by Heather Foster
This week marks the first week that Congress will officially be back in session since the holidays, although it will be a short session both this week and next as the Republican and Democratic Caucuses will each spend the next two weekends respectively coming together to discuss their goals for the year and try to come together as a party. This means that relatively little will happen during the rest of January, although we do know that the 20 representatives from both chambers and both parties who have been named as “conferees” on the Payroll Tax cut and physician payment extension are working together behind the scenes to develop a longer-term extension of these and other provisions. A deal on this package should be hammered out in just a few short weeks. It is also likely that we will see true efforts on both sides of the aisle to change to the auto-sequestration (automatic across-the-board cuts) established as part of the Budget Control Act and which we blogged about last year. As you’ll remember, the spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect in January , 2013 and would mean a significant reduction of the defense budget so it is likely we will see proposals resurface in an attempt to forestall some of these and other cuts.
Beyond that, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that it is unlikely that much substantive work will get done in Congress this year. It will be a contentious year as both parties gear up for a derisive election come fall, and it is safe to assume that we will see more of the same in terms of spending fights and deficit reduction efforts. The Bush-era tax-cuts are also set to expire at the end of this year, which undoubtedly will also influence the ongoing rhetoric and create yet another deadline for some kind of action, likely in a lame-duck session after the election.
What this means for health center advocates is that we should not expect significant legislative changes to the programs we care about this year, but we will have a busy year nonetheless, focusing on annual funding bills and continuing to lay the groundwork for future significant action on health care policy issues. On the local front, this is the year to continue to focus on getting Members of Congress and Hill staffers out to your health center, and to increase your advocacy efforts, using our new and improved Campaign for America’s Health Centers website. Check it out today and stay tuned for updates all year here at Health Centers on the Hill!