- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2020

House Democrats, looking beyond impeachment, hope to fulfill top midterm campaign promises on health care to bolster their case for keeping the majority in the November elections.

Democrats see health care, whether pursuing a “Medicare for All” government takeover of health care or measures defending what’s left of Obamacare, as one of their strongest issues.

In 2018, promises to lower costs and protect Obamacare helped fuel the blue wave that swept them into the majority after eight years of Republican rule in the chamber.

Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, chairwoman of House Democrats’ campaign arm, said she believes voters will focus more on core issues such as health care rather than the impeachment proceedings that have been dominating headlines for the past three months.

“The people want health care, not impeachment,” the Illinois Democrat said on CSPAN. “Impeachment is not hyper-local and it is not a thing people sit around and talk about day in and day out when they don’t have health insurance and cannot afford to fill their prescription at Walgreens after they leave the doctor’s office.”

Just before Christmas, Democrats made good on one of their health care-related promises with a drug pricing plan that would attempt to lower costs by allowing the government to negotiate prices for certain drugs based on what European countries pay.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said they want to address several other health care issues, including shoring up Obamacare, improving maternal fatality rates, and two issues that might have bipartisan appeal — surprise medical billing and youth vaping.

“That’s what we promised, for the people, and we’re gonna make sure that health care is available and bring prices down,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Despite the effort, most of the House Democrats’ agenda is dead on arrival in the Republican-run Senate, reducing the House votes to largely symbolic achievements.

Surprise billing, which occurs when patients get massive bills from the emergency room when a doctor is unexpectedly out of network, is one area that Congress came close to voting on at the end of last year.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers announced in early December a joint plan that would end the practice.

However, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, Massachusetts Democrat, introduced a competing bill that would allow for negotiation and arbitration between insurers and doctors. The rival legislation complicated what could have been a quick and easy passage for the bipartisan proposal.

Like last year, Democrats aim to get a majority of their appropriations work finished early by passing 10 of the 12 spending bills by June.

Despite the early work in the House, Congress barely escaped a shutdown at the end of last year. Lawmakers managed to reach a deal a few days before the deadline while juggling impeachment and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.

The Democrats also have not tackled infrastructure, a top priority last year and a top priority this year.

“Infrastructure is going to be a huge issue for us in the coming months,” Mr. Hoyer said. “We promised the American people we’d deal with infrastructure. We’re trying to deal with the president — we’re still hoping the president will engage and cooperate with us on that.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio will be a key player in rolling out the Democrats’ infrastructure plan. While no legislation has been put forward, the party is looking for a massive bill — their priorities extend to addressing climate change and broadband access in rural areas.

Theoretically, an infrastructure spending plan should be a relatively easy task. Both parties generally agree it’s something the federal government has the power to do and that it can pay dividends if done right. Plus, major projects in lawmakers’ states or districts help on the campaign front.

The divisive issue is money.

Democrats and the White House attempted to hammer out a bipartisan deal, even getting so far as to have President Trump sign on to a tentative $2 trillion plan in the spring.

But hopes were quickly dashed. Mr. Trump abruptly ended a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer as impeachment was picking up steam in the House.

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