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August 5, 2011


Washington Letter
August 5, 2011
Newsletter of the American Thoracic Society's Washington Office

1150 18th Street NW
Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone:(202) 296-9770


Outlook for Health Research and Services in Deficit Unknown

Early this week, after weeks of partisan gridlock, Congress and President Obama reached an agreement on a deal to raise the nation's debt limit and begin the process of reducing the federal deficit over the next decade. The new law provides an immediate increase in the debt ceiling that extends through 2012. The major provisions of the deal are the following:

· An immediate debt ceiling increase of $400 billion. The President is permitted to request another $500 billion increase before the end of the year. A further increase in the debt-limit -- between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion -- would be available to the Administration early in 2012. These last 2 debt increases are subject to votes by Congress, but a two-thirds majority is needed to overturn the President’s action.

· Federal spending will be cut by more than $900 billion over ten years.  In FY2012, discretionary spending will decrease by $21 billion and $42 billion in 2013.

· Establishes a 12-member bipartisan, bicameral congressional committee, called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, charged with identifying $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction by November 23rd, 2011.  Congress must hold an up-or-down vote on the committee's recommendations by December 23rd.  

· If Congress fails to enact the committee's recommendations by January 2012, automatic across-the-board spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion will go into effect.  Half of these cuts would come from security related programs and half from non-security related programs and Medicare providers (not beneficiaries). Social Security, Medicaid, VA benefits, SSI, WIC and other low-income support programs are exempt.  Cuts to Medicare providers would be capped at two percent of total program costs.

At this point it is too early to predict how specific programs of interest to the ATS community will fare in both the near-term and long-term rounds of federal austerity measures, however nearly all health-related programs are vulnerable to both near-term and long-term budget cuts.  Long-term prospects for many programs will be dependent on a number of factors including the “super” committee budget recommendations, Congressional actions, 2012 elections, and the state of US and global economy. 

While the ATS will continue to advocate in support of research and public health programs, ATS members should expected reduced federal support in a number of key areas. 


ATS Urges EPA to Finalize Air Toxic Rules

This week, the American Thoracic Society joined several other physician and public health organization in a comment letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging them to finalize new air toxic emission standards for coal and oil-fired power plants.  For the first time in nearly 20 years, the EPA is proposing to issue stricter emissions standards for these power plants. 

In the comments, the ATS noted that oil and coal-fired power plants are major point sources of several types of pollution including mercury, heavy metals, and acid gases.  These pollutants have direct health effects and many, once in the atmosphere, are precursors to other types of air pollution, namely particulate matter.  The comments noted the extensive evidence that documents the adverse health effects associated with all these pollutants.  Also noted in the comments is that nearly half the existing power plants covered by the proposed rule have already installed the appropriate pollution control equipment to reduce these emissions.  The rule would require commercially available pollution control equipment in the rest of the power plant fleet.



The Washington Letter is written by the American Thoracic Society government relations office and emailed to all ATS members living in the United States. The letter keeps clinicians, scientists, and patients abreast of legislative, judicial, and regulatory issues in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine. Each week's edition is archived on the ATS Web site, www.thoracic.org. If you have any questions or one more information about becoming involved in advocacy, please contact the ATS Washington office at 202-296-9770.