Friday, December 21, 2012


BREAKING NEWS:  New Co-Chair of the Congressional MS Caucus.  Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen has agreed to become the new co-chair of our caucus.  He and fellow co-chair Congressman Michael Burgess, MD, already have a strong working relationship on MS issues because they are the two lead authors of the Neurological Disease Surveillance System Act.  Van Hollen is also co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Parkinson’s Disease.

Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI).  The Senate lost its second longest serving senator in the history of the United States and the one individual who has represented the state of Hawaii since it was first admitted into the Union as a state; first in the House, then the Senate.  Sen. Inouye passed away this week with his final word being ‘Aloha’.  He served with 412 Senators including 218 Democrats, 189 Republicans, 1 Independence Party, 3 Independents, and 1 Conservative according to an analysis by Smart Politics.  He served with more Minnesotans (14) than senators from any other state.  He was also a decorated World War II veteran – his Wikipedia page covers the event that earned him the medal of honor. 

Latest on the Fiscal Cliff talks.  Washington is saturated with fiscal cliff talk.  The two primary negotiators are President Obama and Speaker Boehner.  The latest offer on the table includes allowing taxes to increase on people earning $400,000 or above along with over $700 billion in cuts to entitlement programs (over 10 years).  The Washington Post has two great tools – one is a graphic of the various proposals to date and they also have an interactive tool so that you can try to come up with a solution yourself.  Christmas is fast approaching and with each hour and each day that passes without a deal, the more likely Congress won’t enact anything by December 31.  The world of course won’t end (that’s supposed to happen today), however the markets will likely speak loudly after the first of the year.  Already dozens of CEO’s from our largest companies have told Washington to make a deal, get this done, and do not let the fiscal cliff happen and they have also said that tax rates need to increase as part of a compromise.  Physicians are one group who are likely to feel an extra sting from the fiscal cliff since Medicare provider reimbursements will fall another 2%.  As of this writing, Speaker Boehner’s attempt to create some leverage by passing a bill only letting taxes rise on those making $1 million or above failed at the hands of his own caucus, weakening his negotiating power according to many.

Disability Treaty Fails.  By now you’ve heard that the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities failed to receive enough votes in the Senate to secure ratification – it fell five votes short.  Majority Leader Reid and Foreign Relations Committee Chair Kerry (who I just read is Secretary of State-designate, pending Senate confirmation) have said they plan to bring it up for another vote in the next Congress however it’s clear that proponents need to re-double efforts to explain how the treaty is truly a benefit for Americans in order to secure enough GOP votes for the treaty.

New Health Reform Guide from Consumer Reports.   “Health Reform: Seven Things You Need to Know Now,” to help consumers understand how the biggest changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act will affect them now and in the future. The new guide tackles topics such as “new protections and benefits,” “what to expect in 2014,” and “a new way to buy and afford health insurance.”

New Flexible Savings Account Rules.  There are new rules coming for you use your FSA.  Here’s an article highlighting the changes.

LTSS Across the States.  AARP has a great publication profiling the status of long-term services and supports throughout the 50 states.

Rural Veterans.  I have attached a slide show of the face of the veteran community in rural America.  It’s a really good presentation with a great amount of useful information about America’s veterans.

Talkers and DoersIn a recent Crystal Ball by Larry Sabato, he makes the following observation about the difference between federal and state elected officials:  “The statehouses are still where the action is. Politicians run for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House in order to talk about solving problems; as debating societies, they cannot be beat. Politicians run for governor to do something about those problems.”

98% of Americans.  President Obama has 33 million Facebook fans and collectively they are friends with 98% of Facebook users in the U.S.  Pretty amazing.  Not sure what you think but I’m beginning to believe that this new technology may have staying power!

2048 Presidential Election.   The Atlantic notes "[a]n important deadline for Election 2048 is fast approaching. Due to the mandate in the U.S. Constitution that American presidents must be at least 35 years old to take office, parents who want their children to be eligible for that election cycle should start trying to conceive now or in the immediate future, generations of accumulated data about fertility and the length of gestation suggest."Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description:

Comprehensive Tax Reform.  For all the lines-in-the-sand and tough talk about taxes and how the U.S. is overtaxed, some historic perspective would be helpful although rarely if ever is it offered among the chattering class.  Some of us are ‘experienced enough’ (sounds better than ‘old enough’) to recall the great tax battles of the mid-1980s when President Reagan ushered in the most dramatic drop in marginal rates since JFK cut it from 90% to 70% (yes, it was once that high).  Here is a quip from a recent newsletter from former U.S. Senator David Durenberger about what happened: 

WHAT WOULD ROSTY DO?  Back in 1985-86 President Reagan challenged the Congress to reform the nation's income tax code.  Democratic Ways and Means Committee chair Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) who had to originate the reform bill, took the President up on the challenge, worked with Treasury Secretary Donald Regan to shape a reform product that took the marginal rates from 50% (which he had lowered from 70% in 1981), to 35%.  We on the Senate Finance Committee applauded but did Rosty one better - dropped it to 25% with no net loss in revenue.  The compromise rate was 28%.  Rostenkowski was happy to have Reagan take credit for reforming all those "tax entitlements," knowing that Reagan as President would also have to take all the heat.  And there was plenty.  Can Republicans do that in 2013?  No indication so far they can or will.

Not sure of a Headline for this.  A 56-year-old ex-convict said he intentionally got arrested for shoplifting in order to get treated for leukemia in prison, the Associated Press reports.

Holiday Travel Helpline: The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a helpline—TSA Cares—for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions.  When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls TSA Cares, a representative will provide assistance, either with information about screening that is relevant to the passenger's specific disability or medical condition, or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA. TSA recommends that passengers call approximately 72 hours ahead of travel so that TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport when necessary. More information can be found on TSA’s website.

2013 is right around the corner and the Public Policy Office wishes all of you a happy and safe holiday season!  Your support and engagement is critical to doing all we can to advance the interests of people impacted by MS. 

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