Dems Release Draft Party Platform

The Democratic Party released its draft platform for 2016 last week. The platform endorses universal health care, noting, “health care is a right, not a privilege.” The platform calls for a renewed commitment toward and expansion of community health centers. The document outlines actions that should be taken to lower prescription drug costs, including the prohibition of “pay for delay” deals, the importation of prescription drugs, and allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug manufacturers. The platform also supports the acceleration of medical research, expanded access to addiction treatment and mental health services, and increased investments in public health.

House Appropriations Subcommittee Marks Up Labor-HHS-Education Spending Bill

The House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee advanced a fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending bill to the full committee last week. Funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be increased by $2.6 billion for a total of $73.2 billion. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be increased by $1.25 billion over the currently enacted $33.3 billion. The House would reduce the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s (CMMI) budget by $7 billion. The bill also includes new spending to combat opioid abuse as well as funding to address the spread of the Zika virus. The House’s spending bill would establish a $300 million reserve fund for infectious disease outbreaks, allowing Congress to more quickly respond during times of emergency. Unlike the Senate’s bipartisan version of the spending legislation, the House bill includes partisan riders that would affect funding related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and family planning programs, and a provision that would block implementation of the administration’s overtime rule. The bill is expected to be advanced by the full Appropriations Committee to the House floor by a party-line vote this week. Despite this progress, it is almost inevitable that a stopgap spending measure will be necessary to keep the government open following the end of FY 2016 on September 30. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has previously noted his party’s support for the use of a continuing resolution to run from Oct. 1 through December, followed by an omnibus bill to fund the government through FY 2017. There has also been talk among congressional Republicans about a proposal to vote on a six-month continuing resolution to last until March 2017, in order to avoid an omnibus negotiated behind closed doors in December, as has happened frequently in recent years. Congress has yet to send any individual appropriations bills to the President for his signature. Congress is scheduled to leave on July 15 for the national political conventions and a summer recess that extends through Labor Day.

House Passes Mental Health Reform Bill

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) by a vote of 422-2. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) were the only members in opposition to the measure. The bill is budget neutral. It would authorize mental health treatment programs and strengthen leadership at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Lawmakers have introduced a similar bill in the Senate, but its fate is uncertain due to entanglement with gun background check legislation. Senate sponsors Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) expressed hope that the bipartisan support for the House bill could improve the prospects of Senate passage.

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