Democratic victories for Georgia’s two Senate seats in the runoff election Jan. 5 have solidified the Democrats’ control of the federal government for the next two years. The victories by Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock over incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler and by Jon Ossoff over incumbent Sen. David Purdue have created a 50–50 tie in the Senate. With Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes, Democrats acquired control.
With a simple 51 majority vote, the Democrats will be able to approve Cabinet nominees and judicial appointments, including any nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. Senate Democrats could also pass legislation related to the federal budget and spending through the reconciliation procession, which requires only a simple majority vote.
This process cannot be used to pass legislation unrelated to the budget, which is still subject to the filibuster rules requiring 60 votes for passage. Republicans used reconciliation for their 2017 tax package and Democrats employed it to pass a significant portion of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
With the 50–50 split, new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have to negotiate a power-sharing agreement that will determine committee membership, leadership roles and resources. Democrats could decide to evenly divide the membership of Senate committees between the two parties to reflect the 50–50 Senate split or could appoint more Democrats to the committees.
Formal announcements about the organization and leadership roles for Senate committees have not yet been made, but those dealing with healthcare matters are expected to be:
Senate Finance Committee
Chair: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Ranking Republican: Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) Ranking Republican: Either Sen. Rand Paul (R- KY), who is an ophthalmologist, or Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)
In the House of Representatives, Democrats are maintaining control with a slimmer 221–211 majority, with two unfilled vacancies as the new Congress is sworn in. The leadership positions for House committees with jurisdiction over health issues are:
Energy & Commerce Committee
Chair: Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th-NJ)
Ranking Republican: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-5th-WA), who replaced retiring Rep. Greg Walden.
Joining the Committee in the 117th Congress is Kim Schrier (D-8th-WA), a pediatrician re-elected to her second term and an SVS PAC fund recipient
Veterans Affairs Committee
Chair: Rep. Mark Takano (D-41st-CA)
Ranking Republican: Rep. Mike Bost (R-12th-IL), who replaced Rep. Phil Roe
Ways & Means Committee
Chair: Rep. Richard Neal (D-1st-MA)
Ranking Republican: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-8th-TX)
With control for the first two years, Democrats are poised to move several of the President’s healthcare priorities on party-line votes. Democrats’ support will also be critical for providing long-term answers to payment issues related to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. We also expect additional Republicans to be named to House committees soon. Two physician members, John Joyce (R-PA) and Neal Dunn (R-FL), have been working on being appointed to the Energy & Commerce Committee. SVS PAC has supported Dunn in the past.
Nicolas Mouawad, MD, is a member of the SVS Government Relations Committee.