Capitol Hill Report: AAN Leaders Attend First Day of 115th Congress

January 9, 2017

By Mike Amery, Esq., Senior Legislative Counsel

The First Day Is the Best Day
Nothing beats the first day of a congressional session. Everyone is in a great mood. After long and likely expensive campaigns, they won elections in November and are finally taking their seats in Congress, some for the first time. The 115th US Congress opened last week with the swearing in of 435 House members, including 52 freshmen, and 34 senators, including seven freshmen.

Senior Congressional Affairs Representative Derek Brandt and I were joined for opening day by AAN President Terrence L. Cascino, MD, FAAN; President-elect Ralph L. Sacco, MD, MS, FAHA, FAAN; and Executive Director/CEO Catherine M. Rydell, CAE.  We spent all day walking the halls of Congress congratulating members, talking a little politics and, of course, talking about neurology.

Many congressional offices hold open houses throughout the day and we took full advantage to meet personally with a couple dozen members of the House, including (click each link for a picture) Rep. Phil Roe, MD (R-TN), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), lead Democrat on the House Energy & Commerce Committee; and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), a leader on the House Ways & Means Committee; all of whom have major influence over health policy issues. 

Opening day isn't the time to get deep into the issues, but Drs. Cascino and Sacco had several opportunities to talk about regulatory hassles physicians deal with that have no impact on patient care and lead to physician burnout. They also thanked several cosponsors of the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act, a bill that the AAN has built momentum for over the last two years, and reminded them that the legislation will be an early priority in 2017.

The House and Senate office buildings are situated on opposite sides of Capitol Hill. The House side contains three buildings for member offices. The oldest is Cannon, built in 1908. Longworth opened in 1933 and Rayburn in 1965. As you walk through these buildings on the first day of a new Congress you can sense the joyous atmosphere as you see the new members' families there to celebrate the beginning of their service. The thing I noticed this year was how crowded the Cannon Building was, where groups of people clogged every hallway, but not so many in the Longworth building and very few in Rayburn.

First-time members of Congress bring a lot of people to DC to help them celebrate. More experienced members often have a “been there, done that” attitude and bring fewer. Cannon is where a lot of the freshman offices are, with fewer in Longworth and almost none in Rayburn. The reason for this is because office space on Capitol Hill is determined by one criterion - seniority.  

The dean of the House is Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who was first elected in 1964. Conyers selected 2426 Rayburn for his office space. Many of Conyers' colleagues with seniority also pick Rayburn's spacious offices with views of the Capitol dome. On the other side of the spectrum are the 52 freshmen who drew numbers to determine their order of selecting office space.  By the time the last 20 or so are left, they are all on the upper floors of the older, smaller Cannon building. Freshman Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) drew last place in the 115th Congress and selected, or settled, with 427 Cannon.

It was in Cannon that we met several of the newest members of Congress, including Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN), who I have known for several years, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), whose spouse is a friend of Cathy Rydell. We also met with third-term Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) who moved from the fifth floor of Cannon down to 315 where he has already hung several pictures of President John F. Kennedy. The reason is pretty cool: 315 Cannon was JFK's US House office from 1947 to 1953.

In Longworth and Rayburn we saw fewer crowds, but met with more established representatives such as Billy Long (R-MO), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), and Paul Tonko (D-NY), all members of the important House Energy & Commerce Committee (E&C).

With swearing-in day behind us and the change in presidential administration nearing, lobbyists and advocates will replace the families in the hallways and Congress will get to work. Republicans have majorities in both houses, but Senate Democrats still have a powerful tool in the threatened filibuster, which requires the Senate to garner a supermajority of at least 60 votes to move most legislation forward. The sailing will not be smooth and the joy of opening day will fade until the first Tuesday in January…2019. 


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