As we race toward the holiday season, Washington is in “hurry up and wait” mode, with incremental action moving the annual appropriations process forward. At press time, the federal government was funded under a continuing resolution through November 18.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed their FY2012 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill that includes funding for public health programs. The House has taken no action on their version of the bill only going so far as to put a copy of a bill on the House Appropriations Committee website. The bill is intended to be a marker for negotiating with the Senate. Unfortunately the House did not issue a Committee report to accompany the bill so many of the funding details are unknown. NACCHO has developed a summary and funding chart that outlines the funding for public health activities in the two bills available here.
To pass all 12 appropriations bills, the Senate is packaging them in a series of packages of bills called “minibuses”. The first minibus to pass was Agriculture, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development and Commerce-Justice-Science that includes funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). A joint House-Senate spending bill for these departments is expected to be passed by November 18. This bill will also extend government funding for the remaining departments until December 16.
The joint bill sets FDA funding at $3.8 billion, closer to the Senate proposal compared with a $300 million reduction in spending offered by the House. WIC is funded at $6.6
billion – $570 million above the House-passed level and $36 million above the Senate-passed level.
The final FY12 Agriculture Appropriations bill waters down the guidance provided in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act for the school meal program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the face of lobbying from industry groups, the spending bill would classify tomato paste on pizzas as a vegetable, eliminate limitations which keep potatoes and other starchy vegetables to two servings per week and weaken restrictions on sodium. House lawmakers had previously passed language in their appropriations bill that would completely scrap proposed USDA regulation for dietary guidelines in school meals.
The Senate is expected to take up their second minibus, Energy-Water and State-Foreign Operations and Financial Services next. This minibus strategy by the Senate seems intended to give it a stronger position in conference negotiations by coming to the conference table with more floor-passed bills. It is highly likely that the FY2012 Defense spending bill will be among the last appropriations measures to move and will carry the “controversial” Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill. A December time frame prior to Christmas Eve is likely for passage of the two bills.
Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
At press time, days are dwindling for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction or Supercommittee to complete a deal to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion by November 23. Health program spending is very much under consideration. NACCHO has continued to communicate with Supercommittee members and their staff. NACCHO has focused much of its advocacy on maintaining the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) because it is particularly vulnerable to elimination or severe reduction by the Supercommittee.
Legislation of interest
Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act
There is likely to be some movement this winter to reauthorize of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) which expired on September 30, 2011. The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed their bill (H.R. 2405) in July. After addressing concerns with the cost of the bill, Energy and Commerce leaders hope to have the bill on the House floor before the end of the year. Senators Burr (R-NC), Casey (D-PA), Enzi (R-WY) and Harkin (D-IA) have introduced reauthorization legislation (S. 1855). Senators Mikulski (D-MD), Alexander (R-TN), Lieberman (I-CT), Collins (R-ME), Hagan (D-NC), and Roberts (R-KS) are also original co-sponsors of the bill. The bill has three themes: Accountability, Transparency, and Certainty. A press release from Senator Burr states: “This reauthorization strengthens national preparedness for and responses to medical and public health emergencies and disasters, optimizes state and local all-hazards preparedness and response efforts and collaboration, enhances medical countermeasure activities, and reauthorizes key medical and public health programs, including the Strategic National Stockpile and the BioShield Special Reserve Fund.” A summary of the bill can be found here.
PAHPA reauthorization continues to be a top priority for NACCHO during a challenging time, given other competing priorities.
Transportation bill reauthorization
On November 9, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved its two-year highway reauthorization bill “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” or MAP-21 by a bipartisan 18-0 vote. The reauthorization bill, S.1813, was a joint effort of Chairman Boxer (D-CA), Ranking Member Inhofe (R-OK) and Sens. Baucus (D-MT) and Vitter (R-LA).
NACCHO works on transportation issues in coalition with Transportation for America, which has provided a summary of the bill here.
The bill would streamline the existing framework of federal transportation programs and increase accountability for state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations by establishing performance measures that would track progress toward specific targets. However, it weakens support for three key bike-pedestrian programs: Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails. Those programs would be consolidated and listed as “eligible uses” under an $833 million subset of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, a reduction from the $1.15 billion devoted to those programs in 2010. The draft bill also references several specific Complete Streets-type road improvements, but only in a program intended mainly to fund bicycling and walking infrastructure called “Additional Activities”.
Livable Communities Act
NACCHO has endorsed the Livable Communities Act, introduced by Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) (H.R. 3325) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (S.1621). The Livable Communities Act of 2011 empowers communities to promote economic development and job growth in our neighborhoods by aligning federal, state, regional and local planning efforts. This kind of planning creates safer and more affordable places to live, work, and raise families. By becoming a better partner, the federal government can help urban and rural communities nation-wide promote more efficient transportation choices, affordable housing, and stronger neighborhoods.