Congress Passed Short Term Continuing Resolution — What’s Next?
After a nearly 16 day government shutdown that was very unpopular among Americans and damaged public opinion of Republicans, Congress reached a short-term deal that funds the government until Jan. 15 and increases the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. In the interim, the deal instructs the House and Senate to convene a conference committee on the budget and reach an agreement on tax and spending priorities by Dec. 13.
Based on conversations that I have had with members on the budget conference committee, there is a sense that all issues are on the table, regardless of some factions in each party stating certain issues are non-starters.
Budget Conference Committee
There was much relief that Congress reached a short-term deal on a continuing resolution after a very contentious few weeks, but many remain skeptical that this new budget committee will reach any groundbreaking “grand bargain” on deficit reduction. Members on both sides have already come out to state which issues are “non-starters” — Republicans have stated that they will not agree to any provisions that increase taxes and Democrats (at least some progressive Democrats) have indicated that they will not support a deal that disproportionately cuts domestic programs, Social Security and Medicare benefits. Many of us have witnessed committees, commissions and task forces over the years charged with deficit reduction fail miserably, the most recent being the “super committee,” which was unable to reach any type of an agreement, resulting in sequestration, or automatic spending cuts.
However, members of the budget conference, who are scheduled to meet this week, have stated that it is important to manage expectations of the committee and if success is defined as the “grand bargain,” then their mission may end in failure. Some Democrats have indicated that they would be open to revenue raisers, not necessarily tax increases, as a way to tackle the budget, such as closing loopholes or slowing the pace of Social Security’s cost-of-living increases, which was included in President Obama’s budget proposal earlier this year.
One issue on which there seems to be common ground, but for different reasons, are the sequester cuts. Democrats are concerned with the impact of the automatic spending cuts on domestic programs, like education and NIH, and Republicans are concerned with the cuts on defense. House budget Chair Paul Ryan, R-WI, stated that the conference will seek to address “smarter” ways to replace sequestration. However, there are many members in the House Republican conference who may continue to support the sequestration cuts if an alternative can’t be found.
The AGA and the entire medical community continue to advocate that Congress address a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate formula before the end of the year, either in the context of the budget conference or another must-pass legislative vehicle. The House Energy and Commerce committee voted their Medicare physician payment reform package out of committee this past summer and the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee are scheduled to unveil their packages this week. We continue to raise this issue with members of the budget conference — the time is long overdue to reform the payment system and provide physicians with more stability.
Congress doesn’t have a lot of time to reach a tentative outline of a budget agreement. The AGA continues to be the voice of gastroenterology on the Hill by meeting with legislators and their staff daily to stress the need to address the Medicare payment system, as well as the effects of sequestration cuts to NIH and the devastating impact they are having on the future of research in this country.
Look for more updates on these critical budget issues on the AGA Washington Insider and AGA eDigest.