November 18, 2016

Slim Legislative Agenda Expected for LameDuck Congress

With the tumultuous and unpredictable 2016 election finally concluded, attention on Capitol Hill has shifted to the more mundane, yet equally important, task of governing and passing legislation in lame-duck session. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States combined with Republicans retaining control of both the House and Senate likely means that Congress will pass few pieces of legislation before adjourning in mid-December.

Congress enacted a “continuing resolution” that maintains government funding at existing levels through Dec.. 9 prior to departing for the campaign trail in late September. As a result, the most pressing issue facing lawmakers during the lame duck session is the need to pass additional legislation to fund the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Although a government shutdown is not expected, Republicans are still debating the merits of various federal funding strategies. The GOP is considering different parliamentary maneuvers including a catch-all omnibus, two or more smaller “minibuses,” or a “cromnibus,” which is a combination of an omnibus and another continuing resolution. An omnibus or minibuses are effective through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2017), though passage of another continuing resolution would likely only last until mid-year.

After President-elect Trump assumes office on Jan. 20, 2017, Republicans will officially control the legislative and executive branches of government, thus negating any strong need to negotiate with Democrats over a federal government spending package. As a result, many House Republicans favor passing a continuing resolution that will fund the government through approximately mid-March 2017. This strategy will allow Republicans to formulate a new slate of appropriations bills filled with conservative policy riders and preferred spending levels next year. Yet, in an attempt to “clear the decks” for the Trump Administration and the incoming Congress, a smaller collection of House Republicans prefer completing as many 2017 appropriations bills as possible before Dec. 9.

Outside of appropriations bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will work to pass some version of H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan bill to streamline the federal government’s process for approving pharmaceuticals and medical devices, as well as providing additional funding for the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration. Though the House passed this legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support in July 2015, the 21st Century Cures has been stuck in the Senate. Nevertheless, Ryan and McConnell are committed to addressing this legislation in the lame-duck session.

Finally, the American College of Radiology (ACR) is closely monitoring the potential inclusion of harmful telehealth licensure provisions in the forthcoming House-Senate conference report on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The ACR, in conjunction with the American Medical Association, Federation of State Medical Boards and other national medical specialty societies are working to ensure the final NDAA does not include language that would alter applicable state licensure laws for physicians treating patients who have TRICARE military health care benefits. If enacted, TRICARE physicians performing services via telehealth would only need to be licensed in the state where they practice, rather than where the patient is physically located. Only the Senate-passed version of the NDAA included these changes to state licensure provisions, and the ACR is working diligently to ensure the final conference report does not change these requirements as they relate to telehealth.

Radiologists should closely monitor the ACR’s Advocacy in Action newsletter for the latest updates pertaining to the lame-duck Congressional session.