Congress Set for Debate on Budget Reconciliation Packages
The Senate on Monday will begin 20 hours of debate on a fiscal year 2006 budget reconciliation package (S 1932) that would make $39.1 billion in cuts over five years to mandatory programs, CQ Today reports (Dennis, CQ Today, 10/28).
The package, which was approved Wednesday by the Senate Budget Committee, includes about $10 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid approved last week by the Senate Finance Committee (California Healthline, 10/27). After the debate period, which likely will run through Wednesday, lawmakers will vote on amendments, with a final vote expected Thursday or Friday.
Meanwhile, authorizing committees in the House have completed work on their fiscal year 2006 budget reconciliation packages, which total about $50 billion in net savings (CQ Today, 10/28). The House proposals include a package approved Thursday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would cut Medicaid spending by about $9.5 billion over five years (California Healthline, 10/28).
The House Budget Committee will consolidate the packages into a single bill this week, with a floor vote expected next week. It is unclear whether House leadership will allow amendments on the floor or if they will only permit an up-or-down vote, CQ Today reports.
Under House rules, the Rules Committee could draft a self-executing rule allowing it to change provisions in the package, "either to circumvent a committee action disliked by leadership or to delete actions that could endanger passage on the floor," CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 10/28).
Three newspapers recently examined varying approaches the House and Senate committees have taken to suggest spending cuts to health programs. Summaries appear below.
New York Times: The Times on Sunday examined the Senate Finance and House Energy and Commerce committees' approaches to Medicaid and Medicare savings, including a provision in the Senate package that would require prescription drug manufacturers to provide larger discounts to Medicaid. The Times also examined how the House package would provide states with increased authority to raise Medicaid copayments and cut benefits "so benefit packages would look more like the private insurance provided by employers" (Pear, New York Times, 10/29).
New York Times: The Times on Sunday examined how Republican leaders in the House and Senate view the debate over budget reconciliation "as their party's chance to revive its reputation for frugality." According to the Times, Democrats are "solid in their opposition" to the packages, so Republican leaders will need "almost all" Republicans behind them to pass the savings measures (Hulse, New York Times, 10/31).
- Miami Herald: The article examines how increased congressional spending under Republican leadership -- including the Medicare prescription drug benefit and aid to survivors of Hurricane Katrina -- is "straining the Republican coalition as it heads into a pivotal mid-term election." According to the Herald, Congress is "stumbling over" the proposed cuts, with House leaders "struggling to muster support" for their package to cut Medicaid spending to expand total savings (Thomma, Miami Herald, 10/30).
In other congressional budget news, the House on Friday approved 318-63 the fiscal year 2006 Agriculture appropriations conference report, including a compromise measure aimed at limiting conflicts of interest for members of FDA advisory committees. The Senate is expected to approve the bill this week (CongressDaily, 10/28).
The measure would require committee members to disclose any potential conflicts of interest -- such as performing work for a pharmaceutical company -- at least 15 days prior to a committee meeting to consider a drug. In adopting the compromise provision on Wednesday, a House-Senate conference committee rejected a bill by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) that would have eliminated FDA's authority to waive conflict-of-interest rules if the agency determined an expert's advice is needed and would not prejudice the committee (Washington Post, 10/28).