Congress: The Road Ahead

Voters resoundingly re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama on Election Day in November, but the balance of power in Congress remains essentially the same. Democrats gained two seats in the House of Representatives; however, Republicans will retain control by nearly 40 seats.* In the Senate, Democrats expanded their majority by two seats, but did not earn enough representation to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Because Democrats remain in control of the Senate and Republicans remain in control of the House, both parties will need to compromise to avert a “fiscal cliff” before January 2013, when automatic across-the-board cuts to federal discretionary spending would take effect (including cuts to medical research) and tax cuts would expire. Medicare physician payments would also be reduced 26.5 percent—as mandated by the Sustainable Growth Rate formula—unless the President and Congress reach a deal.

In the days following the election, both parties have begun to indicate a greater willingness to work together to avoid the fiscal cliff. “For the purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “[Republicans are] willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “Compromise is not a dirty word. I’m willing to negotiate any time on any issue. I’m going to do everything in my power to be conciliatory.”

Despite more conciliatory tones from both parties, the scuttlebutt is that Congress will likely push back the planned cuts to discretionary spending and extend the expiring tax cuts six months to give Democrats and Republicans more time to work out some kind of agreement.

If Congress fails to act, NIH funding will be cut by 8.2 percent, eliminating up to 2300 NIH research grants. In response to this threat, ASN has joined more than 3000 national, state, and local organizations, including other medical specialty societies and research organizations, to raise awareness of and build support for vital federal programs like medical research. For more information about how you can help, go to http://www.asn-online.org/policy/.

Other challenges for the President and Congress remain. The federal government will soon hit the “debt ceiling” again, a legal limit to how much debt the government can assume. A deal to avoid the fiscal cliff may include raising the debt ceiling. And challenges also remain for implementation of the Affordable Care Act—principally, Republican opposition to funding and meeting new deadlines for enactment of the law’s provisions.

While the President and Congress work through these many issues in the coming months, ASN will be at the forefront advocating for support of promising kidney disease research that generates jobs, stimulates the economy, improves patient health, and drives down health care costs. Visit http://www.asn-online.org/policy/ to learn how you can make a difference.

December 2012 (Vol. 4, Number 12)