Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package just before a midnight deadline Dec. 11 to keep the federal government funded through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2015.
The measure included a two-day extension to give the Senate time to consider the package. The Senate passed the final package Dec. 13 in a 56-40 vote and sent it to President Obama. Passage of the spending package did not come easily, with many Democrats opposing provisions to loosen regulation of Wall Street and weaken school lunch requirements intended to keep children healthy. Some Republicans argued the measure’s homeland security language wasn’t strong enough. Ultimately, Congress voted to keep the government running and pass a somewhat unpopular funding measure, rather than allow the government to shut down.
The spending bill includes $2.74 billion to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in emergency appropriations for fighting the Ebola outbreak. Other provisions in the package prohibit the transfer of funds from the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust fund, or other accounts, to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under risk corridor terms set by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Risk corridor payments were created to address potential cost increases for health plans resulting from new requirements to extend coverage to consumers, despite their health care status. The payments would help keep plans solvent and prevent cost increases for healthier consumers. The package also rescinded funding for the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which the ACA created to control Medicare spending. On Friday, the Senate separately sent a $577.1 billion defense measure to the president’s desk.
On Monday, the Senate confirmed Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, as the new U.S. Surgeon General in a 51-43 vote. In the remainder of the week, the Senate also will take up House-passed legislation on terrorism risk insurance, tax break extenders, and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, before adjourning for the year. The House has concluded legislative business for the year.
In committee business, new assignments were made on key House and Senate committees for the 114th Congress. Democrats will lose one to two seats on Senate committees, including two losses on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), and one loss on the Committee on Finance. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) announced she will serve as the ranking member on HELP, Senator-elect Bill Cassidy (R-LA) also will serve on HELP. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will pick up five new Democrats. The House Committee on Ways and Means announced four new Republican members: Reps. Kristi Noem (SD), Patrick Meehan (PA), George Holding (NC), and Jason Smith (MO). Ways and Means will lose one Democrat.