Looking Ahead in Congress: Defense spending bill and Disclose Act

In the House 
The Defense Appropriations Act (HR 5856)

This bill cuts total defense spending by about $25 billion from current levels, mostly reflecting less spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. Base-level funding for DOD itself would increase slightly. The House is expected to work on this bill for the bulk of the week with a vote on Friday.

The Sequestration Transparency Act (HR 5872)
House Republicans will bring this bill to the Floor in the middle of the week, in an effort to require the Administration to report on how it proposes to slash more than $100 billion in spending in 2013. That cut is required under the so-called “Sequester,” which Congress approved last year as a way of forcing $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. House Republicans have already approved a bill that would alter the Sequester by avoiding Defense Department cuts, and continue to pressure the Obama administration to support similar alterations.

Several other bills will also be considered in the House this week:

HR 6018
To authorize appropriations for the Department of State for fiscal year 2013.

The Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act (S 1959)
Requires a report on the designation of the Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Insular Areas Act (S 2009)
Improves the administration of programs in the insular areas.

S 2039
To allow a State or local government to construct levees on certain properties otherwise designated as open space lands.

The US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act (S 2165)
Enhances strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel.

In the Senate 
The DISCLOSE Act (S 3369)
This is the second Democratic bill meant to address the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. That ruling said the government cannot limit campaign spending by corporations, unions and other groups. (See other bills related to Citizens United.)
The bill would require these groups to report aggregate campaign spending of $10,000 to the government. In 2010, Democrats sought to require reporting of all spending above $600, but their bill failed to move in the Senate. The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the new bill on Monday.

Bill with High Volume Activity on POPVOX 
Most Discussed Bill Last Week: The Repeal of Obamacare Act (HR 6079)
The House approved this bill 244-185 last week, with the help of five Democrats. But as expected, the bill is already “last week’s news,” as the Senate is not expected to consider it at all. Thousands of POPVOX users had opinions of the bill to repeal the 2010 healthcare law, making it the most-discussed bill on the site last week. More than 4,500 people weighed in, and were in favor of the bill by a more than 10-1 margin.

The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S 1789)
This bill, #9 on POPVOX, would give the U.S. Postal Service the flexibility to restructure its finances to help it stop losing millions of dollars each day. The Senate passed it in April. The House has indicated it is unlikely to move any related legislation before the August recess. House Republicans oppose the Senate bill as something that would increase the deficit further, and favor proposals to let the USPS close offices that are not profitable. Without movement by Congress, some version of the House GOP plan will likely come to pass anyway, as the USPS has said it will soon need to begin shuttering offices.

The Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act (S 2237)
This bill, number 11 on POPVOX, would give companies a tax credit of up to $500,000, but it stalled in the Senate last week, as Republican opposition blocked it in a procedural vote.

Link to POPVOX’s Weekly Update online.

House Republicans Tell Americans to Drop Dead

— By Andres Ramirez, Protect Your Care

The Supreme Court has ruled that Obamacare is constitutional, but yet again, Republican Congressmen Joe Heck and Mark Amodei refused to move on and told American families in Nevada to drop dead when they voted to take away their health care. Congressman and Medical Doctor Joe Heck, and Congressman Mark Amodei voted to again let insurance companies deny families care because of preexisting conditions. They voted to throw millions of senior citizens back into the prescription drug donut hole. Both Nevada House Republicans voted to kick millions of young adults off their parents insurance.

And just in case that heartless vote wasn’t bad enough, these are the same Congressmen who support the Romney/Ryan budget that ends Medicare while giving huge tax cuts to millionaires, big oil companies and corporate jet owners.

Corporations Score another Supreme Court Victory

The Affordable Care Act ruling won’t heal our ailing health system.

By Margaret Flowers

Margaret Flowers

As a physician, I find it very odd that the debate over the Affordable Care Act has focused on the effect the law will have on the presidential election rather than the impact it will have on patients, health professionals, and health outcomes.

The Supreme Court case reinvigorated the debate over the Obama administration’s 2010 health care reform law. But we’re still getting partisan talking points instead of an honest review of the changes that are in store. This will likely worsen as we get closer to Election Day.

The new law is based on concepts developed by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney passed a very similar law for his state when he was the governor of Massachusetts. So while most Democrats are celebrating the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act and Romney is saying he’d repeal it, consider this: Had a Republican passed this federal law, we would have the opposite situation.

imageLet’s put politics aside and look at the law from a policy standpoint. The big winners of the Supreme Court decision are the corporations who are profiting from the current health system — private health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and corporate-owned hospitals and medical practices.

The Court has deemed it constitutional for the government to require people to spend up to 9 percent of their income to purchase private insurance despite it being a defective product. People with insurance continue to face financial barriers to care. They delay and avoid necessary care because of the cost of co-pays and deductibles.

When patients have a serious medical condition, they risk financial ruin. Illness and soaring medical costs are the greatest causes of bankruptcy in the United States, even though four out of five people experiencing medical bankruptcy have health insurance. Purchasing private insurance is going to be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. It will cost Uncle Sam an estimated half a trillion dollars between 2014 and 2019 to pay that tab, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The insurance mandate and these subsidies will create corporate welfare on steroids.

What will the insurance companies do with all that money? They’ll hold onto as much as they can by denying and restricting payment for care. And they’ll use those dollars to weaken regulations meant to protect patients.

When national health care reform is fully implemented in 2019, 26 million people will still lack coverage. And health costs will continue to rise because the law lacks proven cost controls.

While the law does include a few positive provisions, it won’t stop the deterioration of our health care system. We’ll continue to see unnecessary suffering and preventable death. This is unacceptable when we are already spending nearly twice as much per person on care each year as other industrialized nations with universal health systems and much better health outcomes.

The truth is that we can solve our health care crisis. The fastest way to accomplish this is to drop just two words from the Medicare Act — "over 65" — and immediately expand Medicare to every person. That would create a system that’s about health care, not corporate profits. A universal Medicare system would control costs and improve the quality of patient care.

Let’s demand Medicare for all now. The longer we wait, the more people will suffer and die needlessly.

Margaret Flowers, MD is a pediatrician from Baltimore and co-director of ItsOurEconomy.US.  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Looking to the Week Ahead in the Congress

Looking Ahead: In the House

Congress will return on July 9th, so mark your calendars!

The House is poised to consider up to three spending bills for 2013 next week:

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act (HR 5856)
This bill spends $519 billion on the Defense Department, an increase over 2012. It cuts spending on war operations in Afghanistan and Iraq by about $27 billion.

The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 5973)
This bill cuts spending at the Department of Agriculture and related agencies by $365 million. Democrats are expected to oppose some cuts in the bill, including a $250 million cut to the Food for Peace program, which uses U.S. commodities to help alleviate hunger overseas.

The Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (HR 6020)
This bill spends $21.5 billion on the Department of Treasury and related agencies. The bill includes language that would specifically prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from moving money to the Internal Revenue Service to implement the 2010 healthcare law.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has scheduled a vote to repeal ObamaCare on July 11th.

Related Health Care Reform Repeal Bills

The Healthcare Tax Relief and Mandate Repeal Act (HR 6048)
Amends the tax code to repeal the individual and employer health insurance mandates.

The NObamacare Act (HR 6053)
Repeals the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the health-related provisions of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 not declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The NObamacare Funds Act (HR 6054)
Prohibits funding to implement any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or of the health-related provisions of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

Looking Ahead: In the Senate

The Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act (S 2237)
Provides a temporary income tax credit for increased payroll and extend bonus depreciation for an additional year. (Senate begins consideration on July 11th)