Federal Relations

September 28, 2009

Update from Washington, DC

The congressional agenda this week will sound familiar to those who have been following the action:  Both chambers will focus on appropriations measures as the fiscal year winds down on September 30th, and Senate and House committees will continue to resolve differences on health care reform proposals.


Congress has until Wednesday night to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running when FY10 starts on Thursday. The CR being discussed in the Senate would give lawmakers in that chamber 30 days to finish work on the FY10 spending bills.  But the healthcare measure is also expected to come to the floor within a few weeks so many believe an additional extension will likely be needed.

The CR is needed to give lawmakers additional time after the end of the fiscal year Wednesday to complete the 12 annual appropriations bills.  The House has finished work on all 12, while the Senate has completed only five.  It is close to wrapping up work on the FY10 Interior-Environment Appropriations bill.  Under the CR, most government programs will be funded at FY09 levels, with a few exceptions such as veterans’ health care and the Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, the House will take up conference reports on a handful of spending bills this week if House and Senate differences over earmarks can be resolved. The controversy rests with earmarks designated for private, for-profit entities.  In response to complaints that earmarks are a source of corruption, House appropriators added provisions to their appropriations bills requiring that earmarks to for-profit entities undergo a competitive bidding process.   The Senate, however, did not agree with this move.  Late last week, House and Senate leaders reached an agreement:  House earmarks designated for private, for-profit entities will be competitively bid, Senate earmarks will not, and those earmarks that are listed in both bills will not be competitively bid this year but will in future years.  One thing is certain, the earmark process will continue to morph as congress injects more and more transparency into the process.

Overall, Democrats plan to spend $75 billion, or 7 percent, more in fiscal 2010 than they did in fiscal 2009 on the 12 annual spending bills, not including emergency spending.

The Office of Federal Relations continues to monitor the earmarks that we have secured in the House bills.  The next hurdle is to protect those earmarks as they move through the conference negotiations. 

Health Reform

The health care debate will continue to take center stage in both chambers as lawmakers continue to look for a path forward.  Senate leaders continue to say that a health bill could be on the floor by the end of the week.  While that timetable appears unlikely, it is clear Democrats want to move the bill as soon as possible, with one of the unknowns being how long it will take congressional budget office to score a bill once versions crafted by the two committees – Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) – are merged.

The House continues to push toward having a single bill crafted from the work of three committees, which they hope to have finalized by the end of the week and ready for floor action the following week. 

The Office of Federal Relations is working closely with the health sciences schools (medicine, dentistry, nursing, public health, etc.) to protect graduate medical education funding and ensure that programs and grants being proposed through health reform have a positive impact on those entering the health professions.

As always, please let us know if you have questions or would like to discuss how to engage the congressional delegation with your issues and concerns.


Christy Gullion, Director