As the dust settled from the midterm elections in November, the Academy, along with all DC policy shops, lobbying firms, and advocacy organizations began preparing for a new reality that would dominate Capitol Hill for at least the next two years: a split Congress.
Democratic candidates made sharp gains in suburban areas of the country, while Republicans maintained their dominance in more rural states. Both parties are able to claim national victories, with Democrats picking up 40 seats in the House and Republicans picking up two Senate seats.
In the Senate, the Republican party was able to defeat incumbent Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Bill Nelson (D-FL). Democratic challengers picked up an open Arizona Senate seat left by retiring Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and defeated Senator Dean Heller (R-NV). Democrats also were able to hold off Republican challenges in several states that are typically more Republican, as Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) were reelected. Republicans also held Senate seats in Texas as Ted Cruz (R-TX) was reelected. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) beat back a stiff challenge to win the Senate seat vacated by Bob Corker (R-TN), who is retiring.
The House proved to be a different story Democratic victories exceeded most political pundits’ expectations, winning 40 seats. Major pickups occurred in California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Arizona, Texas, and Florida, as suburban areas that have traditionally trended Republican elected a Democratic representative to the House for the first time in decades. Democrats are expected to name Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as the Speaker to the House allowing her to reclaim the title that she gave up when the Republican Party took control of the House in 2011. The Republicans are expected to name Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as their leader, taking the mantle from Paul Ryan, who is retiring from Congress.
The Academy closely tracked the congressional landscape for the months leading up to the midterm elections and the Academy’s political action committee (PAC) had a wildly successful year. We are pleased to see hearing health champions such as Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), David McKinley (R-WV), and Mike Thompson (D-CA) win their election campaigns.
We were sad to see Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the sponsor of the Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit, lose his campaign, although we are excited to work with his replacement, Jackie Rosen (D-NV), on hearing-health issues in the new Congress.
All in all, the Academy PAC spent $40,000 in the 2018 election cycle, with 82.5 percent going to winning candidates. We will look to build on that success in the upcoming election cycle and look to expand opportunities for audiologists to connect with their members of Congress in their home districts to amplify what the Academy is able to do on Capitol Hill.
In the 2018 cycle, we were able to send audiologists to events for Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Tim Walberg (R-MI), as well as victorious congressional candidate Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA).
With more than 100 new members of Congress, we can expect significant opportunities to connect at the local level in the new Congress. PAC contributions are critical to the Academy’s legislative success and ensure that we can properly educate new members of Congress. We encourage you to make your annual PAC contribution by visiting https://audiology.org/advocacy/political-action-committee-pac.
While major legislative initiatives are unlikely and, at least for the moment, President Trump’s legislative agenda likely is stalled, the 116th Congress does present some interesting opportunities for audiology. First and foremost, there is a strong likelihood that Congress will explore moving legislation related to telehealth expansion. Throughout the 115th Congress, Congress began to approve more and more legislation that would allow for a greater usage of telehealth. In 2017, Congress approved legislation related to the treatment of strokes through telehealth. In 2018, there telehealth components were approved on the major opioid package that passed Congress. There is a bipartisan consensus that telehealth can help provide access to underserved and more rural areas and should be used in a greater capacity.
We also plan on intensely educating the new members of Congress, on both the Democratic and Republican side, on the importance of hearing health care and audiology. We also hope to use these connections to build support for patients seeing audiologists without a physician referral and other Medicare tweaks to allow for better access to our patients.
Likewise, policies to help address the growing student loan problem with audiologists continue to be a priority and there are opportunities within the Democratic Congress that may not have been available in previous years. We also will continue to monitor changes to the VA health-care system and continue to advocate for the audiology programs at the VA.
I fully expect the 2019–2020 legislative session to be busy and active. While a divided Congress may limit major packages that can pass, it is entirely possible for smaller health-care-related packages to move with bipartisan support. We will continue to nurture bipartisan relationships so that we are able to maximize the limited opportunities that may arise in the next two years.