Thousands of federal employees resumed work after Congress and President Trump reached an agreement January 25 to temporarily end the partial government shutdown. The 35-day shutdown is the longest on record, and the accompanying debate set the tone for what looks to be a highly partisan 116th Congress. The temporary funding agreement will expire at 12:00 midnight February 15, giving Congress time to negotiate border security legislation.
Despite the shutdown, Congress continued its organizational work, assigning committee responsibilities and holding leadership elections. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) monitors these new assignments carefully, as these positions play a crucial role in advancing ACS health policy priorities, with many members of Congress serving as gatekeepers for key legislation. Four congressional committees have a primary focus on health care legislation, though many additional committees in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate develop and act on related issues. The four key committees include the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee in the House and the Committee on Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in the Senate.
In the Democrat-controlled House, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will be Chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) will serve as the Ranking Member, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX), will lead the Subcommittee on Health. This committee has jurisdiction over a multitude of health care areas, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A number of the College’s legislative priorities pass through the Energy and Commerce Committee, including topics related to physician payment, cancer and trauma care, health information technology, opioids, drug pricing, and medical liability reform.
Also in the House, the important Ways and Means Committee Chair will be Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), and the Ranking Member will be Kevin Brady (R-TX). This committee oversees revenue-related aspects of Social Security, Medicare, and social services programs. This committee has jurisdiction over several of the College’s legislative priorities, including Medicare physician payment, the “Stark law,” rural health care, and regulatory issues. The Chair of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health is Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), and the Ranking Member is Devin Nunes (R-CA).
In the Republican-controlled Senate, the Committee on Finance passes from retired Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The Ranking Member of the Committee is Ron Wyden (D-OR). The Subcommittee on Health Chairman for the Committee on Finance is Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) serving as Ranking Member. Considered one of the most influential congressional committees, the Committee on Finance oversees issues pertaining to health programs under the Social Security Act, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and other HHS programs. Nearly every legislative priority that would require a legislative fix or offset to Medicare or physician payment reform falls under this committee’s oversight.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will be led by Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) is Chair and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) is Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Health. This committee has jurisdiction over most programs within HHS, including the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NIH, the Administration on Aging, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Given the scope of this committee’s work, the ACS works closely with its members and staff to identify potential new policy priorities.
In addition to assigning leadership roles to committee members, these committees have finished assigning members of Congress to serve on them. Some of these members of Congress are new to the issues they will face, providing the ACS with the opportunity to develop new relationships and educate members of Congress and their staffs on issues that affect surgical care and surgical patients.
The College will continue to develop relationships with all members of these key committees as the Congress begins its work in the health care space and will ensure these members are familiar with the College’s policy priorities as they make decisions affecting the care of the surgical patient. For questions regarding Congress or the College’s legislative priorities, contact Kristin McDonald, Manager, Legislative and Political Affairs, at email@example.com.