OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Health law survives defunding vote

Congressional Republicans failed once again to halt the implementation of President Obama's healthcare law, but said they'll try once more in the coming months. 

The Senate defeated an amendment Wednesday to defund implementation of the Affordable Care Act — the 34th time Republicans have forced a vote to defund or repeal all or part of the law. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had said he would hold up the Senate's government funding bill without a vote on his amendment.

"We knew from the beginning this amendment was unlikely to pass ... I nonetheless think it was important to vote on this amendment" and refocus attention on the healthcare reform law, Cruz said after the party-line vote.

Democrats dismissed Cruz's defunding amendment as a retread of old, settled territory.

“This is the 34th time that someone on the Republican side has tried to do away with the Affordable Care Act and it’s failed every time,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said on the floor. “We’ve already made our decisions on that and we’re moving on. It’s almost like there is an obsession with some people on the other side of the aisle with tearing down health reform.”

The Hill's coverage is here.

House will follow suit: Not to be outdone, the House will resume its votes against the healthcare law in the next few months, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday. Boehner defended his decision not to tie a fight over healthcare funding to the House's continuing resolution and said he also won't use the upcoming debt-ceiling vote as a vehicle for a symbolic vote on the law.

"There will be opportunities ahead, but do you want risk the full faith and credit of the United States government over ObamaCare? That's a very tough argument to make," Boehner said. "The American people are going to control this."

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Mental health bill: Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a bill Wednesday to bolster mental-health services on college campuses. The bill would provide federal grant money to help universities hire mental-health professionals and expand their outreach to students. It also would create a new federal working group on mental and behavioral health.

“In light of the tragedies we have seen in the last year, Congress must not only address the issue of gun violence but also our country’s mental health system,” Schakowsky said in a statement. “Too many young people are living with a mental illness and not able to obtain the help they need, due to limited access or financial constraints."

Slamming Ryan: Senate Democrats are pushing back hard against the healthcare changes in Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) new budget. In a series of reports unveiled Wednesday, the Democratic Policy and Communications Center estimated that Ryan's proposals would increase out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries by as much as $5,900 annually. The Ryan plan would also increase seniors' spending on prescription drugs and preventive services, it said. In a statement, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the budget "reckless."

Read from the state-by-state estimates here.

Habemus papam: And the two sides of the abortion debate are weighing in. Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, released a statement shortly after Pope Francis I spoke to crowds for the first time. He called on the new pontiff to "recognize that he is now the head of a very diverse church, one that includes Catholics who use contraception, who have or provide abortions, who seek fertility treatments, who engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage or with people of the same sex, as well as people who are living with HIV & AIDS. ... A leader of our church who affirms rather than denies the lived wisdom of the faithful would be well within the Catholic tradition."

On the other side of the debate, meanwhile, Americans United for Life said it had "no doubt" Francis will be a "passionate advocate for all people, born and unborn."

Brain injuries bill in focus: Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) are behind a new measure to enable federal health agencies to fight traumatic brain injuries (TBI) through research, prevention and public education. The TBI Act was first passed in 1996, then reauthorized in 2000 and 2008. This reauthorization would raise the status of TBI as an issue within the Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledging that the injuries affect people of all ages.

TANF upset: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is hoping to use the chamber's continuing resolution (CR) to fight the Obama administration's welfare waivers policy. Hatch, the Finance Committee's top Republican, filed amendments Wednesday to prevent CR funds from administering the waivers and return the bill to committee to replace its short-term welfare reauthorizations with a five-year measure.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has been a major source of contention for Republicans, who see the Obama waivers as a move to "gut" welfare's work requirement. The House passed a bill Wednesday to block the policy.

Read more about the debate at Healthwatch


Thursday's agenda

America's Health Insurance Plans will continue its National Policy Forum and launch a conference on health exchanges.

The House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security will hold a hearing on the Social Security Disability Insurance program.

Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) will hold a press conference to unveil legislation on the looming U.S. physicians shortage.


State by state

Refusals to expand Medicaid may cost employers $1 billion

Colorado sets its exchange fee

AG says Mass. towns cannot bar marijuana centers

Nearly $20 million approved for revamp of Colo. mental health system


Lobbying registrations

Ernst & Young / Metropolitan Life Insurance Company


Reading list

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Report: Half of states have chosen benchmark insurance plan [free registration required]

US groups criticize India drug, tech, farm policies


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Dems seek to rewrite Ryan healthcare proposals

GOP, Dems spar over health law's economic effect

Planned Parenthood endorses Markey in Mass. Senate race

Proposed horse meat ban cites health concerns

Cruz offers amendment to CR that stops funding for ‘ObamaCare’

Senate Republicans: Ryan plan ‘doesn’t go far enough’ to repeal ‘ObamaCare’


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

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

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