Lawmakers returning to Washington will be facing a series of must-pass health care bills that have the potential to have significant consequences for local health centers, federal authority, and pandemic preparedness. These bills will be a part of the post-recess scramble as the House and Senate return before the Sept. 30 government funding deadline.
The White House is urging Congress to pass a short-term funding bill to allow for more time for negotiations on the more contentious issues. However, it remains to be seen whether Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on extending critical health programs.
One of the biggest issues at hand is the funding for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). While the Senate is moving forward with passing their own bipartisan version, the bills are currently tied up in the House due to disagreements over abortion policies and spending levels.
Funding for community health centers has also become a sticking point in the Senate. Sen. Bernie Sanders is pushing for a major increase in funding for community health centers, but Republicans remain opposed to his demands. Negotiations have been ongoing during the August recess, but so far there has been no breakthrough.
In terms of the must-pass bills, there are differing proposals for reauthorizing funding for the Community Health Center Fund. Sanders and Sen. Bill Cassidy have introduced competing legislation, with Cassidy’s bill proposing a more modest increase in funding compared to Sanders’s plan.
In terms of appropriations, the Senate Appropriations Committee has advanced funding bills for HHS and FDA, excluding any controversial measures. On the other hand, the House appropriations bill for HHS has not yet made it to the Appropriations Committee, and it appears that a bipartisan agreement is unlikely. House Republicans are seeking deep spending cuts for both HHS and FDA as part of their efforts to address what they perceive as wasteful bureaucracy.
Finally, there are differences between the Senate and House bills to reauthorize the Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The primary disagreement lies in how to address drug shortages. The GOP-led version of the bill does not include measures to expand FDA authority in order to better tackle drug shortages. In contrast, the Senate version includes a measure that would give FDA the ability to require notice from drug manufacturers experiencing increased demand that could lead to shortages.
In conclusion, lawmakers face significant challenges in reaching consensus on these must-pass health care bills, particularly regarding funding for community health centers, appropriations for agencies like FDA and HHS, and pandemic preparedness measures. The coming weeks will determine whether Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on these critical issues.