The Shift in Congress

Article excerpt

Introduction of a bill allowing direct federal negotiations with drug companies under Medicare Part D is among the top healthcare measures likely to be introduced in the first 100 hours of the new Democratic majority, if, as expected, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is installed as Speaker of the House of Representatives on Jan. 3. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is slated to become Senate Majority Leader.

The riptide that washed congressional power out from under Republicans and gave Democrats majorities in both hous- ; es of Congress also came with promises of new healthcare legislation broaching at the following issues:

* Opening embryonic stem cell research.

* Expanding access to health insurance for children.

* Strengthening Food and Drug Administration oversight of new drugs after they reach the marketplace.

* De-emphasizing health savings accounts favored by the administration.

* Easing of strict asset limits on prospective Medicaid beneficiaries under the Deficit Reduction Act.

* Developing healthcare coverage for the 47 million uninsured people in the United States.

POTENTIAL GRIDLOCK

"As the Democrats regain power, they still have Iraq, they still have the deficit and they still have Bush in the White House," said Robert Blancato, president of Matz, Blancato and Associates, a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and a veteran observer of Beltway politics on issues in aging. His sobering observation raises the prospect of federal gridlock on issues domestic and foreign, possibly setting the stage and tone for the 2008 presidential election. …