Looking Ahead: Congressional Priorities After 2018 Midterms

The House and Senate are in recess until after the midterm elections. The election results will affect the congressional agenda in the New Year. It is widely believed that the House will change to Democratic leadership, whereas the Senate Republican leadership is not expected to change. Optimistic Democrats are gearing up for a vigorous oversight effort that will include the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other federal entities.

The STEM education community is eagerly awaiting the release of the White House’s five-year STEM education strategic plan, which is expected in early December. The report is expected to reflect the administration’s emphasis on supporting educational efforts that result in workforce-ready workers. There also is still some expectation that the White House will try to merge the Departments of Education and Labor. The administration will be looking for allies in the STEM education community to support its plan.

After the election, members of Congress may be expected to turn attention to the Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill and other, small STEM-focused bills. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee chair Lamar Alexander (R–TN) could move a partisan Higher Education Act reauthorization proposal to communicate his priorities for the debate that is expected to occur next year. House Education and the Workforce Committee chair Virginia Foxx (R–NC) was unable to obtain a floor vote on the PROSPER Act, which had detractors on both sides of the aisle.

FY 2019 Spending
On September 28, President Donald Trump signed into law an appropriations “minibus” that includes the fiscal year 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (LHHS-ED) and Defense funding bills. The president had previously signed a minibus containing three FY 2019 appropriations bills into law: Energy and Water Development, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch. These five bills represent approximately 75 percent of all projected federal spending in FY 2019. There are seven funding bills still awaiting further action in Congress, including a spending bill for the Department of the Interior, as well as a spending bill for Commerce, Justice, and Science—bills important to CUR members.

In the LHHS-ED bill, Congress ignored the president’s proposed budget cuts, increasing spending at the Department of Education, slightly increasing funding for the Federal TRIO and GEAR UP programs, and increasing the maximum Pell Grant award to $6,195. Under the bill, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive $39.084 billion in FY2019, consistent with the Senate-proposed $2 billion increase; this includes $711 million provided through the 21st Century Cures Act. The enacted LHHS-ED and Defense bill included a continuing resolution that will keep the federal government running through December 7.

Although the FY 2018 and 2019 spending cycles were generous overall to the agencies pertaining to the work of CUR and its members, the FY 2020 cycle could see the return of spending caps and sequestration.

Opioid Legislation

The following are some elements of the Support for Patients and Communities Act:

•    Reauthorizes funding from the Cures Act, which applied $500 million a year to the opioid crisis and enacted some measures to provide with states more flexibility in using the funding.

•    Creates a grant program for “Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers,” which will attempt to serve the addiction treatment and recovery needs of patients.
•    Lifts restrictions on medications for opioid addiction, allowing more types of health-care practitioners to prescribe the drugs.

•    Expands an existing program for first responders, such as police officers and firefighters, to carry and use naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.

•    Allows federal agencies to pursue more research projects related to addiction and pain.

•    Makes several changes to Medicare and Medicaid that attempt to limit the overprescription of opioid painkillers and expand access to addiction treatment such as lifting some current restrictions on Medicare and Medicaid to cover costs for addiction treatment.

•    Advances new initiatives to educate and raise awareness about proper pain treatment among health-care providers.

•    Attempts to improve coordination among federal agencies to prevent illicit drugs like fentanyl from entering the country and gives agencies more tools to improve detecting and testing measures at border checks.

•    Increases penalties for drug manufacturers and distributors related to the overprescription of opioids.

This bill includes the Training, Education, and Community Help (TEACH) to Combat Addiction Act. That proposal would require the Department of Health and Human Services to designate regional centers of excellence in substance use disorder education and provide support to such centers to enhance pain management and substance use disorder education through the distribution of evidence-based curricula for schools of the health professions. The bill provides statutory authority for the NIH's Centers for Excellence in Pain Education program, under which the centers provide for the coordination of the development, evaluation, and distribution of pain management curricula for schools of the health professions.



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