On January 3, 2019, the 116th Congress officially was sworn in. Having worked in Washington, DC, for a number of years, when Congress is inaugurated is one of my favorite days of the year. It is a day filled with celebration as the Capitol and surrounding buildings are filled with members of Congress and their families, congressional staffers, campaign staffers, constituents, and lobbyists. With the Democrats winning 40 more seats in the House and Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker, the celebrations were more raucous on the Democratic side, while the Republican side was a bit more subdued as their members realized that their priorities would be taking a backseat for at least two years.
That morning, I met up with a number of fellow lobbyists who work for other provider organizations belonging to the Patients’ Access to Responsible Care Alliance (PARCA). PARCA is a coalition of organizations representing the interests of non-MD/DO health-care providers, including the American Optometric Association, American Nurses Association, American Nurse Practitioners Association, American Speech–Language–Hearing Association, America Chiropractors Association, and several more. After splitting into smaller groups, our organizations jointly traveled to offices of returning and new members of Congress to congratulate them on being sworn in.
By jointly going to these events, we were able to ensure that members of Congress knew that there were a number of organizations that represent the provider community who are not physicians and who have different challenges than those organizations. Importantly, I was able to stop by and see some new members of Congress who I had met during meet-and-greets while they were still candidates, as well as key returning members of Congress, who I expect to get a seat on key committees that we follow due to their jurisdiction over health-care policy, including the House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee.
The day concluded with a number of receptions off of Capitol Hill hosted by the newly elected and returning members of Congress. This provided a more informal opportunity to congratulate them and remind them that the Academy is there as the resource on audiology policy.
The 116th Congress is more diverse than previous freshmen classes. Forty-two women joined the ranks of Congress, 38 of whom are Democrats. There are now 102 women serving in the House and 25 women serving in the Senate, an increase of 13 House members and two senators respectively. Twenty-four people of color also were elected, including 10 who represent majority white districts. National security credentials continue to be important to voters as 22 newly elected members of Congress served in the military or worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. On the Senate side, Utah elected former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. He is expected to immediately play a key role in Republican policy given his national profile. On a lighter note, there are two former National Football League players who are first-time legislators, Collin Allred (D-Texas) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio).
In talking with Democrats that day, it was clear that one of their major priorities for legislating lay in health-care policy. Many Democrats looked at the results of the 2018 midterm elections as providing them with a mandate to examine access and affordability issues with regards to shoring up the Affordable Care Act and exploring loftier goals like “Medicare for all.” From what we have heard, there will be a strong focus on pharmaceutical reform and drug pricing right away on both the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. Following that, other issues that the Academy cares about can be tackled, like more direct access, telehealth expansion, and student loan reform. We will be able to use these first few months to lay a strong groundwork for the 116th Congress moving forward.
While swearing-in day is a lighter day filled with less in-depth policy talk, it plays a crucial role for lobbyists and other advocates to get to know their elected officials and their new staff members. By spending the day building on previous relationships and making new relationships, the Academy will be able to really hit the ground running when opportunities arise. In addition to our core health-care policy goals, I anticipate the Academy will comment on issues surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs and VA policy, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding issues, and opportunities to continue our regulatory work from the past few years with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The 116th Congress is expected to be one of the more active Congresses in recent years. With Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, we expect partisan gridlock to continue. By being savvy and finding bipartisan support for key initiatives, there will be opportunities to move and advance legislative priorities over the next two years. With more than 100 new representatives and senators joining the 116th Congress, it will be crucial to get in early to build long-lasting relationships and expand on our existing work to ensure that we have a productive and meaningful two years. This is where the importance of grassroots efforts both locally and in DC, contributing to the Political Action Committee (PAC) and staying up-to-date on legislative issues, to contacting your members of Congress is so critical. This allows Congress to connect what the Academy is doing on Capitol Hill with what our members are doing back in their home districts.