In a surprising victory, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. The Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives earning a total of 239 seats with Democrats earning 192 seats. The Republicans also won the number of seats (51) needed to retain their majority in the Senate.
At the time of this writing there were still undecided races in the House and the Senate, though the outcome of those races will not affect the overall majority in either chamber. The Academy’s Political Action Committee (PAC) supported Academy members in attending events for a number of candidates for Congress, including Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA); Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Member, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS); Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA); Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA); and Senate Finance Committee Member, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID). These individuals were reelected to the Senate. On the House side, Congressional Hearing Health Caucus Co-Chair, David McKinley (R-WV-1) was reelected as were other key audiology supporters.
Of note, there were a record number of women elected to the Senate, including Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The number of women elected to the Senate now surpasses the current record of 20. We also saw an increase in military veterans elected to office in both the House and the Senate. There are still races up in the air that may determine more veteran members of Congress but at this time, we have identified the following military veterans who will serve in the House come January: Brian Mast (R-FL-18), Scott Taylor (R-VA-2), Jack Bergman (R-MI-1), Neal Dunn (R-FL-2), Jim Banks (R-IN-3), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), Anthony Brown (D-MD-4), and Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24). Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a veteran and current House member, will join the Senate.
The Academy will continue to work with our returning congressional champions and reach out to new members of Congress to ensure that audiology is still well-represented in the 115th Congress. This is especially important given early reports that Congress and the Administration will be reviewing health care policy changes and tax reform in 2017.
Outlook for the Lame Duck Session
Congress is expected to reconvene early next week for the remaining legislative days of the 114th Congress. This will allow for a brief window of opportunity for some movement on bills with the top priority for legislators to be to put finalizing the budget for fiscal year (FY) 2017. In late October, the Academy initiated a grassroots campaign focused on the final budget and seeking a significant increase in appropriations for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Within NIH lives the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), which is the national center for conducting and promoting hearing health-related research. Academy members have been communicating with their legislators on the need to support the NIH and NIDCD, and we are hopeful that the FY’17 budget will reflect a $2 billion increase.
As this Congress winds down, we are closely monitoring key legislation directly related to audiology. The Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (EHDI) (H.R. 1344, S. 2424), reauthorizing funding for important programs that provide hearing screening and follow up care for newborns, infants, and young children, has cleared the House but still awaits Senate approval. The Academy is hopeful that this noncontroversial bill will be considered by the Senate before the 114th session ends and is actively advocating for its passage. We would encourage all Academy members to continue to contact your senators and urge them to support and advance this important piece of legislation.
Another bill to watch is the “Fit to Serve” bill (H.R. 353, S. 564). This bill expands the delivery of care by hearing aid dispensers to veterans within the Veterans Administration. An amended version of the House bill, containing comprise language, was added as an amendment to two broader Veterans’ bills (H.R. 3471 and H.R. 5620) with each of those bills passing the House in mid-September. It is unclear if these bills will advance in the Senate before the session ends. The compromise language in the bill put forward by the Academy and other audiology groups has helped to preserve the prominent role of the audiologist in veteran hearing care; however, our work is not done. We, as audiologists, must still educate members of Congress on our concerns with the original legislation and attempts by hearing aid dispensers to expand their scope of practice with regard to treating our Nation’s veterans. Contact your members of Congress today!
We do not anticipate any movement before the end of the session on the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Act (H.R. 1882, S. 315) or bills related to student loan forgiveness or telehealth parity, though the Academy’s Government Relations Committee (GRC) and advocacy staff have been active throughout the year in monitoring and working on these priorities and will continue to do so through the end of the session. The Academy’s PAC Advisory Board will continue to support these efforts by identifying key congressional targets and enlisting the assistance of members to attend PAC events with the goal of highlighting audiology issues.
The next few months will be dedicated to developing our legislative and regulatory strategy for the upcoming year, as well as familiarizing ourselves with the new members of the 115th Congress. If your congressional representative has been newly elected, consider reaching out to them, introducing yourself, and offering to serve as a resource for all thing related to audiology.