Headlines from the Hill

After the November election, one thing is clear—the 112th Congress will be much different than the previous one. Although Democrats made huge gains in the 2006 and 2008 elections, they lost seats in record numbers in 2010. Voter anger over government spending, the state of the economy, and job losses led to an anti-incumbent mood that hadn’t been seen in many years— leaving Congress’ approval rating, regardless of party, in the low 20% range. Republicans made historic gains by picking up 63 seats to take control of the House of Representatives, and they also added six Senate seats, although that wasn’t enough to regain control of that body.

Historically, the party of the sitting President loses seats during midterm elections, but this election was far worse than the normal losses of 15 to 20 seats. While these seemed like insurmountable numbers only a few months ago, the anti-incumbent, antiestablishment sentiment in the country swept away incumbents of both parties alike. Many long-term members of Congress were defeated in tough primaries in their own parties, while others decided to retire rather than face a tough reelection environment. This led to an election with more than 40 open-seat races, most of which were won by Republicans.

Four nurses are among the new members of the U.S. House of Representatives. This will bring the total nurses represented in the 112th Congress to seven. The new nurse members are:

  • Karen Bass (D-CA), a nurse and physician assistant
  • Diane Black, RN, (R-TN), an emergency department nurse
  • Ann Marie Buerkle, RN, JD, (R-NY), a school nurse
  • Renee Ellmers, RN, (R-NC), a surgical intensive care nurse.

As we look down the road to anticipate what policy objectives the new House Republicans might try to enact, we can use their campaign rhetoric as a guide. The Pledge to America, released by the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate shortly before the November elections, calls for the repeal and replacement of the recently passed Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Pledge details an agenda of medical liability reform, expanded Health Savings Accounts, and access for persons with preexisting conditions.

In addition to repealing the ACA, cuts in government spending and reductions in the size of government were top priorities for many of the newly elected Republicans. What this means for the 112th Congress is a tough 2012 budget battle, with some members calling for cuts in spending back to 2008 levels.

Although many of the newly elected Republicans won their seats using strong language against the previous Democrat-controlled Congress and White House, all parties will have to compromise to move legislation through the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic majority in the Senate—and to be signed by President Obama.

Now that the new Congress is sworn in, the American Nurses Association (ANA) looks forward to working with the new members to educate them on the issues facing the nursing profession today, such as nurse education funding, safe patient handling, safe staffing, and more. While it’s uncertain what the election results will mean for these issues and other nursing priorities in the 112th Congress, the ANA government affairs staff will work to make sure the voice of nursing is heard in the halls of Congress. Go to ANA’s “Take Action Now” page at www.rnaction.org/takeaction for the latest news and developments in the 112th Congress.

April Canter is the associate director of Government Affairs at ANA. Adrianne Drollette and Joe Mayer are senior political action specialists in ANA’s Government Affairs department.

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