The infrastructure deal bodes well for Democrats’ health policy goals

Washington Post

June 25, 2021 10:53 am

Health policies aren’t part of the bipartisan infrastructure agreement President Biden and a group of senators announced yesterday.

But the deal did move the ball forward for Democrats on their quest to further expand health coverage and lower drug prices: Now they can push top health priorities in a separate, partisan package later this year.

Congress can save budget reconciliation for health care and other stuff.

Until yesterday, it was unclear whether Democrats would need to use a budget reconciliation bill to pass their infrastructure priorities on a partisan basis (budget reconciliation requires just a simple Senate majority to pass). But Biden has signed off on a bipartisan agreement crafted by five Democratic and five Republican senators — meaning Democrats can save a reconciliation bill for later.

The bipartisan measure “would pump hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending into infrastructure projects across the country — handing him, if it survives congressional approval, a significant cross-party achievement,” The Post’s Seung Min Kim, Mike DeBonis and Jeff Stein report.

“We have a deal,” Biden said alongside the senators who had negotiated for weeks on a package to revitalize the nation’s road and transit systems, while upgrading broadband and investing in other public-works projects.

“Biden spoke during an impromptu appearance on the driveway outside of the West Wing of the White House after a shorter-than-expected meeting with senators, in which he delivered his formal endorsement of the proposal crafted by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and eight others in the Senate,” our colleagues write.

“The new agreement is nowhere near as expansive as the $2.2 trillion American Jobs Plan, Biden’s own infrastructure measure that he detailed in April,” they add. “But Democratic leaders have made it clear that they hope to push through, potentially with only Democratic votes, a separate package encompassing priorities such as climate initiatives, paid leave and expanded education.”

There’s a laundry list of health policies Democrats probably will try to fold in, too.

Some of the items were already outlined by Biden in his previous spending proposals, including $200 billion for permanently expanding the federal subsidies that make private insurance plans sold on and state-run marketplaces more affordable. Congress already expanded the subsidies, but only temporarily.

Biden has also proposed $225 billion to create a new paid family leave program, administered by the Social Security Administration, and $400 billion on long-term care.

There’s drug pricing legislation, too. Earlier this month, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said he’s aiming to get H.R. 3 attached to a spending package this year. The measure allows the federal government to directly negotiate lower drug prices and caps out of pocket spending for prescription drugs in the Medicare program.

And then there’s legislation to get more people enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been floatinglegislation to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 and expand its coverage to include vision and dental. In the House, Democrats have been working on ways to get Medicaid expansion to people in states where GOP policymakers still refuse to expand it themselves.