Senate Approves Fiscal Year 2006 Labor-HHS, Defense Appropriations Bills
The Senate on Wednesday voted to approve the $602 billion Labor-HHS spending bill (HR 3010) and the $453.5 billion fiscal year 2006 Department of Defense appropriations measure (HR 2863), which includes funding for flu preparedness and hurricane recovery efforts, the Washington Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 12/22).
The Senate adopted by voice vote the Labor-HHS bill, which overall would increase funding by more than $105 billion over the FY 2005 appropriations measure. The 21% increase results primarily from additional funding for mandatory programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The bill earmarks $28.6 billion in funding for NIH, a 1% increase over FY 2005 funding levels.
The bill was approved after negotiators made a number of changes to "win over" Republicans, CQ Today reports (Schuler/Swindell, CQ Today, 12/21). All House Democrats and 22 Republicans voted against the bill in November, with several Republicans saying their opposition was because of cuts in funding for rural health care programs.
The revised bill includes $90 million in additional funding for rural health care programs. The revised bill also addresses House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas' (R-Calif.) concern that a provision to ban Medicare coverage for erectile dysfunction drugs would lead to breaches of government contracts. The provision, which would have saved $90 million in 2006, was removed.
The bill's added spending is offset by $120 million in cuts from flu preparedness programs (California Healthline, 12/13).
Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday also voted 93-0 to approve the DOD spending bill, which includes $453.5 billion in defense spending, $29 billion in funding for hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf Coast and $3.8 billion in flu pandemic preparedness funding. The vote came after the Senate voted 48-45 to adopt an enrolling resolution that would remove from the DOD spending bill a provision that would have allowed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Schatz, CQ Today, 12/21).
According to the AP/Kansas City Star, most of the hurricane funding included in the bill already was approved by Congress as part of the federal Disaster Relief Fund, and the funding now will be diverted from the fund and sent to Gulf Coast states and hurricane survivors (Jakes Jordan, AP/Kansas City Star, 12/22). The hurricane funding includes an extra $2 billion for some states to cover health care costs for low-income hurricane survivors, including offsetting higher Medicaid costs and compensating private hospitals that have treated more uninsured patients as a result of the hurricane (Maggi, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 12/22).
In addition, the bill provides liability protections for vaccine makers, including those who manufacturer flu vaccines (AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 12/22). Democrats have protested the provision, saying it goes too far in protecting drug companies and fails to provide protections to individuals harmed by a flu vaccine. Senate Democrats who oppose the provision said on Wednesday they will "raise budget points of order" against its provision in the DOD spending bill, CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 12/21).
A unanimous consent agreement in the Senate stated that the Labor-HHS bill would receive final approval once the House adopts, "without amendment," the enrolling resolution eliminating the ANWR provision from the DOD spending bill, CQ Today reports (Schuler/Swindell, CQ Today, 12/21).
The House also will have to approve the change for the DOD spending bill to win final approval.
The votes on the Labor-HHS and DOD spending bills came soon after the Senate voted 51-50 to approve the FY 2006 spending cut package (S 1932) (Washington Times, 12/22). The approval came after Vice President Dick Cheney returned from a trip in the Middle East to cast a tie-breaking vote. The House earlier in the week voted 212-206 to approve the $39.7 billion in spending cuts, including $6.4 billion in net savings from Medicare and about $4.8 billion in net savings from Medicaid over five years.
Among other provisions, the bill would give states greater flexibility to require copayments and premiums of beneficiaries and limit benefits, as well as tighten rules for transfers of assets by individuals to obtain Medicaid coverage for long-term care. The bill also includes several Medicare provisions, including a provision that would freeze provider payments at current rates instead of cutting them by 4.4% (California Healthline, 12/21).
In approving the budget reconciliation bill, the Senate also approved a procedural move to strike three sections of the bill (Washington Times, 12/22). Two of the provisions would have shielded providers from lawsuits filed by Medicaid beneficiaries and required reports on Medicare changes (Murray/Weisman, Washington Post, 12/22).
The changes mean the bill must be sent back to the House for reapproval. The House is scheduled to hold an informal, pro-forma session today, but only a few members will be present, meaning any action taken on legislation would require unanimous consent, according to the Times. House Democrats have said they will demand a formal roll-call vote, and with Republican leaders unlikely to call lawmakers back into session during the holiday break, aides expect the House not to vote on the legislation until next year (Washington Times, 12/22).
Democrats said the delay will give groups opposed to the legislation more time to lobby their positions, "potentially making a second House vote more difficult," CongressDaily reports (Cohn/Heil, CongressDaily, 12/21).
AARP CEO Bill Novelli said his organization will "work to explain the full impact of this vote to its more than 36 million members." AARP opposes several provisions in the budget bill, CQ HealthBeat reports (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 12/21).
Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said House Republicans likely will approve the budget measure (Dennis, CQ Today, 12/21).
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "This budget is an attack on the middle class and those in greatest need."
However, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the bill does not cut programs but instead slows their growth, adding that the "entitlement spending path we are on" is "simply unsustainable." He said, "We can stand before you really in a celebratory mood. We are governing with meaningful solutions" (Washington Times, 12/22).
President Bush said the Senate's approval of the budget reconciliation bill is "a victory for taxpayers, fiscal restraint and responsible budgeting" (Espo, AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 12/22)
APM's "Marketplace Morning Report" on Wednesday reported on a provision in the Senate legislation that would exempt drug companies from liability related to the use of vaccines. The segment includes comments from Jeffrey Levi, senior policy advisor at Trust for America's Health, and Eric Toner, senior associate at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh (Palmer, "Marketplace Morning Report," APM, 12/21). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.