2015 in Review

As we prepare to watch the ball drop, and to sing Auld Lang’s Syne, it is an opportune time to reflect upon another year.

In many ways these are difficult times. Millions of people remain dropped out of the workforce, with the lowest percentage of the adult population working since the Carter Administration. According to the FBI, ISIS is present and active in all fifty states. Millions of Americans are still coping with having their health care disrupted by the President’s health law.

But there is still much for which we ought to be grateful. Our economy is finally recovering, albeit in a limited fashion, six years after the Great Recession.

As this session of Congress ends, it is appropriate that we reflect on what Congress has done this past year.

We can be glad to have reached several major bipartisan accomplishments with President Obama. In particular, I’d like to highlight four.

This Spring, President Obama signed into law a full repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), a formula enacted into law in the 1990s to slow Medicare’s cost increases. Every day, ten-thousand Baby Boomers retire, and as they receive benefits but pay significantly less in payroll taxes, this places new pressures upon Medicare’s finances. In the 1990s, Congress tried to get around this problem by simply cutting Medicare payments to doctors. Almost immediately, however, it became clear that doctors would stop taking Medicare patients, leaving seniors without medical care and defeating the purpose for Medicare’s existence in the first place.

So Congress delayed the cuts every year. The “doc fix” became an annual Washington tradition, as both Republicans and Democrats tried to come up with alternatives and persuade their colleagues to put them in law.

When I became Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, the first thing I did was hire a doctor to work on this particular issue. I wanted a doctor’s perspective on how we could keep taking care of our seniors — and to find the best ways for doctors to do so.

In 2014, negotiations ramped up between Senate Democrats and House Republicans. Both parties and both chambers saw that the time had come to stop the annual punting and come up with a permanent solution. But, as with so many behind-the-scenes negotiations in Washington, talks foundered on costs. Democrats were concerned that, if Congress didn’t cut payments to doctors, they would have to cut payments to beneficiaries. Republicans were concerned that cutting doctors would be self-defeating, leaving our seniors without care.

In January, we reached a breakthrough. Democrats and Republicans agreed to get rid of the cuts to doctors altogether, and replace them with cuts to wealthy future retirees. The whole point of Medicare is to take care of seniors in need — not to give a handout to the rich. After a dozen years going back and forth, a solution was reached and it sailed through Congress and into law.

President Obama also signed into law two of my bills after they passed both chambers of Congress unanimously. One of these laws will speed up the federal approval process for new drugs, so that millions of sick Americans around the country don’t have to wait for treatment.

The other bill, now law, simply places American drug manufacturing companies on a level playing field with their European competitors, which will help them keep their jobs here in the United States.

Just last month, Congress and the President replaced the flawed, broken No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I voted against NCLB when my own party and President Bush wanted me to support it. As a former schoolteacher, I knew that we need to empower teachers, not bureaucrats and politicians. NCLB simply grew the federal government and placed new mandates on our teachers. The results were predictable: rampant teacher fraud and stagnant test scores.

I am proud to have helped replace this failed law. Our children and grandchildren will directly benefit from our replacement, which lets their teachers teach.

These are just some of our accomplishments this year. There are many other bipartisan victories this year which we could discuss, such as permanently extending seniors’ ability to rollover their IRA disbursements to charities, placing a moratorium on the President’s job-killing medical device tax, or passing the 21st Century Cures Act to speed up new drugs and treatments.

Of course, we still have a lot of work to do next year. But I am confident that, if we can repeal the SGR, replace the No Child Left Behind Act, and speed up cures for American patients, then the House and Senate majorities will continue to find solutions in 2016.