Chairman Alexander on 2017: 13 HELP Bills Signed into Law, 32 Trump Nominees Sent to Floor

Posted on January 3, 2018

“I am looking forward to continuing our work next year to help improve the lives of Americans by reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, ensuring states and local communities have the tools they need to combat the opioid crisis, and updating legislation to help our country respond to public health emergencies.”

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 29, 2017 –Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today remarked on the committee’s productive year, announcing that 13 substantial bills in the committee’s jurisdiction were signed into law in 2017 – while the committee approved 32 Trump Administration nominees and held 32 hearings to tackle issues important to American families.

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said. “In 2017, our committee took the lead on laws to help improve the lives of virtually every American—including legislation to ensure that safe drugs and medical devices can get into patients’ medicine cabinets more quickly, as well as legislation to preserve local control of our 100,000 public schools. At the same time, the committee approved 32 of the president’s nominees so they can get to work helping deliver results for Americans. Senator Ted Kennedy, who served for many years as the HELP Committee chairman, once said that the committee had 30 percent of the legislative jurisdiction of the Senate—which says to me that we have a significant opportunity to get results on issues that matter to American families.”

Alexander continued, “I am looking forward to continuing our work next year by reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, ensuring states and local communities have the tools they need to combat the opioid crisis, and updating legislation to help our country respond to public health emergencies.”

The HELP Committee approved 13 bills that are now public law.

Legislation to improve the health of American families:

·           FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017 – Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (S.934): This reauthorization of the four Food and Drug Administration (FDA) user fee agreements will ensure the FDA has the funding it needs to quickly and safely bring new drugs and treatments to patients and make sure the promising research supported by the 21st Century Cures Act actually reaches patients.

·           National Clinical Care Commission Act – Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) (S.920): This law creates a commission of leading experts to study complex metabolic or autoimmune diseases, like diabetes. The commission will recommend improvements to federal programs that work to help prevent diseases like diabetes or educate patients on their condition. 

·           The Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act – Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) (S.652): If you’re a parent with a newborn, infant, or young child, this law supports state-based efforts to screen them for hearing loss and ensure proper follow-up care, including diagnosis and early intervention.

·           Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2017 – Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Michael Bennet (D- Colo.) (H.R.304): If someone is the victim of a life-threatening emergency, like a burn victim or a child experiencing a seizure, this law ensures that he or she will continue to have access to time-sensitive and life-saving treatments under the supervision of a physician.

·           Authorizing Emergency Uses for Military – Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) (H.R.4374): This law gives the FDA the tools to get safe and effective medicines, such as freeze-dried blood plasma, more rapidly to warfighters on the battlefield.

·           Joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the Title X rule regarding family planning grants – Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) (H.J.Res.43): This resolution reverses an Obama-era regulation to give states and local governments more flexibility over family planning grants. 

Legislation to roll back Obama-era laws that hurt American workers:

·           Joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the “Volks” rule regarding employer record-keeping – Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) (H.J.Res.83) Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) (S.J. Res 67):This resolution blocks an Obama-era rule that contradicted congressional intent and punished paperwork errors rather than enhance worker health and safety.

·           Joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the rule exempting state-run retirement programs for private sector workers from federal retirement law – Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) (H.J.Res.66)/ Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) (S.J. Res 32): This resolution overturning an Obama-era regulation means private sector workers in retirement plans operated by state governments will continue to have protections under federal retirement law.  

·            Joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the rule exempting locality-run retirement programs for private sector workers from federal retirement law – Rep. Francis Rooney (R- Fla.) (H.J.Res.67)/ Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) (S.J. Res 33): This resolution overturning an Obama-era regulation means private sector workers in retirement plans operated by local governments will continue to have protections under federal retirement law.

·           Joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the “Blacklisting” rule regarding federal procurement – Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) (H.J.Res.37)/ Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) (S.J. Res 12): This resolution blocks implementation of an Obama-era regulation that could have prevented companies from receiving a federal contract for an alleged labor violation before any wrongdoing had been proven.

Legislation to preserve the Every Student Succeeds Act, which restored local control of schools and assist college students impacted by this fall’s hurricanes:

·           Joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the “Accountability” rule for K-12 education – Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) (H.J.Res.57)/ Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) (S.J. Res 25): In 2015, this committee wrote and Congress passed the law fixing No Child Left Behind to reverse the trend towards a National School Board and restore decisions to teachers, school boards, and states. This resolution overturned the Obama administration’s overreaching regulation implementing accountability provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – an affirmation that Congress, not the Education Department, writes the laws.

·           Joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the “Teacher Preparation” rule for K-12 education – Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.)/ Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) (S.J. Res 26): (H.J.Res. 58):This resolution blocked an Obama-era regulation that would have forced teacher evaluations on states, something Congress specifically prohibited in ESSA.

·           Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria Education Relief Act of 2017 – Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) (S. 1866): For college students impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, this law will ensure they have access to federal financial aid.

Legislation to improve public health preparedness to combat Zika:

·           The Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act – Sens. Angus King (I- Maine), Richard Burr (R-N.C.),  Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (S.849): This bill would improve public health preparedness capabilities to help combat the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases that threaten public health by reauthorizing and strengthening  programs that support state and local mosquito surveillance, control efforts, and response activities to protect against infectious diseases like the Zika virus.

Legislation to help inform doctors about patients dealing with opioid addiction:

·           Jessie’s Law – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) (S. 581): This bill would make it easier for doctors to see if a patient has had a history of opioid use disorder by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to develop best practices for prominently displaying this information in their electronic records when requested by the patient.

·           Jessie’s Law – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) (S. 581): The committee also reported out the RAISE Family Caregivers Act (S. 1028), sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), which would create a National Family Caregiving Strategy to assist those providing care to family members.

The HELP Committee approved 32 nominees to carry out President Trump’s agenda.

22 confirmed by the Senate:

Department of Labor:

R. Alexander Acosta – Secretary

David G. Zatezalo – Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health

Kate O’Scannlain – Solicitor

Preston Rutledge – Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration

Katherine McGuire – Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs

Department of Education:

Betsy DeVos – Secretary

Peter Louis Oppenheim – Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs

Johnny Collett – Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Douglas Webster – Chief Financial Officer

Department of Health and Human Services:

Scott Gottlieb – FDA Commissioner

Jerome M. Adams – Surgeon General, Public Health Service

Robert P. Kadlec – Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

Elinore F. McCance-Katz – Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Lance Allen Robertson – Assistant Secretary for Aging

National Labor Relations Board:

Marvin Kaplan – Member

William Emanuel – Member

Peter Robb – General Counsel

National Mediation Board

Kyle Fortson – Member

Gerald Fauth III – Member

Linda Puchala – Member

Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission:

Heather L. MacDougall – Chair

James J. Sullivan – Member

The committee approved 10 additional nominations:

Department of Labor Nominees:

William Beach – Commissioner of Labor Statistics

Scott Mugno – Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Patrick Pizzella – Deputy Secretary

Cheryl Stanton – Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division

Department of Education Nominees:

Jim Blew – Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy

Carlos G. Muñiz – General Counsel

Mitchell Zais – Deputy Secretary

Department of Health and Human Services Nominees:

Brett Giroir – Assistant Secretary of Health

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Nominees:

Janet Dhillon – Member

Daniel M. Gade – Member

The HELP committee held 32 hearings to address important issues that matter to American families.

Looking at ways to help Americans lead healthier lives, including examining the opioid crisis ravaging our communities and the price Americans pay when picking up their prescriptions:

The Federal Response to the Opioid CrisisThe committee began a series of hearings on the opioid crisis, starting by hearing what the federal government is doing from administration witnesses. Alexander said the crisis is “tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health care providers and law enforcement officials.”

The Front Lines of the Opioid Crisis: Perspectives from States, Communities, and Providers: The committee held a second hearing on the opioid crisis to hear from those on the front lines how the tools and resources Congress provided when it passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016 are helping states fight the crisis. Alexander said that, “we must ensure the federal government is the best possible partner for states on the front lines of the opioid crisis ravaging our country.” 

The Cost of Prescription Drugs: How the Drug Delivery System Affects What Patients PayThe committee held the first in a series of bipartisan hearings looking at the price Americans pay when they pick up their prescriptions and where that money goes. Alexander said, “This is a discussion that affects the well-being of every American family. It is important that we work together to conduct this fact finding in a bipartisan way.” 

The Cost of Prescription Drugs: How the Drug Delivery System Affects What Patients Pay, Part II: The committee held the second in a series of bipartisan hearings on what goes into the prices Americans pay when picking up the 4.4 billion prescriptions written every year. At the hearing, Alexander said the focus is to learn the facts on the drug delivery system and its effects on health care costs. 

The Cost of Prescription Drugs: An Examination of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report “Making Medicines Affordable: A National Imperative”At the third bipartisan hearing on drug pricing, Alexander told the story of Joseph, a West Tennessean whose family struggled to afford a $150 prescription. The committee met to examine a National Academies report on the price Americans pay for their prescription drugs.

Examining How Healthy Choices Can Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce CostsThe committee held the first in a series of hearings looking at the “remarkable consensus that a healthy lifestyle leads to longer and better lives, and reduces the nation’s health care costs.” At the hearing, Alexander said, “If we really want to focus on improving Americans’ health, why not connect the consensus on wellness to the insurance policies that 178 million Americans get from their job.”

Encouraging Healthy Communities: Perspective from the Surgeon GeneralTrump Administration Surgeon General Jerome Adams testified at the committee’s second hearing looking at how to encourage healthier behaviors as a way to lower health care costs. Alexander said that Dr. Adams’ focus on wellness could have a real impact on the lives of millions of Americans, saying “it makes sense for that to be his focus, because there is a remarkable consensus that wellness – lifestyle changes like eating healthier and quitting smoking – can prevent serious illness and reduce health care costs.”

Ensuring promising biomedical research leads to results for patients:

Implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act: Achieving the Promise of Health Information TechnologyAt the first oversight hearing on the 21st Century Cures Act – a law the committee wrote in 2016 to bring new drugs and devices more quickly to patients – Alexander said,“electronic health records are a critical piece to the future of medical innovation and the success of the 21st Century Cures Act, and I intend to ensure these provisions are implemented properly.”

Implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act: Progress and the Path Forward for Medical InnovationAt a second oversight hearing held on the first anniversary of the Cures’ Senate passage with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins, Alexander said, “it is not an overstatement to say that the 21st Century Cures Act has the potential to affect virtually every American family by taking advantage of breathtaking advances in biomedical research.”

Implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act: Responding to Mental Health NeedsThe committee’s third oversight hearing on the 21st Century Cures Act examined the mental health provisions, which updated federal mental health programs for the first time in a decade. Alexander said that early intervention for patients with mental health disorders is critical: “Prior to our work on Cures, the coordination between federal agencies that provide mental health care was not as effective as it could have been…I look forward to hearing about the progress being made to ensure more people can receive the help they need.”

FDA User Fee Agreements: Improving Medical Product Regulation and Innovation for Patients, Part IThe committee held its first hearing on updating the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) user fee agreements that pay a quarter of all FDA’s work to ensure promising new drugs and devices reach patients. Alexander said Congress owes patients and their families a prompt, bipartisan reauthorization of the FDA medical devices and drug user fee agreements.

FDA User Fee Agreements: Improving Medical Product Regulation and Innovation for Patients, Part II: At the second of two hearings on updating the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) user fee agreements, Alexander said a timely reauthorization is “integral to helping patients and delivering on the promise of 21st Century Cures.”

Gene Editing Technology: Innovation and ImpactThe committee held a hearing on gene editing technology, including CRISPR-cas9, which Alexander said “has the potential to transform human health, when used properly…. CRISPR’s use in humans is more recent, but the possibility of the diseases it could treat and the lives that could be improved is remarkable.”

Hearing from governors, state insurance commissioners, and health policy experts on how to stabilize the individual health insurance market:

Obamacare Emergency: Stabilizing the Individual Health Insurance MarketAlexander chaired the committee’s first hearing of the year on the individual health insurance market where 18 million Americans and 350,000 Tennesseans purchase their insurance and invited Tennessee’s state insurance commissioner, Julie McPeak, to testify.  Alexander said, “without quick action, many of these 18 million Americans may have zero choices for insurance next year.”

Stabilizing Premiums and Helping Individuals in the Individual Insurance Market for 2018: State Insurance CommissionersAlexander launched a series of hearings this fall on stabilizing the individual health insurance market and helping 18 million Americans be able to access and afford health insurance in 2018. At this first hearing, the committee heard from state insurance commissioners, including Julie McPeak.

Stabilizing Premiums and Helping Individuals in the Individual Insurance Market for 2018: Governors: At the second hearing on stabilizing the individual health insurance market, the committee heard from governors, including Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, on steps Congress could take to make it easier for states to reclaim control of their insurance markets and limit premium increases in 2018.

Stabilizing Premiums and Helping Individuals in the Individual Insurance Market for 2018: State FlexibilityAt the third hearing on stabilizing the individual health insurance market, the committee heard from state flexibility experts on ways to allow states to offer more flexible insurance plans. Alexander said waivers from Obamacare regulations could offer states as many options as a Dr. Seuss book titled “Oh, The Place You’ll Go.”

Stabilizing Premiums and Helping Individuals in the Individual Insurance Market for 2018: Health Care StakeholdersAt the fourth hearing on stabilizing the individual health insurance market, Alexander said, “it’s clear to truly protect patients, we need to stabilize the markets, limit premium increases, and begin to lower premiums in the future."

Confirmation hearings on President Trump’s nominees:

Department of Education and Department of Labor NominationsThe committee met to consider two Department of Education nominees, Ken Marcus to serve as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and Johnny Collett to serve as Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and two Department of Labor nominees, Scott Mugno to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and Dr. William Beach to serve as Commissioner of Labor Statistics.

Nomination of Alex Azar to serve as Secretary of Health and Human ServicesThe committee held a hearing for Alex Azar to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Alexander said that Azar’s “broad experience is a principal asset to leading the Department… you are ready to take advantage of the law Leader McConnell called, the ‘most important piece of legislation,’ the 21st Century Cures Act, which gave new, broad powers to FDA and NIH, and included the first major reorganization of mental health programs in a decade, as well as significant new funding for the opioid crisis.”

Department of Education and Department of Labor Nominees:  The committee met to consider two Department of Education nominees, Brigadier General Mitchel Zais to serve as Deputy Secretary and James Blew to serve as Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, and two Department of Labor nominees, Kate O’Scannlain to serve as Solicitor and Preston Rutledge to serve as Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board NominationsThe committee met to consider two Department of Labor nominations and one National Labor Relations Board nomination: Cheryl Stanton to serve as the Wage and Hour Division Administrator; David Zatezalo to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health; and Peter Robb to serve as the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.

Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission NominationsThe committee met to consider two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission nominees, Janet Dhillon and Daniel Gade, and a Department of Education nominee, Carlos Muniz, the serve as General Counsel.

Department of Health and Human Services Nominations: The committee met to consider five Department of Health and Human Services nominees, including: Lance Allen Robertson to serve as Assistant Secretary for Aging; Dr. Brett Giroir to serve as Assistant Secretary for Health; Dr. Robert Kadlec to serve as Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz to serve as Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use; and Dr. Jerome Adams to serve as Surgeon General of the Public Health Service.

Department of Labor and Members of the National Labor Relations Board Nominations: The committee met to consider the nomination of Patrick Pizzella to serve as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor and Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel to serve as members of the National Labor Relations Board.

Nomination of Scott Gottlieb, MD, to serve as Commissioner of Food and DrugsThe committee met to consider the nomination of Dr. Scott Gottlieb to serve as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Alexander said Dr. Gottlieb has “impressive qualifications from nearly every perspective” and is the right person to lead the Food and Drug Administration and its “vital mission” for patients.

Nomination of Alex Acosta to serve as Secretary of LaborThe committee met to consider Secretary of Labor Nominee Alex Acosta. Alexander said that the Labor Secretary and Congress’s goal is to create an environment for American workers to succeed in a rapidly changing workplace and that harmful Obama-era labor regulations have only made it harder for Americans to create, find, or keep good-paying jobs. “We are fortunate today to have a presidential nominee for Labor Secretary who understands how a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families.”

Nomination of Tom Price to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services: The committee met to consider the nomination of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human ServicesThe committee does not vote on this nomination but does hold a courtesy hearing.

Nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of EducationThe committee met to consider the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Alexander said, “Betsy DeVos is on our children’s side.  On charter schools and school choice, she is in the mainstream of those trying to help children succeed and her critics are outside of it.”

Looking at simplifying applying for financial aid and ensuring local control of schools:

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Examining Proposals to Simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):At the first hearing on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act Alexander said, “after four years of discussions over how to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA, it is time to come to a result to make it easier for students to apply for federal financial aid.” Alexander has said the committee plans to continue its work on updating the Higher Education Act in the new year to make it simpler and easier for students to attend college.

Exploring Free Speech on College Campuses:At a hearing on free speech on college campuses, Alexander said, “universities should be the place where people of different views may speak, audiences can listen, and many contrasting viewpoints are encouraged… There should be some sensible way to allow speakers to speak and audiences to listen while still protecting freedoms offered by the First Amendment.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act: Unleashing State InnovationAt an oversight hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act, a law the committee passed in 2015 to fix No Child Left Behind, Alexander said, “Tennessee, Louisiana, and New Mexico have taken the most advantage of the flexibility we offered under the law in creating innovative state plans…I look forward to seeing ways other states are taking advantage of the freedom to innovate under ESSA.”  

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