. John Kyl (AZ) as Conference Chairman, Sen. John Cornyn (TX) as Conference Vice Chairman, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) as Policy Committee Chairwoman, and John Ensign (NV) as Committee Chairman.

On Nov. 15, both the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution (CR) to provide funding through Dec. 8 for government agencies whose FY 2007 spending bills have not yet been enacted. To date, only two of the 12 regular spending bills - Defense and Homeland Security - have been signed into law. For DD and other programs in the Labor-HHS-Education bill (H.R. 5647/S. 3708), the CR provides funds at the FY 2006 level. It is still uncertain as to whether the Congress will complete the FY07 spending bills before adjourning the 109th Congress or whether they will just pass another CR that would last through the beginning of January and let the Democrats finish the FY07 bills after they take control of Congress. Most Democrats would like to finish this year's spending bills so that they can start fresh in January. Republicans see an advantage in delaying action on the bills so that Democrats will have to focus on the unfinished spending bills instead of their priorities. In addition, continuing funding under a CR has the effect of cutting spending since the CR funds programs at the lowest of the House-passed, Senate-passed or last year's funding level.

Medicaid Commission
The Federal Medicaid Commission, appointed by Secretary Leavitt of Heath and Human Services 18 months ago, has completed its deliberations. The Commission met last week to hear final testimony and to vote on amendments to the Chairman's mark, which was not significantly altered in the process. AUCD provided testimony on issues related to Medicaid and long term care during the public comment period. The final recommendations, which generally focus on giving states more flexibility in how they administer and fund their Medicaid program as well as providing services in home and community-based settings, have been delivered to Congress for their consideration. With the change in party leadership, some analysts are predicting the commission's recommendations will be not be taken seriously by Congress. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over Medicaid said "While some in Congress thought this effort would bear fruit, I see no proof of that in this report. It is the job of the Congress to review the Medicaid program and legislate necessary changes, not a hand-picked commission stacked against working families." Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who will soon chair the Senate Finance Committee, said he was disappointed: "Many of its recommendations will undermine federal oversight of the program and reduce the likelihood that the most vulnerable Americans will get the comprehensive health care they need."