LIVE COVERAGE: Ways and Means begins Day 2 on $3.5T package
The House Ways and Means Committee on Friday is holding the second day of its markup of key portions of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Much of the markup on Friday is expected to focus on health care, including a proposal to expand Medicare coverage to include dental, vision and hearing benefits. The Ways and Means Committee is also expected to take up a portion of the spending bill related to Trade Adjustment Assistance programs.
On the first day of the markup on Thursday, the Ways and Means Committee approved portions of the spending bill on paid family leave, retirement savings and child care.
The committee also has jurisdiction over any tax increases to offset the cost of new spending in the package. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) expects that portion of the bill to be released over the weekend.
The House Ways and Means Committee adjourned Friday afternoon after its second day of marking up the Democratic spending package.
Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) closed out the proceedings after the panel approved portions of the bill, including provisions for Trade Adjustment Assistance programs and expanding Medicare for vision, hearing and dental coverage.
The lawmakers also approved provisions involving funding for the Health Profession Opportunity Grant, nursing home reforms and protections for seniors and those with disabilities from abuse.
On Thursday, the Ways and Means Committee voted to advance measures involving paid family leave, retirement savings and child care. The votes on the measures were mainly partisan, although Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) joined Republicans in voting against the provisions after she expressed worries the committee rushed the process.
Other expected proposals in the spending package on prescription drugs, clean energy incentives and tax increases have not yet been released. Neal told reporters on Thursday that he anticipates releasing legislative text on revenue raisers over the weekend.
— Justine Coleman
The House Ways and Means Committee voted 24-19 to advance nursing home reforms involving data collection and staffing after the pandemic rocked these long-term care facilities.
This provision directs funding to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including to manage validation of nursing home data and to conduct studies on staff-to-resident ratios in nursing homes.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) sided with Republicans in voting against the measure, after expressing concerns that the committee was rushing the markup.
Democrats advocated in favor of the changes saying nursing homes were “disproportionately” affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) saying nursing homes had already dealt with “existing gaps and deficiencies.”
“Nursing homes will now be better prepared to face future public health emergencies,” he said in an opening statement, calling the provision an “unprecedented investment in nursing home care.”
Republicans, particularly Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), called on Democrats to work across the aisle on nursing home reforms. Nunes accused party members of covering for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) decisions involving nursing homes during the pandemic.
“The provisions before us today would advance our shared goal: to ensure information from nursing homes is reported accurately in the federal government, hold states accountable for any inaccuracy,” he said. “I wish my colleagues on the other side of the aisle held governors in their home states to the same standard from the pandemic’s outset.”
— Justine Coleman
The Ways and Means Committee approved a portion of the spending bill aimed at protecting seniors and those with disabilities from abuse.
The section advanced by a vote of 24-18. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) joined Republicans in voting against it.
The section would provide funds for programs that boost support for state and local adult protective services offices as well as long-term care ombudsman programs.
“The U.S. population is aging, and we need policies to help Americans age and live safely in place without facing the risk of experiencing various forms of maltreatment,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.).
Republicans argued that this portion of the bill is excessive new spending and duplicative with other programs.
— Naomi Jagoda
Lawmakers on the Ways and Means Committee backed funding for the Health Profession Opportunity Grant (HPOG), which provides grants to fund training and education for professions in health care.
The funding moved forward with in a 24-19 vote.
This portion of the Build Back Better Act allocates $15 million to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to educate and train health care workers in the high-demand industry.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) joined with Republicans, voting against the provision after she spoke out against the committee’s decision to release only some of the proposals for the markup at this point.
Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) argued that the program’s funding needed to be reauthorized before the program expires on Sept. 30, so “HPOGs can be a part of the solution to build back better our health care workforce.”
“Given the critical role of health care in this pandemic crisis and given that health care is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, now is the time to invest in workers with barriers to employment to enter health careers that are in high demand in their local areas,” he said.
Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said that the Democrats on the committee were trying to “quadruple funding for a program that has proven ineffective at helping low-income individuals find jobs.”
“All these new programs and expansions are just piled up on top of a broken fragmented system that is already failing our most vulnerable families and children,” she said. “But instead of doing the hard work to streamline, modernize and redesign our existing safety net, Democrats want us to double down on broken forever programs.”
— Justine Coleman
The Ways and Means Committee advanced the measure to expand Medicare to cover vision, hearing and dental care in a nearly partisan vote.
The committee voted 24-19 to move the measure to the House Budget Committee along with the other approved provisions of the bill.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.) was the only Democrat to side with Republicans against the measure. The Florida Democrat had expressed concerns about the committee’s process being too rushed although she said she supports many provisions in the act.
— Justine Coleman
The House Ways and Means Committee turned next to considering expanding Medicare to include coverage for dental, hearing and vision needs on the second day of the markup.
The Democrats’ proposal would start offering vision and hearing benefits to the older population in 2022 and 2023, respectively, while dental benefits would begin in 2028.
Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) labeled the markup as “historic” and argued that older Americans are “suffering because Medicare doesn’t cover essential parts of their health care.”
The congressman cited data that 75 percent of Medicare recipients who needed a hearing aid did not have one. In addition, 70 percent who have trouble eating due to issued with their teeth and 43 percent who have vision impairments did not receive care in the past year.
“This is exactly the type of investment we should be making on America’s older population and those with disabilities,” Horsford said.
Republicans countered, with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) saying Democrats are “continuing their destructive mission” to expand Medicare and are “wasting time on a series of so-called benefits into the unsustainable Medicare fee service system.”
Nunes said the bill does not acknowledge Medicare Advantage, the private health plans for recipients that offer some coverage for vision, hearing and dental care.
“Well, because it doesn’t achieve my Democrat socialist friends’ mission: a socialist takeover of the health care system,” he said.
The bill has also received some backlash from progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who argued this week that dental benefits should begin earlier than 2028.
“Do I think we should take such a long time to implement the dental provisions? No I don’t,” Sanders said on a press call.
— Justine Coleman
The House Ways and Means Committee approved the section to make investments in Trade Adjustment Assistance programs by a vote of 24-19.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) joined Republicans in voting against the measure.
Murphy said Thursday that she planned to vote against portions of the spending bill in committee, expressing concerns about the fact that the Ways and Means Committee has yet to release all of the proposals that it plans to consider in the markup.
— Naomi Jagoda
The Ways and Means Committee is beginning the second day of the markup, taking up the portion of the spending bill focused on trade.
The legislation would make investments in Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programs, which provide financial support and workforce development services to people who have lost their jobs as a result of trade. It would boost benefits and expand eligibility for assistance.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said the provisions would help those who are dealing with challenges stemming from international competition.
“Our workers, farmers, and businesses, and communities are counting on us to provide this critical support,” Neal said in his opening statements on the section.
Republicans raised concerns about the legislation.
“This is the wrong approach and we should instead be creating jobs through trade while reforming TAA programs to make them more efficient and effective for both workers and job creators,“ Rep. Vern Buchanan, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee’s trade subcommittee, said in his opening remarks.
Following the opening statements, the committee observed a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
— Naomi Jagoda