Farm Bill May Hit House Floor

Posted April 25, 2008 at 3:55pm

The House will spend the week of April 28 debating bills that would prevent insurers from denying health coverage to people based on genetic disposition and that would create rules for mitigating combustible dust in the workplace.

Asked about the status of the war supplemental bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) last Thursday said Democratic leaders are still working on its components and on how to move it, but that they share the goal of getting it to President Bush by Memorial Day.

“Obviously, at times in the past it has been added to other legislation. In other times, it has been passed as a freestanding bill. Committee consideration, obviously, is part of the regular order, if we go that way, but there are other ways to go,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer also suggested that a vote on the farm bill conference report may come to the floor next week. Key House and Senate conferees announced Friday that they had reached a tentative deal and expected a formal proposal to be brought to the full conference committee on Monday.

Meanwhile, House business will be put on hold Wednesday, when Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will address a joint meeting of the House and Senate.

During their weekly colloquy on the floor, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told Hoyer that House Appropriations Committee members have “expressed great concern” that they may not have the chance to mark up the bill in regular order.

“Obviously, we are considering the best way to do so, giving every member an opportunity to vote as they see fit on various component parts of the supplemental, and we are considering how best to do that,” Hoyer replied.

The Majority Leader said that one component “very definitely” being discussed as part of the supplemental is expanded GI benefits, which could cost anywhere from an estimated $20 billion to $60 billion over 10 years.

“There is discussion about, as a cost of war, having this proceed to the president perhaps on the supplemental. That is under discussion. That decision has not been made,” he said.

Hoyer also gave status updates on three conference reports: the farm bill, which he said he hopes to see on the floor next week; the higher education bill, which will need a short-term extension next week as negotiations continue; and the budget, which has seen “progress” but is still caught up in “some thorny issues” relating to House pay-as-you-go requirements.

As for bills set for next week, lawmakers are expected to easily pass the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits health insurers from canceling, denying, refusing to renew, or changing the terms or premiums of coverage based on genetic information. It also bars employers from using individuals’ genetic information when making hiring, firing, job placement or promotion decisions.

The Senate on Thursday voted 95-0 to approve the bill; it now awaits technical adjustments in the House, which passed the measure earlier this year by a vote of 420-3.

Despite near-unanimous support in both chambers, it has taken nearly 13 years of negotiations on the Hill to advance the measure. Most recently, it faced a yearlong hold by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), mainly over concerns about the lack of a firewall between liability for use of genetic data in making health care benefit decisions and employment decisions. Once the bill’s proponents addressed his concerns last week, the hold was lifted.

The House will also consider the Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire Prevention Act, which would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue rules for the mitigation of combustible dust in the workplace. The legislation was prompted by an explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., which was blamed on an abundance of dust.