OVERNIGHT HEALTH: It's welfare time

Expect renewed attention on the welfare debate as a bill to block President Obama's waivers goes to markup. Two House committees — Ways and Means, and Education and the Workforce — will consider the resolution Thursday morning, just a week after government investigators ruled that Congress could review the controversial policy. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said this week that he anticipates a floor vote soon, and predicted the Democrats would join Republicans in support of the bill.

Under the administration's revised policy, federal waivers would allow states to test new approaches to boost employment among low-income families. In exchange, states would have to prove that their new methods are effective, or lose the waivers, the administration says. The move comes in response to Republican and Democratic governors' requests for more flexibility under the landmark 1996 welfare-to-work law, but Republicans say waivers will "gut" the law's work requirement — a charge fact-checking organizations have questioned.

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Speaking with reporters this week, Camp and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the leading critics of the policy on Capitol Hill, pushed the idea that the administration circumvented Congress when it floated the waivers. "The non-partisan [Government Accountability Office] analysis says this is actually a rule," Camp said, referring to the decision that allowed Congress to weigh in, "and now we're following the process under the Congressional Review Act." Hatch mentioned his pocket constitution, and said "it appears that this administration doesn't think it has to live by these constitutional constraints."

Democrats argue that the waivers have long been requested by GOP governors, and some say that Republicans are manipulating racial stereotypes about welfare in the way they criticize the new policy.

You can't say that: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act by campaigning for President Obama in her official capacity, the Office of Special Counsel said Wednesday. The OSC concluded its investigation into comments Sebelius made in February at an event in Charlotte, N.C.

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"One of the imperatives is to make sure that we not only come together here in Charlotte to present the nomination to the president, but we make sure that in November, he continues to be president for another four years," Sebelius said in February.

In response the OSC report, Sebelius admitted that her comments were "a mistake," but said the issue should have been resolved once she reclassified the trip as political and asked the Democratic National Committee to reimburse the federal government.

"If there was a violation of the Hatch Act based on the use of my title, I believe the violation was technical and minor," Sebelius told the OSC. Healthwatch has the full story.

Doping debate: The House Oversight Committee has promised to assist the National Football League in resolving a standoff over doping tests, top lawmakers told The Hill. The issue has split the league and the players, who disagree on what constitutes a positive test. In a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday, Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) promised to help find government medical experts whose judgment both sides could accept. Cummings remarked that he and Issa "don't agree on a lot, but we agree on this." Healthwatch has the story.

Dems lovin' it: Democratic lawmakers congratulated McDonald's on Wednesday for its decision to post calorie counts for all of its menu items ahead of regulatory deadline that would force the action. The move, which surprised some analysts, is expected to trigger similar actions across the industry in the coming weeks. The Affordable Care Act originally mandated menu labeling, and Democrats who backed the law were quick to praise McDonald's.

"Accurate information helps consumers make informed choices for their diets. And it is especially important in our battle against the nation’s growing epidemic of childhood obesity," said House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in a statement.

Mind the cuts: A large bloc of medical groups is pushing Congress to avert the Medicare provider cuts set to take effect as a result of the sequester and the expiration of the current sustainable growth rate (SGR) fix. The cuts — 2 and 27 percent to provider payments, respectively — would "devastate" medical practices and patient care if they take effect on Jan. 1, the coalition told lawmakers in a letter. The American Medical Association led the charge, and also released a study estimating that the sequester cuts alone would end more than 750,000 healthcare jobs by 2021. Congress is expected to address the expiring SGR fix during the lame-duck session, but the fate of the sequester remains to be seen. Read more at Healthwatch. 


Thursday's agenda

The House Ways and Means Committee will mark up a bill blocking the Obama administration's welfare changes.

The House Education and Workforce Committee will do the same.

AHIP will conclude its 2012 Medicaid conference.


State by state

Arkansas's governor says he fully supports Medicaid expansion

Missouri legislature votes to override contraception bill veto

Key Medicaid reform effort in Colorado shows promising savings

Medical marijuana is a budding problem in Massachusetts, report finds


Lobbying registrations

Williams and Jensen / Kettering Medical Center


Reading list

GAO sees 'dirty bomb' risks at U.S. hospitals [reg. req'd]

Surprising methods heal wounded troops

A small fat tax that could make a big difference

Study: Preventing falls in seniors is possible


What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Court ends challenge to 'fetal pain' abortion law

Romney Spanish-language TV ad hits Obama on Medicare

Tea Party group slams must-pass bill over 'ObamaCare' funds

Michelle Obama opens up about fears of MS



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Sam Baker: sbaker@thehill.com / 202-628-8351

Elise Viebeck: eviebeck@thehill.com / 202-628-8523

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