Capitol Hill Report: New Year, New Congress, New Opportunities

January 11, 2011

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By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs, (202) 506-7468, mamery@aan.com

The Honorable Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)

The Capitol Hill Report below was written prior to the tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ, last Saturday. Unfortunately this has hit very close to home for me. Although I know many members of Congress, there are few that I call friends. Gabby Giffords is a friend.

Prior to opening an office in Washington for the Academy in 2005, I served on the Maple Grove, MN, city council. In 2003, I was invited to a forum at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey for elected officials under age 35. It was there I met Arizona State Senator Gabby Giffords.

It is hard not to become friends with Gabby. If you have paid attention to news reports you know that she is described as one of the friendliest people on Capitol Hill. In early 2004, she gave me a tour of the Arizona State House and even took me on the floor of the state senate. Later we discussed the possibility that the incumbent congressman from Arizona's Eighth District might retire. He did and she ran. I was an early contributor to her campaign.

Last summer, on a very hot day, I was walking outside the House office buildings as she drove by. She stopped, said "hop in" and took me where I was going. On Thursday morning, just 48 hours before the shooting, Congresswoman Giffords hosted a breakfast for campaign supporters and I was there. She thanked everyone for their support (BrainPAC contributed to her 2008 and 2010 campaigns) and mentioned her "Congress on the Corner" series. A few hours later I watched her on CSPAN as she had the honor of reading the First Amendment on the floor of the US house as part of the complete reading of the US Constitution. On Friday, she returned home to Tucson. On Saturday, everything changed.

I hope you will keep Gabrielle Giffords and all of those affected by this senseless tragedy in your prayers.

The 112th Congress Begins

For several years (some might say two centuries), Congress has been a place of partisanship, political maneuvers, gridlock, and even some back stabbing. That just isn't true…on the first day of the session.

Whether they are a member of the majority or the minority, on the first day, everyone is just happy to be there.

Because the entire House is elected every two years, the whole House is sworn in anew in the first week of January after an election. Many members, especially the new ones, bring family and friends in from home and open their doors to well-wishers. Throughout the day the halls of the House office buildings are packed with members of Congress each wearing their new congressional pin designating them as a member of the 112th.

As you might expect, lobbyists like me are among the well wishers. I spent that day popping in on members and staff, often those supported by BrainPAC, to pass along congratulations from the Academy and a promise to be in touch.

I was particularly pleased to talk with some friends of neurology like Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) who survived a close race in the Denver suburbs and Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX) whose staff is always helpful. A particular thrill was a visit to Rep. Shelly Berkley's (D-NV) office. Berkley represents the Las Vegas area and the decorations in her office make that very clear.

Partisanship and gridlock will return when the new House Republican majority attempts to repeal the health reform bill passed in the last Congress. But on day one, differences in philosophies are set aside for 24-hours.

Health Reform Repeal

House Republicans will schedule a vote on HR 2 which is a complete repeal of the health reform bill passed in 2010. The House will also pass a resolution directing the House committees with jurisdiction over heath care, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor "to report legislation replacing the job-killing health care law."

Because the House majority controls the process and the vote, these efforts will pass, but are merely symbolic as Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has already sent incoming House leadership a letter indicating that the Senate will not be considering it.

Academy Priorities

The Academy is preparing for Neurology on the Hill, which will be February 28 to March 1. The Government Relations Committee chaired by Elaine Jones, MD, FAAN, of Rhode Island and Lawrence Kinsella, MD, FAAN, of Missouri still is considering our top priorities to go along with the permanent repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate formula (the next cut comes January 1, 2012) and recognition of cognitive care specialists in health reform. The good news is that we secured an agreement from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to introduce legislation to include neurology in the E/M incentive prior to Neurology on the Hill.

Viste Neurology Public Policy Fellowship

Lastly, I want to let Academy members know that Larry Charleston, MD, IV, the 2010-11 Viste Neurology Public Policy Fellow sponsored by the AAN, American Neurological Association, and the Child Neurology Society has taken a position with Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA) who was just elected chair of the Health Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. This continues a trend of having neurologists in key positions for congressional health care debates. If you are interested in serving as a policy fellow see www.aan.com/go/advocacy/active/viste.