• Health Care Reform -- As Congress returns from the August recess, the mechanics of how the House and Senate will move forward with health care proposals are taking shape. President Obama's address to a rare joint session of Congress on September 9 set the tone for the health care reform debate going forward. Prior to the president's speech, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT), announced that he would release his committee's long-awaited bill next week, and begin markup on September 21. Members of the so-called "gang of six"-the bipartisan group of six Senate Finance lawmakers who have been negotiating for months in the hopes of agreeing on a bipartisan approach to health care reform-are scrambling to reach a consensus, but Baucus has indicated that he will move forward with a bill with or without Republican support. A draft framework for the Baucus proposal leaked on Tuesday indicates that his bill would create health insurance cooperatives, but not a public plan, and would mandate that individuals obtain health insurance coverage, but would not require employers to provide coverage to employees. The framework also includes significant reforms for the insurance market and for Medicare. Senator Baucus's plan is said to cost less than the House Tri-Committee bill or the Senate HELP Committee bill, coming in at under $900 billion over 10 years. In his address on Wednesday night, President Obama outlined a plan with a similar price tag, and said that he would not sign a bill that would increase the deficit. The president said his plan would increase security and stability for people who have health insurance, provide insurance for the uninsured, and slow the growth of health care costs. Leaving the door open for bipartisanship, President Obama cited broad support for 80 percent of the proposed changes, including insurance reforms, but he also plainly criticized attempts to derail reform for the sake of political gain. As health reform legislation moves forward in the House, the three House Committees of jurisdiction will need to combine their three marked-up versions of the House bill (H.R. 3200). House leadership is continuing to work with fiscallyconservative "Blue Dog" Democrats to try to secure their support.
  • Food Safety Reform -- At the 32nd Annual National Food Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., on September 8, FDA Commissioner Margaret "Peggy" Hamburg delivered remarks from the agency on, among other things, food safety reform. She indicated the agency's support for the House bill that recently passed, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. In particular, she noted the agency's preference for the built-in revenue stream that the user fees for registered facilities would provide the agency to perform its increased food safety functions, as well as more regular inspections of registered food establishments. Note that the Senate food safety bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), does not include a provision for registration user fees in its present form. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected to take up Sen. Durbin's bill after health care reform this fall. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) will succeed the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) as chair of the HELP Committee. Depending on the progress of health care reform, FDA and the administration could put pressure on the Senate to refocus its efforts to ensure passage of food safety reform this year.