Monday, 15 July 2024

Scorecard: Congress' progress on 100 hour agenda

 

The plan is part of the Democratic majority's “100 hour agenda.”


Priorities on the agenda include raising the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over a two-year period; revamping the Medicare drug plan; offering federal funding to stem cell research; making retirement more secure, including increasing 401(k) participating and stopping further attempts to privatize Social Security; funding research for alternative energy while rolling back subsidies for big oil companies; cutting interest rates in half on federally subsidized college student loans; and adopt ingthe rest of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.


The Democrats currently control the House, with 233 members; Republicans have 202 House representatives. The Senate breakdown currently is dead even, with each major party having 49 seats and Independent senators.


So far, bills on all of those issues have been introduced in the House and, in some cases, have already passed. The bills on the 9/11 Commission recommendations and the minimum wage, particularly, appear to have enjoyed bipartisan support.


The scorecard so far:


– HR 1, Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007

Introduced in the House of Representative Jan. 5. Passed the House on Jan. 9 with a vote of 299-128. Referred to Senate committee. Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.


– HR 2, Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007

Introduced in the House Jan. 5. Passed the House on Jan. 10 with a vote of 315 to 116. Received by the Senate and read twice. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders.


– HR 3, Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007

Introduced in the House Jan. 5. Passed the House on Jan. 11 with a vote of 253 to 174. Received in the Senate where it was read the first time. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar. (President Bush vetoed a similar bill passed by the 109th Congress.)


– HR 4, Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007

Introduced in the House Jan. 5. Passed the House on Jan. 12 by a vote of 255-170.


– HR 5, College Student Relief Act of 2007

Introduced in the House Jan. 12. Referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. This bill is reportedly scheduled to be considered Jan. 17.


– HR 6, Clean Energy Act of 2007

Introduced in the House Jan. 12. Referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, and in addition to the Committees on Natural Resources, the Budget, and Rules. Scheduled to be considered Jan. 18.


Congressman Mike Thompson, who represents Lake County, is listed as a co-sponsor on all of the bills.


This past week he praised the passage of the stem cell research and Medicare prescription drug bills.


He said the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act bill expands federal research on devastating diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes and various cancers. It authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support research involving embryonic stem cells, regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from an embryo. Currently, federal funds are limited to those stem cell lines that existed when President Bush issued an executive order on August 9, 2001.


"The vote signifies a federal commitment to exploring every possible option available for curing these terrible illnesses," said Thompson in a statement.


The bill authorizes federal research funds for stem cell lines generated from embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. It also includes strict ethical guidelines for stem cell research.


HR 4, which addresses negotiating the prices of Medicare prescription drugs, requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct cost-saving negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, said Thompson.


The bill provides the HHS Secretary broad discretion on how to best implement the negotiating authority and achieve the greatest price discounts for Medicare beneficiaries. In addition, it continues to prohibit the HHS Secretary from requiring a particular formulary (i.e., a list of covered drugs) to be used by Medicare prescription drug plans or limiting access to any prescription medication.


Those negotiations, he added, are expected to result in real savings for 22 million Americans enrolled in Medicare.


During debate on the House floor, Thompson noted that allowing the HHS Secretary to negotiate prices complements – but does not replace – the negotiations being conducted by private plans. He also pointed out that this legislation does not create price controls on prescription drugs.


Thompson also supported this bill because lower prices means it will take seniors longer to hit the coverage gap – also known as the "donut hole" – the period during which they have to pay 100 percent of their drug costs.


"Less than 25 percent of the drug plans in my district offer any sort of coverage in the 'donut hole' – and those plans have premiums as upwards of $100 a month," said Thompson. "A lot of Northern California's seniors can't afford that. So, when they hit the coverage gap, they foot the entire bill or they go without their medicine. This bill is one more tool that can be used to lower costs and prolong the amount of time it takes before seniors hit that gap."


A recent poll by Newsweek found that 92 percent of Americans support the bill, Thompson said.


Critics of the agenda point out issues ranging from expense to Democrats not taking the opportunity to work with Republicans in a substantive manner.


In a Jan. 3 panel discussion titled, “The First 100 Hours: A preview of the new Congress and its agenda,” hosted by the Brookings Institution, senior fellow Tom Mann noted that he thought the agenda was an attempt to one-up the Contract with America in 1995.


He said the new agenda “was carefully crafted to reflect strongly held democratic values and positions but also items that drew virtually consensual support within the Democratic Party that attracted significant Republican support and that were broadly popular in the country.”


Still, Mann questioned the plan's viability, noting “the devil is in the details,” and that each of the agenda's issues have problems associated with them, particularly relating to cost.


He goes on to add that he believes “that the least important items and actions that this new Congress will take are those that will be taken within the first 100 hours” of Congress.


Particularly, he pointed to the Iraq war and noted that the most important action in Congress will occur not on the House or Senate floors but in the committee hearing rooms as the debate on the war begins in this new Congress.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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