Lots of Work Before the New Year

Nov 7, 2014 Issues: Budget and Spending, Health Care

The year 2015 will bring with it a new Congress. One with Republicans firmly in control of both the Senate and the House. There will be a lot of say about our plans for the next Congress, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. Congress cannot be idle in the remainder of 2014. There is work to do.

First of all, the federal government only has a funding plan through December. Democrats and Republicans already agreed on figure for the overall budget for 2015, but we need to do the detailed work of passing appropriations bills. While the House passed a number of these bills, the Senate hasn’t taken up any of them.

Unfortunately, that does not leave us with enough time to do our work properly and take up individual bills that fund the various federal departments. We will need to either pass a continuing resolution, which funds at current levels, or pass a massive omnibus bill to fund everything. Neither is ideal. A continuing resolution makes no progress in rooting out current waste. An omnibus always carries with it the risk that bad spending will be slipped in.  Either way, we should pass a bill that keeps the government open and running.

Next year, Republicans will be fully in charge of the budget process. A budget can’t be stopped with a filibuster. We have to prove results. For now, we have to work in the current divided government to get the best deal possible.

Tax reform is going to be one of the top priorities for Congress next year. Unfortunately, there are a number of expiring provisions that need to be considered before 2015. The research and development tax credit could lapse without immediate action.

I think that a tax reform bill needs to consider each and every part of the code. A tax extenders bill shouldn’t make anything permanent or extend anything too long. We need to take a comprehensive look at a tax code. It’s a code that is bloated and weighs down our economy. We have to do something about it.

For the past few years, I have been working to reform the way we pay doctors under Medicare. For over a decade now, Congress has patched temporary legislation that prevents significant cuts to physician payments. That is no way to run a program as important as Medicare.

Earlier this year, we hammered out an agreement with Democrats on the right policy for doctors’ payments. We passed it out of my Health Subcommittee and the full Energy and Commerce Committee with unanimous support. We passed the plan in the House, with funds to pay for it, with bipartisan support. Unfortunately, in Harry Reid’s do-nothing Senate, the bill was essentially dead on arrival.

There may be an opportunity before the end of the year to agree on a way to pay for these reforms. If not, the new Republican Congress will take up a bill early next year before the temporary patch expires in March. Everyone who cares for Medicare patients and everyone enrolled in Medicare has a vested interest in seeing the program remain stable and strong. This isn’t long-term reform, but it’s an important first step toward making sure Medicare will be there for our children and grandchildren.

There have been hopeful signs recently in the battle against Ebola here in the U.S. and in Africa. The nurses who contracted Ebola in Dallas are alive today and no one else who had contact with the man from Liberia has contracted the disease. New infections have been decreasing in Africa and vaccine trials are being conducted.

However, there is still great risk that the disease could spread to new countries, other places that have little capability to fight infection. The President has made a new request for funding to combat Ebola. Congress should carefully consider the request and make sure we are doing what we can to keep the disease out of the U.S. and stop it at the source in West Africa.

I’m excited about the coming year and possibilities to work together with the Senate. However, there’s real work to be done before we get there. The 113th Congress isn’t over yet.