HOUSE WAYS & MEANS HEALTH SUBCOMMITTEE TOP REPUBLICAN IS CALIFORNIA REP. THOMAS
This article was originally published in The Gray Sheet
HOUSE WAYS & MEANS HEALTH SUBCOMMITTEE TOP REPUBLICAN IS CALIFORNIA REP. THOMAS, who is moving into the post made available after Rep. Willis Gradison (Ohio) decided to leave the subcommittee and join the committee's human resources subcommittee. A House member since 1979, Rep. William Thomas has served on the Ways and Means Committee during his entire House tenure, but never before on the health subcommittee. A combination of factors led to the Thomas move: aside from Gradison, only one Republican, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), was returning to the subcommittee after the 1992 elections, and Thomas ranks fourth in Republican seniority on the full committee compared to Johnson's seventh-place position. By leaving the health panel, Gradison is attempting to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest should he decide to leave Congress to become president of the Health Insurance Association of America. Gradison, who is expected to make such a move in the near future, had held the health panel's ranking minority post since 1985. He is expected to announce his future plans on Jan. 11. Thomas has weighed in on several Medicare-related issues during his 10 years on the Ways and Means Committee but is still a bit of a newcomer to many health issues and has not sponsored many health-related legislative proposals. The California Republican has an outline of a comprehensive health care reform plan that he hopes to use in discussions with other subcommittee members, staffers indicated. In a Jan. 6 press release, Thomas said he plans "to work toward a reasonable solution to our health care crisis through reduced government regulation, tax incentives and increased competition." He particularly stressed concern about access to long-term care and cost increases in Medicare. In addition to Medicare hospital and physician payment reform, two issues that occupied much of the subcommittee's attention over the past decade, Thomas was involved in the overhaul of Medicare's hospital capital payment policy, with an interest in ensuring that facilities currently undergoing renovation would not be adversely affected by the new payment rules. Thomas represents the Bakersfield area of California and was a political science professor and state legislator before being elected to the House. His current health aide, Brian Webb, is expected to remain in Thomas' personal office and no staff changes are anticipated on the health subcommittee's minority staff. Thomas and Johnson will be joined on the health subcommittee by fellow Republican Reps. Fred Grandy (Iowa), who sat on the committee's human resources and select revenue measures subcommittees last year, and Jim McCrery (La.), a member of the Budget and Armed Services Committees last session. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has made both Democratic and Republican subcommittee assignments, with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) joining the health subcommittee. Cooper, who heads the Conservative Democratic Forum's health policy task force, was on the telecommunications and consumer subcommittees last year. The addition of Cooper to the Energy and Commerce health panel, coupled with the appointment last month of CDF member Rep. Michael Andrews (D-Tex.) to the Ways and Means health subcommittee, gives the CDF a voice in the two major House subcommittees where health legislation originates. CDF, the group of conservative-to-moderate Democrats that favors a managed competition approach to health care reform without global budgets or employer-mandated coverage, is widely considered to be the swing vote in passing a health reform bill in the House. Also joining the Democratic side of the health subcommittee are Rep. Jim Slattery (Kansas), a committee veteran who last year proposed flat Medicaid rebates in place of "best prices," and freshman Reps. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Mike Kreidler (Wash.), and two House incumbents who were named to the full committee last month, Reps. Craig Washington (D-Tex.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). On the minority side, new Republican committee members Bill Paxon (N.Y.), Scott Klug (Wis.), Gary Franks (Conn.) and freshman James Greenwood (Penn.) were named to the health panel. Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), who served last session on the Commerce Committee, was also appointed to the health subcommittee. Senate Democrats also made committee assignments, with Harris Wofford (Penn.) named to the Labor and Human Resources Committee and Kent Conrad (N.D.) tapped for the Finance Committee. The selections were recommended by the Senate Democratic steering committee and must be approved by the Senate Democratic Conference, a step that is generally a technicality. Senate Democrats have not made subcommittee assignments. Wofford's focus on health care reform in the 1991 special Senate election held after the death of Sen. John Heinz helped push the issue into the spotlight for the 1992 elections. He has added a new health staffer with familiarity in Labor Committee issues: Labor and Human Resources Health Policy Advisor Darrel Jodrey. Conrad fills the Finance Committee seat that will become available assuming that committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) is confirmed by the Senate as Treasury Secretary. Conrad is expected to add a new health aide shortly. Bentsen's confirmation hearing is set for Jan. 12. On Jan. 8, Senate Republicans added freshman Sens. Judd Gregg (N.H.) to the Labor Committee and Malcolm Wallop (Wyo.) to the Finance panel. As expected, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (Kan.) will become the Labor Committee's ranking Republican, succeeding Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who will remain on the committee.
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