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Headlines from the Hill

Leaves have turned to red and yellow, and fallen to the ground. Football season is in full swing, and the election has concluded. However, some milestones remain in the future. Congress returns in mid-November to finish its outstanding work.

The 112th Congress is characterized by a divided government, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats controlling the Senate, while President Obama, a Democrat, occupies the White House. This, along with a general unwillingness to compromise, has created an environment where a limited amount of legislation has made it through both houses to be signed by the president.

According to Susan Davis of USA Today, the 112th Congress has passed only 151 bills, making this Congress one of the least productive since the end of World War II. To be fair, Congress will return for the “lame duck” session—the time between the November elections and when the newly elected Congress will be sworn in. There are several high-priority items that Congress needs to finish before the 113th is sworn into office. But first, let’s review what has been accomplished during the 112th Congress.

Accomplished: Introduction of ANA top priorities

In this tough political and economic climate, ANA has worked to ensure that nurses are not left out of the dialogue. In the 112th Congress, ANA worked closely with nursing champions in both the House and Senate to reintroduce the Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act (H.R. 867/S. 58) and the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act (H.R. 2267/S. 227).

The Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act would hold hospitals accountable for the development of valid, reliable, unit-by-unit nurse staffing plans developed in coordination with direct-care registered nurses (RNs) and based on each unit’s unique characteristics and needs. ANA remains dedicated to continuing to move this issue forward in the next Congress.

The bipartisan Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act, introduced by Representatives Greg Walden (R-OR) and Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kent Conrad (D-ND), would allow nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants to order home health services and meet the face-to-face requirement under Medicare in accordance with state law.

Accomplished: When nurses lobby, Washington listens

On June 13, ANA’s Lobby Day, more than 100 nurses advocated on Capitol Hill in support of the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act, the Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act, and increased funding for Nursing Workforce Development programs through Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act. Nurses met with 200 senators and representatives, Republican and Democrat alike, while another 1,500 nurses lobbied locally and virtually. Because of their efforts, the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act gained 115 bipartisan co­sponsors in the House and 16 sponsors in the Senate.

Accomplished: Funding the federal government

On March 29, ANA President Karen A. Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. President Daley’s testimony focused on Title VIII programs and funding of nurse-managed health centers.

The 112th Congress has funded the federal government by using a budgeting technique called a continuing resolution (CR), which funds the government at the previous year’s levels. The resulting good news is that the possible drastic cuts to Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development programs proposed in the House of Representatives’ plan were never enacted. With the CR, Title VIII funding has remained at $231.099 million.

Lame duck session: The fiscal cliff

By the end of its congressional session, Congress needs to address the “fiscal cliff,” which consists of the temporary tax cuts set to expire January 2013, the debt ceiling, and the sequester that would cut both the defense and nondefense discretionary budgets by 8.2%. The sequester includes cuts to Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development programs and to Medicare spending that could lead to loss of more than 750,000 health-care and related jobs by 2021.

April Canter is the associate director of government affairs at ANA. Jerome Mayer is a senior political action specialist at ANA.

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