For the past six months, our nation has watched as our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., have debated raising our nation’s debt ceiling. At the 12th hour, a “compromise” was hatched that all sides found distasteful. From my perspective, the interesting angle was the partisan splits WITHIN each political party and what this might mean for the future. The House of Representatives in particular has shown partisan splits within each party. On the Debt Ceiling legislation, 95 Democrats voted for the legislation and 95 Democrats voted against the legislation. It was exciting to see Rep. Gabrielle Giffords come back to the House for her first vote since the assassination attempt on her life to at least tie the Democrat’s votes at 95/95. On the majority side, 174 Republicans supported the legislation, while 66 Republicans voted against the legislation. What is going on here?
Well, the Seattle Times recently described the 112th Congress as the “Do Nothing” Congress, similar to when President Harry Truman dubbed the 1948 Congress the same way. Some blame this hyper-partisanship within each political party as one cause for this “Do Nothing” label. Others blame the problem on the perpetual campaigning that members of Congress need to do to get re-elected. And still others say that the hyperactivity passing critical legislation in the 111th Congress such as HITECH and the Affordable Care Act is allowing the 112th Congress to take a breather.
If you consider legislation passed as a good gauge of activity, only 16 bills became law from January to May 2011, compared to 50 bills in 2010 and 28 bills in 2009. This is the lowest level of activity in the past 15 years. During this same time period, the Senate took only 84 yea or nay votes and the House took only 112 votes, half the level of 2007. Did you know that the Congress for the most part has only been taking votes Tuesday through Thursday each week? One of the most powerful committees in the Senate, the Senate Finance Committee, has not even met since April 5.
So as Congress prepares to leave D.C. for the August break, it is interesting to watch the policy process play out before our eyes. The Executive Branch is in overdrive trying to implement all the rules resulting from legislation passed in the 111th Congress. The HITECH Act and the Affordable Care Act are just two key pieces of legislation keeping the Department of Health and Human Services burning the midnight oil and our HIMSS members busy ensuring that new rules enhance the delivery of healthcare.
At HIMSS, we are making final preparations for National Health IT Week and our 10th Annual HIMSS Policy Summit on September 14th and 15th in Washington, D.C. We are crafting our messages for our members to take to Capitol Hill, very carefully trying to ensure that health IT stays as a non-partisan issue and that the rules surrounding electronic health records are successfully implemented, so that our nation can transform our healthcare system with IT and management systems. This is your time to make your voice heard in D.C. Now more than ever you need to help our leaders understand the value of health IT. Will you join us?