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Washington Watch: Congress Faces Key Deadlines

Washington Watch: Congress Faces Key Deadlines


The House and Senate worked on several major bills over the summer months, but failed to make substantial progress on any of the major debt and government funding issues that must be addressed in the remaining months of 2013. When Congress returns on September 9th, the fall legislative agenda will be dominated by three major efforts: (1) legislation to continue funding the government past the end of fiscal year (FY) 2013; (2) Congressional action to raise the debt ceiling after the Treasury has exhausted “extraordinary measures” to continue paying the nation’s bills; and (3) an attempt led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Dave Camp (R-MI), and Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Max Baucus (D-MT), to comprehensively reform the U.S. tax code.

Thus far, the House has opted to pass government funding bills at sequestration levels, while the Senate is proceeding to mark up bills at higher levels. Given these funding disparities, chances for a compromise on government spending appear remote. Congress has the option to pass short-term legislation continuing to fund the government at current levels, which would give negotiators additional time to work on a compromise.

Sequestration, including the two percent across-the-board cut to Medicare providers, has remained in place since April 1. Congress has provided some relief to certain programs that have been particularly impacted by sequestration, but the Medicare cut is not likely to be addressed except in the context of a larger deal that replaces the sequester with other spending reductions or revenue increases.

The other major issue that Congress must contend with in 2013 is the debt ceiling. At present, estimates have the U.S. government reaching its borrowing limit around November. Due to the proximity of this debate to the government funding negotiations, it is possible that Congress and the Administration will approach these issues together, and attempt to construct a deal that would continue to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling at the same time. This debate may play out similarly to earlier budget debates, with Republicans pushing for spending cuts and Democrats for tax increases. Other major issues, like the elimination of sequestration and funding for Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation, are also expected to play a prominent role in these discussions.

Following the recess, Congress is set to continue work on a number of health care bills, including: legislation to replace the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) with a new physician payment model; legislation to implement a track and trace system for drugs; a bill providing new regulatory authority for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inspect drug compounding facilities; and possible modifications to the ACA as both sides brace for the parts of the law set to take effect on January 1.

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