Federal update: Senate debates ‘Obamacare’

Lori Clark
Lori Clark

The House of Representatives was on recess last week.

The Senate was in session, and one of the main issues senators dealt with was a proposal by the Republicans to repeal the federal health insurance law, commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”

This proposal was defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate, although the Senate did agree to an amendment that does away with an Internal Revenue Service reporting requirement strongly opposed by the business community.

On Monday, an appellate court ruled that it was unconstitutional to require that most Americans buy a health insurance policy, an important component of the federal health insurance law, and this decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is expected that the debate over Obamacare will remain highly partisan until its constitutionality is decided by the Supreme Court.

The Senate also agreed to join the House and the President in banning appropriations earmarks for two years.

The House Budget Committee released its discretionary spending cap, necessitating the House Appropriation Committee to announce cuts to each of the appropriations subcommittees spending levels for the remainder of federal FY11. These cuts amount to $73.6 billion less than the president’s budget request for FY11 and $35 billion less than the enacted FY10 levels.

Proportionally, the Transportation-HUD Subcommittee was hit the hardest, with an 18 percent cut from the FY10 president’s budget request and a 17 percent cut from FY10.

In dollar amounts, the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee would see the largest cut — $13.6 billion less than the president’s FY11 request. House appropriators now move to the difficult task of determining how and where the cuts will be made. There is no mandate for across-the-board cuts, meaning that some programs could see deeper cuts than others, while some might be spared severe decreases.

NIU, like other public higher education institutions, will be working with our congressional delegation to urge them to continue to support student aid and research funding.

With regard to student financial aid, the U.S. Department of Education announced Feb. 1 that the maximum Pell Grant award for academic year 2011-2012 would be $5,550, the same as the 2010-2011 academic year. However, given the current uncertainty about FY11 funding discussed above, these maximum award levels could change.

The Senate Judiciary Committee sent comprehensive patent reform legislation to the full Senate for the third time since 2009.

Congressional efforts to reform the nation’s patent system first began in 2005. The legislation approved by the Judiciary Committee last week is the product of years of work and compromise. Enactment of the Patent Reform Act of 2011 will make the first significant changes to the patent system in nearly 60 years, and it will create and protect American jobs without adding to the nation’s deficit.

According to a press release issued by the committee, this act makes changes to inter partes review, Patent and Trademark Office funding, and supplemental examinations. The legislation also will transition the nation’s patent system to a first-inventor-to-file system, create a first-window-post-grant review process, provide certainty in damages calculations and findings of willful infringement and it includes important provisions to improve patent quality.

The compromise legislation on which this act is based was supported by the Obama administration and by industries and stakeholders, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the United Steelworkers, the National Venture Capital Association, the Association of American Universities and companies representing all sectors of the patent community that have been urging action on patent reform proposals for years.

The Senate Appropriations Committee announced its Subcommittee assignments. Illinois will be well-represented on many of these subcommittees.

Sen. Dick Durbin will serve on the Defense Subcommittee, the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee (as chair), the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee, the State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee and the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee.

Sen. Mark Kirk will serve on the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee, the State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee and the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee.

Lori Clark is director of federal relations for NIU.

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