About Andrew Bowman

Andrew Bowman, legislative assistant at Drinker Biddle & Reath, specializes in legislative research and analysis for government relations clients across a variety of policy areas, including health care, education, and communications. He also has extensive experience with federal lobbying disclosure and campaign finance compliance. Prior to joining Drinker Biddle, Andrew served as an aide to Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) for several years, and was active in the Senator’s 2008 Presidential campaign.

House Passes Continuing Resolution

On Friday, September 20, 2013, the House passed short-term legislation, H.J. Res 59 to keep the government operating until December 15, 2013.  The bill passed by a vote of 230-189, with only one Democrat voting for the measure and no Republicans opposing it.  This bill includes the controversial provision pushed by Republican leadership to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The Senate will consider the legislation early next week where it is expected to be amended by the Democratic majority to restore funding for the ACA.  Some Republican Senators have also been vocal in their opposition to the controversial language concerning ACA defunding.  Once amended and passed by the Senate, the bill will be sent back to the House for consideration.  If consensus is not reached between the House and Senate, the government will shut down when the fiscal year 2014 begins on October 1, 2013.

***Thanks to Julie Allen for drafting this post.***

Understanding Lobbying Disclosure, Part I

If you are someone who follows politics, you no doubt have seen stories chronicling the many dollars spent on lobbying in a given quarter or year.  What you may not know is where these totals come from and how they are calculated.

This is the first in a series of posts explaining the federal lobbying reporting requirements under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (unaffectionately known by its acronym, HLOGA).  Hopefully, these will help you better understand what is reported, what it really means, and how the information might (or might not be) useful in determining how the lobbying process works.

Please note that these features are intended as a primer for understanding lobbying disclosure and not as legal advice.  If you have specific questions about your personal or your organization’s lobbying disclosure requirements, please contact the House Office of the Clerk at (202) 225-7000 or the Senate Office of Public Records at (202) 224-0322.  Full Congressional guidance is available online at http://lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov/amended_lda_guide.html. This post is limited to discussing federal lobbying; state and local lobbying laws vary by jurisdiction.

So what is lobbying anyway?

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Dewonkify – Hold

The Word: Hold

Definition: An informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader need not follow the Senator’s wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.

Used in a Sentence:

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has placed a hold on one of President Obama’s top healthcare nominees.

Marilyn Tavenner had previously seemed poised for an easy, bipartisan confirmation as the administrator of the federal Medicare and Medicaid agency.

But Harkin placed a hold on Tavenner’s nomination Wednesday. Harkin’s office noted his frustration at the way the Obama administration plans to spend a $15 billion fund for prevention and public health programs.

From The Hill, “Harkin places hold on top healthcare nominee”

History: The hold is an informal custom of the Senate and not a part of the formalized rules.  The Congressional Research Service notes that “the origins of the practice are unclear and lost in the mists of history,” but “probably emerged from features long associated with the Senate, such as its emphasis on minority and individual interests, the informality and flexibility of its procedures, and a legislative culture that encourages accommodation for individual Senators’ policy and personal goals.”  Since the 1970s, however, the practice has been widely used by Senators to push their policy goals and extract concessions.

How it Works: The Senate usually proceeds to its business by a series of unanimous consent agreements.  A hold is essentially a threat by a member to his or her party leader that the senator intends to object to unanimous consent and use parliamentary procedures to stall consideration of a piece of legislation or a nomination if it is brought to the floor.

The Majority Leader can still place the item on the Senate calendar, but given the amount of business that must be considered in a relatively small number of working days, the threat of extended debate is usually enough to keep the item off the agenda, at least temporarily.

Oftentimes the senator placing the hold will remove the hold if certain concessions are made.  In fact, it is now not uncommon for members to place holds on bills they don’t necessarily oppose, simply as a means of negotiating another point or issue.

While Senator Harkin made public his intention to place a hold on the Tavenner nomination, holds are more often done in secret, earning them the nickname of the “silent filibuster.”

CMS, OIG Propose Extending EHR Stark Law Exception, Anti-Kickback Safe Harbor Through 2016

Yesterday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published an advance copy of proposed rules that, if adopted as proposed, would extend through at least 2016 the existing Stark Law Exception and Anti-Kickback Statute Safe Harbor applicable to the donation of electronic health records (EHR) items and services.

DBR’s Jennifer Breuer and Jeffrey Ganiban have put together an excellent client alert on the details, which can be read here.

Health Care Jurisdiction in the Senate

One of the more confusing aspects of following Congress can be determining which Committee has jurisdiction over the matters you are interested in.  This is particularly true when it comes to health care, as a number of committees have jurisdiction over different parts of the nation’s health care system.  This post is a short primer on how these matters are broken up among Senate Committees.  A primer on House Committees will be up in the coming days.

Under Senate Rule XVII, each measure is typically referred to only a single committee based on “the subject matter which predominates” in the legislation.  Provided below is information on each of the relevant Senate Committees, its leadership, and the matters it reviews.  Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive, as numerous other Committees – such as those with oversight of Department of Defense, Veterans’ Affairs or the State Department – have oversight of specific health programs within those agencies.  Rather, we are focusing on the matters most often affecting those within the health sphere: the funding and oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services. Continue reading

Congress – In or Out?

Congress is regularly lampooned for its frequent recesses, and with some reason.  The House was in session for only 153 days in 2012, and the Senate 152.  And in each case, more than a dozen of those “legislative days” were in fact pro forma sessions where no legislative business occurred.

Of course, Members of Congress are not simply vacationing during these down periods.  Most use the time to go home to their districts and meet with their constituents.  This too is an important part of their responsibilities as public servants.  But the frequent recesses and short work weeks can create confusion about when, exactly, Congress will be in D.C.

As a general rule, the House and Senate come into session each week late on Monday and conclude legislative business late on Thursday.  This allows Members from far-flung states to travel to and from home on weekends.  In addition, each chamber currently has seven extended “state work periods” planned for 2013:

  • President’s Day Week (February 18-22)
  • The two weeks surrounding Easter (March 25 – April 5)
  • April 29 – May 3
  • Memorial Day Week (May 27-31)
  • Independence Day Week (July 1-5)
  • August Recess (August 5 – September 6)
  • Columbus Day Week (October 14-18)

You can view the Senate calendar here and the House calendar here.

Because this is not an election year, both chambers will be in during October and November, with a likely adjournment in early to mid-December.

However, while these schedules are a good guide, the recess dates – and the general Congressional workweek – are always subject to change if and when major legislation must move.  This has often been the case in recent years, and is likely to continue into this year as we press up against deadlines for sequestration, funding the government, and extending the federal debt limit.  If you want to see whether the House or Senate is in for a given day, you can check the daily schedules on the main page at House.gov and Senate.gov.

Election Primer: The Senate

This is the final of three Election Primers to help you get ready for Election Day.  To read our earlier post on the Presidential race, click here.  For the House of Representatives, click here.

The Senate – The Basics

There are 100 Senators, two from each of the 50 states.  Senators serve six-year terms, so only one third of the Senate seats are up in any given election year (barring a special election to fill a vacancy).

Because of a complicated procedural tactic known as the filibuster, most bills require 60 votes to receive cloture and be considered and passed in the Senate.  The filibuster and cloture will I’m sure be future topics for dewonkification, but for now it is simply important to realize that most legislation must reach the 60 vote threshold in order to receive an up-or-down vote.

The Vice President serves as the official President of the Senate, which in practice means that he acts as a tiebreaking vote in the event of a 50-50 split on matters requiring a simple majority (such as determining a Majority Leader).  So in the event of an evenly split chamber, the Vice President’s party ends up with a de facto majority.

The Senate currently has 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and two independents.  Both of those Independents (Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont) caucus with the Democrats, giving the party a functional majority of 53 seats.

2012 Election Outlook

Thirty-three Senate seats are up for grabs this year.  Of those, 23 are seats currently held by Democrats, and only ten are held by Republicans.  This makes the prospect of a net Republican gain likely.

How significant of a gain, however, is very much up in the air.  Currently, based on sitting Senators and poll projections, the Cook Political Report projects that 46 seats are likely to be Democratic, and 44 are likely to be Republican.  That leaves fully ten “toss-up” states where either party could win.  These include Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

How these ten seats fall on Election Night will determine the balance of the Senate for the next two years.  Republicans would need to win seven of these ten seats to take the Senate if they do not also take the White House.  If Governor Mitt Romney were to win the presidency, they would need only six, with then-Vice President Paul Ryan casting the tiebreaking vote in the GOP’s favor.

But unless there is an unexpected landslide by either party, neither will achieve the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster, meaning the agenda of whoever takes the majority will face the same roadblocks and stalls that have created gridlock in the chamber in recent years.

If you want to track the latest on the battle for the Senate, you can check out the Cook Political Report, Real Clear Politics, FiveThirtyEight, Politico, or Public Policy Polling, among many others.

And now, we wait for the voters to decide.  We will be back next week with a breakdown of results as they are known.  Have a great day, and go vote on tomorrow!

Election Primer: House of Representatives

This is part two of three Election Primers to help you get ready for Election Day.  To read our earlier post on the Presidential race, click here.

The House – The Basics

There are 435 Congressmen and women in the House of Representatives.  Members only serve two year terms, so every House seat is up for grabs in each election cycle.

Congressional districts are determined by population.  Each district represents an average of about 700,000 people, but the exact numbers can vary widely.  The largest Congressional district encompasses the entire state of Montana, with almost one million residents.  Rhode Island’s two districts are the smallest, with fewer than 600,000 residents each.  California has the most Congressional districts (53), while seven states (Alaska, Delaware Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont) have only one “at-large” Representative.

Each state is assigned a set number of districts every ten years following the U.S. Census, but states are generally allowed to set their own boundaries for those districts.  The 2012 election will be the first to feature new districts put in place following the 2010 Census.

The House operates under simple majority rule, so a party needs to have 218 seats in order to ensure control of the Chamber.  Currently, Republicans hold 240 seats, Democrats control 190, and five are temporarily vacant.

2012 Election Outlook

This year’s election will likely see more turnover than most, due in large part to the new district boundaries in each state.  Several sitting members were put into districts against other current members, and a number have already lost party primaries in their quest for reelection.  On November 6th, there will be five Congressional general elections pitting current incumbents against one another:

  • Ohio-16th: Rep. Jim Renacci (R) vs. Rep. Betty Sutton (D)
  • Iowa-3rd: Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) vs. Rep. Tom Latham (R)
  • California-44th: Rep. Janice Hahn (D) vs. Rep. Laura Richardson (D)
  • California-30th: Rep. Brad Sherman (D) vs. Rep. Howard Berman (D)
  • Louisiana-3rd: Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R) vs. Rep. Jeff Landry (R)

In addition to members being ousted by redistricting, 40 members (21 Democrats and 19 Republicans) are either retiring or seeking higher office.

But despite this heavy turnover, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will gain the nearly 30 seats they would need to return to the House majority.  The general consensus as of today (and these things can change quickly) is that Democrats will see a net gain of somewhere between four and ten seats.  For information on how the House races are trending, check out the Cook Political Report, Real Clear Politics, and the New York Times House Ratings.

What It Means for 2013

Barring an unexpected Democratic surge, Republicans will maintain a voting majority on all legislation, as well as control of the Speaker’s gavel and chairmanship of the committees.  If President Obama is reelected, you can expect a continuation of the status quo with House members attempting to slow or stall most of the President’s agenda.  If Governor Romney is elected, there will be a major push to implement portions of the Republican platform, including repeal and possible replacement of the Affordable Care Act, as well as significant reductions in government spending.  Whether that agenda is ultimately successful would then depend on what happens in the Senate, which we will discuss in the coming days in our final election primer.  Stay tuned.

Election Primer: Race for the White House

As you know by now, we are deep in the heart of election season.  Many of you have likely been inundated with ads, flyers, e-mails and phone calls from eager campaign staff looking for your vote (and a contribution too, if you don’t mind!).  But through the haze of ads and news coverage of poll results, it’s not always clear just what exactly is at stake.  So over the coming days, we’ll be providing brief primers on what to look for this November and how you can track the action through Election Day.

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The White House this afternoon released its report on the forthcoming sequestration.  The report, which runs nearly 400 pages, provides a dire warning, saying that the Office of Management and Budget’s findings leave “no question that the sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions” and that “The Administration strongly believes that sequestration is bad policy, and that Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package.”

Among the health care items identified, the report indicates:

  • “The National Institutes of Health would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases.”  The report identifies a sequester percentage of 8.2%, or $2.518 billion.
  • Nondefense CDC spending would also be cut by 8.2%, or about $464 million
  • Medicare is subject to a 2% reduction limit, for a total of $11.085 billion, which will come from provider payments.

We will continue to monitor and sift through the report and provide information as it becomes available.

For more background on sequestration, please see our earlier posts.