Congressional Corner




May 17, 2018

Senate FY19 Appropriations Schedule Released

Senate Appropriations Chairman Shelby (R-AL) and ranking member Leahy (D-VT) announced their preliminary schedule for marking up FY19 bills. This schedule is subject to change. The schedule begins the week of May 21 with Energy-Water and Agriculture bills. Labor-HHS Education and Defense bills are scheduled last, during the week of June 25. There are discussions happening among Republicans regarding extending the legislative session into the August recess to allow ample time to pass the 12 spending bills and finish other business before mid-term elections. ASTHO will continue to monitor this process.

Rescissions Update

The rescissions package is expected on the House floor as soon as next week. The legislation is likely to pass the House, but the fate is unknown in the Senate given the thin margins. View ASTHO's proposal summary here. 

House Addresses Farm Bill

The House Agriculture Committee began work on the Farm Bill reauthorization (H.R. 2). The bill extends most major federal farm, nutrition assistance, rural development, and other Agriculture Department programs through 2023.

The bill provides:

  • $23.27 billion in total discretionary funding, $14 million above FY18.
  • $6 billion in discretionary funding for WIC, $175 million below FY18.
           - The bill also rescinds $300 million in unobligated balances.
  • $23.2 billion in required mandatory funding for Child Nutrition programs, $1.1 billion below FY18.
           - Including $520 million for the Summer Food Service Program and continued funding for a pilot program for SNAP or WIC electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.
  • $73.2 billion in required mandatory spending for SNAP, $794 below FY18, including $3 billion for the SNAP reserve fund. Both funding levels are roughly equal to the President’s FY10 request.

As stated above, the bill generally extends most major federal farm, nutrition assistance, rural development and other Agriculture Department programs for five years, through FY23. Controversy centers over proposed modifications to the food stamp program (officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).

The bill establishes more stringent work requirements for SNAP recipients, requiring most all work-capable adults aged 18-59 who are not disabled or don't have young children to work or participate in job training at least 20 hours a week. It also restricts so-called "categorical eligibility," under which individuals become eligible for SNAP benefits based on participation in other low-income assistance programs, and it modifies asset tests that help determine an individual's eligibility to receive SNAP benefits.

Democrats universally oppose the SNAP provisions included in the bill, arguing that millions of low-income families could lose their food aid, while some conservatives say they may oppose the bill because the restrictions are not tough enough. Many conservatives also object to farm programs, saying taxpayer-supported subsidies and crop insurance amount to "corporate welfare." The White House supports the bill, particularly the SNAP provisions, saying it "takes a major step towards the President's vision of welfare reform."

Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Bill Introduced in Senate

The Senate HELP committee introduced the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2018 (S. 2852) earlier this week. ASTHO is working on analysis of the bill to understand where the committee might have included suggested edits to the discussion draft of the bill. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for May 23. View ASTHO's submitted comments on the discussion draft here.

American Patients First

Last Friday, the Administration released the American Patients First, a blueprint to lower drug prices and reduce out-of-pocket medical costs. The blueprint aims to address the lack of affordable medicines and treatments, seniors and government programs overpaying for drugs, high out-of-pocket costs for consumers, and foreign governments "free-riding" off of American innovation. 

HHS identifies four strategies in the blueprint to address the above challenges, which include, improved competition, better negotiation, incentives for lower list prices, and lowering out-of-pocket costs. The department's plan is divided into two phases: 1) the actions the President can instruct HHS to take immediately and 2) actions HHS is actively considering, on which feedback is being asked. 

The plan also includes changes to Medicare that could reduce out-of-pocket costs for seniors, recommendations to drug makers to disclose their prices in TV ads, and discussions about changing the complicated rebate negotiations off of drugs' list prices. 

Read the complete blueprint here.