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On the Hill: Omnibus, Immigration, CHIP, Election Results

This week, Congress will attempt to pass spending legislation needed to fund the federal government beyond Dec. 11. A $1.1 trillion omnibus package, made up of 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills, is expected to be released shortly. The package would exclude a 12th bill to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which would instead be funded through a continuing resolution through February 2015. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) rejected Tea Party requests to include a homeland security bill in the omnibus that could defund the president’s executive order to allow approximately five million undocumented immigrants temporary U.S. residency. The immigration battle is expected to resume in January when Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

The omnibus is also expected to include more than $5 billion in emergency appropriations to combat Ebola and more than $3 billion to fight the Islamic State. Democrats are skeptical about voting for the package because of potential riders attached that would harm certain programs, such as the school lunch program. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is working with other Democratic leaders to get several riders removed from the package that would prevent the party from supporting the legislation.

Last week, the House passed a $577.1 billion defense bill and legislation to extend certain tax breaks – both bills are slated for Senate passage this week. Doc fix legislation to address the Medicare physician payment system, which is partially based on the sustainable growth rate (SGR), appears to be off the table until next year.

In committee business, last week the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health held The Future of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The hearing focused on the current status of the program, the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the program, and future funding needs. In addition, the Committee on Energy and Commerce published a summary of governors’ responses to a bipartisan inquiry on CHIP made in July. Letters were sent to all governors with a request for state positions on the future of CHIP and input on potential needs for congressional action. Thirty-nine responses were received, with more than half of governors requesting a CHIP funding extension through at least 2019 – current funding expires at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

The House Committee on Oversight and Investigations is holding a full committee hearing today, Dec.9, to examine transparency in the Obama administration. Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Jonathan Gruber, PhD, MIT economist, will testify.

In election news, the outstanding Louisiana Senate race has concluded with Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) easily ousting incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Cassidy’s victory will bring the Republican majority in the Senate to 54 in the 114th Congress. Cassidy is a critic of the 340B Drug Pricing Program and has introduced legislation to create per-capita caps in the Medicaid Program.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Wiles is the manager of legislative affairs at America's Essential Hospitals.

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