Last week, as the Senate remained in session to finish up some last-minute business before the August recess, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Washington Senator Patty Murray led an effort to pass a $26.1 billion state-aid package. The measure, in the form of a substitute amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, provides $16.1 billion to state governments to put towards their Medicaid expenses. It accomplishes this by extending the increases in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) for a total of six months, a provision that originated in the stimulus bill.
Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe provided crucial votes for the majority, enabling them to suspend debate and ultimately win passage on the amended bill. The Congressional Budget Office scored the bill as being deficit-neutral over the ten year window in part to a number of revenue-raising provisions including cuts in the food stamp program and international tax credits, as well as recessions to a wide variety of other programs. Although many of these cuts drew criticism, the bill is being praised by many states that are desperately in need of the Medicaid funds.
In wake of the Senate’s passage of the bill, House Democratic leadership announced that it would be calling members back into session this week in order to consider the legislation. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that the House will meet in pro forma session today and again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday to “vote on the bill and send it to the president for his signature.” Although many members may be reluctant to vote for another spending measure in such proximity to the upcoming elections, the fact that both of the major provisions in the bill have already been passed through the House on two separate occasions bodes well for its chances this time around.
After the final vote on the Medicaid bill, the Senate was also able to achieve passage of Senator Blanche Lincoln’s bill to reauthorize federal children’s nutrition programs, as well as a prescription drug disposal bill. Senators are scheduled to return to Washington on September 13, and will begin consideration of competing amendments to a small business bill soon thereafter. The amendments, offered by Senators Mike Johanns and Bill Nelson, would adjust IRS vendor-purchase tax reporting requirements included in the health care overhaul law. In addition, the Johanns amendment would eliminate a preventive care trust fund and decrease the requirements for mandatory health coverage beginning in 2014.
Last week also saw the release of the annual Medicare and Social Security Trustees Report, which depicted an overly optimistic view of the future of Medicare, although the validity of that report has been questioned given that the authors were all members of the current administration.
State challenges to the health care reform law also received a boost last week as a federal court rejected the administration’s request to dismiss the Virginia lawsuit questioning the law’s constitutionality. Additionally, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly supported a measure to repeal the individual mandate created in the reform law, becoming the first state to overturn a central element of the law. This could be the first in a string of such actions taken by individual states in the coming months, as there continues to be growing anxiety over the implementation of state-based insurance exchanges.