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HOUSE ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE GAINS FIVE FRESHMAN DEMOCRATS, TWO INCUMBENTS; HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS/AG SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN IS REP. DURBIN

Executive Summary

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is adding five freshman and two incumbents to the Democratic side of its roster. The additions were decided during a series of votes by the House Democratic Caucus and House committee members the week of Dec. 7 to decide committee appointments and chairmanships. The new freshman Commerce Committee members are Reps. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Mike Kreidler (Wash.), Blanche Lambert (Ark.), Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky (Pa.), and Lynn Schenk (Calif.). The incumbents are Reps. Pallone (N.J.) and Washington (Tex.). The Commerce Committee is not expected to select subcommittee positions until January but Reps. Kreidler and Brown are perhaps the best bets among the freshmen for a Health Subcommittee seat. The subcommittee lost four members this year due to election defeats or retirement. Kreidler, an optometrist who also holds an MPH, has held leadership posts on health-related committees in the Washington legislature ("The Pink Sheet" Nov. 9, p. 18). Brown's priorities are the telecommunications and health subcommittees. His two broad goals in health care are universal access and cost containment, and he defines the latter to include coverage for preventive health services. Other freshmen committee members also took positions on health-related issues during their campaigns. California's Rep. Schenk, for example, voiced support for a play-or-pay approach to health care reform and also for making permanent the R&D tax credit. Arkansas' Rep. Lambert endorsed what she called "longterm tax credits" for medical research and development. The Ways and Means/Health Subcommittee is gaining Rep. Andrews (Tex.), a member of the Conservative Democratic Forum, and Rep. McDermott (Wash.), an advocate of a single-payer approach to health care reform. Both were on the full committee this past session but not its health subcommittee. Also added to the committee and subcommittee are incumbent Reps. Kleczka (Wis.) and Lewis (Ga.). Andrews, a House member since 1983, has been a vocal advocate of the Conservative Democratic Forum's managed competition plan. Last session he served on two Ways and Means panels, Human Resources and Select Revenue Measures. McDermott, a psychiatrist, announced last session that he will take up the banner from Rep. Russo (D-Ill.), who was defeated in his primary race, in pushing for a single-payer health care reform plan. A House member since 1989, McDermott served last session on two Ways and Means committees, Human Resources and Social Security. He did, however, attend several meetings of the Ways and Means/Health Subcommittee when it was debating HR 5502, the Stark/Gephardt cost-control bill that would have established global budgets for health care. The four new subcommittee members join Chairman Stark (Calif.), and Reps. Cardin (Md.) and Levin (Mich.) on the Democratic side of the panel. On the Republican side, Ways and Means/Health Subcommittee Ranking Republican Gradison (Ohio) is considering leaving Congress to become president of the Health Insurance Association of America. Gradison's announcement came after he was defeated 95-71 in his race against Rep. Tom DeLay (Tex.) for GOP conference secretary. Staffers insist that Gradison's continued consideration of the HIAA offer, which was extended shortly after the Nov. 3 elections, is "totally unrelated" to the conference secretary vote. The House Appropriations/Agriculture Subcommittee, which has jurisdication over FDA funding, is getting a new chairman, Rep. Durbin (D-Ill.). Durbin, 48, wrested the subcommittee post away from the ailing Rep. Whitten (D-Miss.). The long-time chairman, 82, suffered a stroke this past year and Durbin had chaired some subcommittee sessions in his absence. Whitten also chaired the full committee but House Democrats voted to give that post to Rep. Natcher (D-Ky.), who will also retain his post as Appropriations/HHS Subcommittee chairman. During Ag Subcommittee hearings, Durbin has appeared to have more interest in and knowledge about the health side of FDA's mission and has also noted concern about drug prices. For example, this past year Durbin cosponsored the House version of Sen. Pryor's (D-Ark.) S 2000. Like the Senate measure, HR 4490 would have reduced Sec. 936 tax credits provided for pharmaceutical companies with manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico if their product prices increase faster than inflation ("The Pink Sheet" March 23, T&G-1). In a press release announcing the bill's introduction, Durbin asserted that it is "tragic to think that people with chronic illnesses are sometimes forced to ration their medication because they can't afford more." Citing drug industry profits and HHS Inspector General Office reports alleging that U.S. drug prices are higher than in other countries, Durbin said: "Providing an incentive to encourage drug companies to hold down price increases is a sensible approach to the problem of escalating prescription drug costs." Over the past few years, Durbin has expressed an openness, with some caution, to FDA user fees, provided those fees augment FDA appropriations and resources. A few years ago, Durbin had indicated interest in modifying the Ag Subcommittee allocation process, which now forces the panel to divide one lump sum between USDA and FDA ("The Pink Sheet" Feb. 19, 1990, In Brief). As a result, funding for one agency can be increased in an appropriations bill only at the expense of the other. In addition to Chairman Durbin, the Ag Subcommittee's new Democratic line-up, in order of seniority, is Rep. Whitten, Kaptur (Ohio), Thornton (Ark.), DeLauro (Conn.), Peterson (Fla.), Pastore (Ariz.) and Smith (Iowa). Thornton, DeLauro, Peterson, and Pastore are new to the Appropriations Committee but are House incumbents. Newcomers to the Appropriations/HHS Subcommittee are Reps. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Jose Serrano (N.Y.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), all House incumbents. They join Democratic colleagues Natcher (Ky.), Smith (Iowa), Obey (Wisc.), Stokes (Ohio) and Hoyer (Md.). A chairman has not been named for the House Government Operations/Human Resources Subcommittee, a post long-held by the late Rep. Weiss (D-N.Y.), and the subcommittee itself has a slight chance of being disbanded. House Democrats are considering a plan to limit House committees to five or six subcommittees -- and Government Ops currently has seven panels. However, the Government Activities/Transportation is said to be the subcommittee most likely to be abolished. The Transportation Subcommittee was until recently chaired by Rep. Boxer (D-Calif.), a newly-elected senator. Rep. Towns (D-N.Y.) has indicated an interest in chairing the Human Resources Committee. Towns is on Government Ops but was not a subcommittee member this past session. Educated as a social worker, Towns has also worked as a public school teacher and hospital administrator. He is currently a member of the Energy and Commerce/Health Subcommittee. In the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Chairman Montgomery (D-Miss.) defeated a challenge from Rep. Evans (D-Ill.) ("The Pink Sheet" Dec. 7, In Brief). House Republicans and Senate members of both parties have yet to make their committee assignments.

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