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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

House, Senate Approve FY 2016 Budget Resolutions

April 2, 2015 | Federal Budget | Comments
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Last week, both the House and Senate passed budget resolutions before departing for a two-week recess. The budget resolutions, while not having the force of law, set the topline funding levels for 2016. With the resolutions now approved, the 12 Appropriations Subcommittees in each chamber can begin work on allocating spending for the coming year.  In years when the Senate and House pass competing appropriations, a conference committee is formed to reconcile the differences.

The House passed its budget resolution on Wednesday, employing a seldom used rule – “Queen of the Hill” – to decide between a number of different proposals, where the proposal with the most votes becomes the basis for future negotiations with the Senate. Then on Thursday, the Senate kicked off a “vote-o-rama” where lawmakers voted on hundreds of amendments to the budget resolution. While most proposed amendments never even received a vote by the chamber, the Senate voted on and approved many important measures to be included in this year’s resolution.

Among the amendments that were passed were:

  • A bipartisan amendment from Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to set the stage for comprehensive mental health reform;
  • An amendment introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to hire more health care professionals for the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure quality and timely access to treatment for veterans;
  • A bipartisan amendment introduced by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) to amend the Veterans Choice Act to clarify language denoting the “40 –mile rule” to be measured by highway miles as opposed to a straight line on a
  • Multiple bipartisan amendments from Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), David Vitter (R-LA), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to address the nation’s heroin, prescription drug, and methamphetamine overdose and abuse epidemic.
  • An amendment from Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) to allow children’s hospitals and providers in Medicaid to form cross-state care networks to better serve medically complex children.

Hundreds of amendments were never brought for a vote before the Senate, including these amendments the National Council opposed:

  • Multiple amendments introduced by Senators Dan Coats (R-IN) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA)  to establish waiver overrides, block grants, and per capita caps;
  • An amendment introduced by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) to allow states to adopt work requirements and drug tests as a condition of receiving welfare benefits;
  • An amendment introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) to allow states to adopt work requirements as a condition receiving welfare benefits;
  • An amendment introduced by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to allow only the federal government to negotiate prices for medications in Medicare Part D.

Along with these amendments, instructions for reconciliation were included in the budget resolutions. The reconciliation process allows Congress to change current law by altering funding allotments for mandatory spending programs. This process has been highlighted by opponents of the Affordable Care Act as a potential vehicle for repealing the President’s signature health law.