Due to an overwhelming number of Democratic victories in last November’s midterm elections, the 110th Congress, which took office early this year, has new leaders and a new agenda that could bode well for healthcare legislation.
In this article, Laura Allendorf, SHM’s senior advisor for advocacy and government affairs, explains what the changes in Congress could mean for the near future of healthcare and for the legislation and issues that SHM strongly supports. Based in Washington, D.C., Allendorf is responsible for providing government relations services for SHM. She advises the organization on key legislative and regulatory healthcare issues before Congress and the Bush administration, and she works with SHM leaders and staff on policy development and advocacy strategies.
The midterm elections brought about a shift in power that goes deeper than numbers of bodies on each side of the aisle. “The Democrats are now the majority in both chambers. This is significant, because they’ve been the minority since 1994, says Allendorf. “As the majority, they control the agenda now—on healthcare and other issues—and they also head the key committees.”
What can we expect to see from the Democratic Congress? “We should expect to see a more expansionist agenda” in general, according to Allendorf. “We’re going to see more activism in the area of healthcare, but whether anything gets done remains to be seen. There’s only a slim majority in the Senate, and President Bush can wield his veto pen. For example, the Democrats would like to give [the Department of] Health and Human Services the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, specifically on Medicare Part D, but Bush won’t like that.”
Much depends on the issues at hand, as well as on how much bipartisan support exists for each specific bill.
Changing of the Guard
Anyone who glances at the newspaper knows that Democrat Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is now the Speaker of the House. But Democratic leadership goes much deeper than that because the ruling party has also taken over leadership of Congressional committees. These committees shape the legislation introduced in the House and Senate.
As of press time, Congressional committee assignments had not been formally decided—at least not in the Senate—but many assignments were certain. “Typically, the highest-ranking Democrat [House or Senate] on a committee will become the new head, though Nancy Pelosi isn’t sticking to that,” explains Allendorf. “Pete Stark (D-Calif.) will likely chair the Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will head the House Ways and Means Committee. John Dingell (D-Mich.) will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee.” (For more on committee chairs, visit http://media-newswire.com/release_1040623.html.)